Via Ezra, Lee Siegel denounces James Kinkaid for daring to wonder why so many people find the Jon Benet Ramsey story so fascinating. Siegel writes
Like a lot of academics who had their heyday in the theory-ridden eighties, Kincaid thinks that the more media attention something gets, the less reality it has. He apparently has never tried to imagine what kind of society would let the murder of a little girl pass without massive amounts of attention and anxiety.
which is about the least helpful thing that someone could write about JonBenet Ramsey; as Ezra correctly points out, and as James Kincaid pointed out in his Slate piece, thousands of children are killed and molested every year, and virtually none of them received the kind of attention that this case did. It’s obvious that something else is going on (Ezra suggests class and race, Kincaid suggests a cultural fascination with child sexuality), but Siegel would prefer not even to think about the question of why the Ramsey story, rather than some other tale of child-rape and murder, has gripped the media.
It gets worse. Siegel goes on to suggest that Kincaid (who has done a lot of academic work on the sexualization of children) is in favor of adult-child sexual relationships. He doesn’t consider Kincaid’s main point, which is that there’s something more to the public fascination and disgust with child beauty pageants than we’ve been willing to let on. Kincaid:
As many as 800,000 are beaten horribly. Even more are subject to emotional abuse and neglect. How much attention do they get? Instead, we focus our attention, almost all of it, on stranger-danger: things like abductions, of which there are between 100 and 200 annually. Our carefully controlled outrage is generated for our own purposes, certainly not to protect the children.
And when kids are indeed abused, who is doing it? Mom and Dad and Uncle Ted and Aunt May. As little as 2 percent of child abuse is committed by strangers. Again, why are we exercised over JonBenet?
The case does many things for us, of course. It makes us feel both titillated and virtuous; it makes us feel smart. Most centrally, it makes flattering distinctions between good parents (us) and bad parents (the Ramseys). Even if the Ramseys didn’t kill their daughter, they exposed her to lascivious eyes in beauty contests, which is about as bad. Notice how much press is directed to abusing the Ramseys, to suggesting that (unlike us) their relationship to their child was unhealthy, vicious, exploitative.
Right. It doesn’t take a genius to note that we are as a culture obsessed with child sexuality, and that the child beauty contest represents a space on the continuum of that obsession rather than something radically alien to a “healthy” culture which would never, ever, ever display children in an even mildly sexualized fashion. Nor is it absurd to say that we derive a certain joy from seeing people like the Ramsey’s get what they “deserve”, just (as Kincaid points out) we get immense satisfaction from the depiction of the distinction between the normal and unhealthy at the end of Little Miss Sunshine.
None of this is to say that child beauty pageants aren’t bizarre and troubling, but the story isn’t nearly as simple as Siegel would like to believe.
UPDATE: Siegel has moved past simply suggesting that Kincaid might be a pedophile, and is now asserting that, in fact, Kincaid IS a pedophile. The evidence? A quote from Kincaid’s work taken, out of context, by the NAMBLA website. The quote:
It is possible that the pedophile’s marginal position alerts him not only to self-interest but the pains suffered by all the outcast. This is not a necessary consequence of pedophilia, of course, any more than virtue is of poverty. Still, that passion for helping the child is so strong in relations [between men and boys] that even the police acknowledge it.
If you’re Lee Siegel, writing the above is definitive evidence that you like to screw little boys. If you’re sane, the above is obviously about the motivation and self-justification of the pedophile, and is hardly surprising; of course the pedophile thinks that he’s doing the kid a favor, and of course the police take such self-justification into account.
Christ, where does the TNR find such people? Say what you will about blogofascism, but I don’t recall Kos ever casually tossing around allegations of pedophilia…