PopMatters Film and TV Features Editor
In a recent Huffington Post article, Ellen Ladowsky (Pedophilia and Star Trek, 18 August 2005) took note of a curious fact batted about by the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit. It turned out that all but one of the more than 100 sex offenders that they had arrested were huge Trekkies. In typical precinct gallows humor, the cops decided to superimpose their own faces over the crew on a Star Trek poster, mildly mocking the curious connection they had uncovered while busting pederasts.
The findings of the Toronto police deserve some scrutiny, but in Ladowsky’s hands this amounts to treating Star Trek as a communiqué in shadow perversity rather than just a schlocky TV series full of open-ended potential for people to project themselves all over its bland surfaces. Ladowsky opens her blogging investigation with a cursory disclaimer that watching Star Trek does not make you a pedophile. But her analytical approach purports to find so much pathology in the characters of the series that one can’t help but ask whether it’s possible for a sexually healthy human being to enjoy an episode of Star Trek without finding themselves shooting lurid sideways glances at the household pet afterwards.
By her own admission (“After reviewing a bunch of episodes. . . “), Ladowsky didn’t exactly break a sweat developing a methodology. Upon reading about the prevalence of Star Trek viewing amongst pedophiles from Canada, she sets out to find child molesters in every narrative nook of the series, an almost surefire way to produce a preordained result. Ladowsky claims that, during her casual Star Trek viewing, she unearthed a seething nest of sexual dysfunction, all of which could be directly or indirectly linked to pedophilia. A more conscientious writer might have handled these alleged findings more gingerly. This is just the sort of observation that leads to parents clutching their children nervously at the sight of their harmless neighbor who reminds them of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Because many already see Trekkies as amusing oddities, her argument damns the show in a way that, say, the fact that many serial killers feel deep connections to the Bible won’t ever do to the good book. Christians are empowered enough to afford the luxury of individuality; Trekkies exist in that unstable state of weirdness that’s always a sliver away from morphing them into objects of suspicion.
Ladowsky’s analytical approach could be generously described as blind woman buckshot. Far too often she slips from “it’s possible that some child molester might think” into psychoanalyzing the characters, positing them as intrinsically dense with deviant sexual symbolism. Ladowsky treats omissions as admissions (the lack of sex between crew members) and innocuous seeming acts of typical sci-fi plotting as Byzantine code for kiddie fucking, sometimes so torturously that you half expect her to compare the hull design of the Enterprise to the top half of a Sit and Spin, thereby proving the fact that the crew members desire to have children straddle their faces. For example, she casts a careening eye on the manhood of Kirk. “Captain Kirk displays a truly astonishing emotional poverty. He goes from planet to planet, having trysts with an assortment of nubile women, but never forms any real attachments.” Where Ladowsky sees a role model for pedophiles and their difficulty in maintaining adult-on-adult relationships, I see a fairly typical male fantasy. My older brother, spitting Skoal-drool into an empty Big Gulp cup, once told me: “Just pump ‘em and dump ‘em.” That sentiment finds its way into all kinds of male ideals: the lonely cowboy with no room on his horse for anything but rough justice or the James Bond type who tumbles into bed to cleanse his palette between adventures. For Ladowsky to see pedophilia in typical machismo is to make the entire world into a gauntlet of “bad touches” on the teddy bear.
The prejudicial way in which she approaches the show produces ideas that are not only interpretively acrobatic, but at times, appalling. “There’s a pervasive message that women are toxic. In an episode called Cat’s Paw, there is an evil sorceress who separates the crew from each other and from the starship. The perpetually indignant Dr. McCoy cautions Kirk, ‘Don’t let her touch your wand Jim, or you’ll lose all your power!’ On the very rare occasions where Kirk seems to find love, his partners quickly die off. After one of his loves has croaked, Kirk admonishes Spock ‘Love, you’re better off without it.’ The one longstanding attachment Kirk has is to Mr. Spock. In fact, their bond is so intense that there’s an abundance of gay porn written about the two.” Here Ladowsky suggests male homosexuality hinges on revulsion against women, a theoretical standby of the religious Right, with the added hint that homosexuality and pedophilia are on the same continuum. Ladowsky never explains why the pederast would see himself mirrored into a consensual relationship between adults of the same sex. Stripped of her gift of articulation, Ladowsky is really saying: “Spock and Kirk seem like total ‘mos cuz they hate girls. Pedophiles probably hate girls too. Christian Bale is dreamy.” Ladowsky goes on to equate the asexuality of Spock with pedophile alienation as well as implicating all fetishists in this mess by way of the Enterprise, leaving the article’s tally of potential pederasts at: promiscuous heterosexual men, gay men, asexuals, foot lickers and all misogynists. It’s one of the weaknesses of such analysis that Ladowsky could have probably done the exact same feat with Tupperware or a malt liquor commercial. In truth, arguments structured like intellectual figure skating routines Rorschach their authors far more than their objects. One more paragraph and Ladowsky probably would have gotten to that rather suggestive hole in your dirty-minded kitchen sink.
Some of Ladowsky’s best points come from trying to identify structures in the series that might produce a pacifying balm in the mind of the molester. But her readings still produce analysis too widely applicable and too wildly conjectural. “On the Enterprise, aggressive impulses aren’t battling it out with libidinal ones as they are here on earth. In the Star Trek universe, every “bad” impulse is attributed to an external force. When it comes to sex, for example, it’s always an outside influence that takes possession of the crew’s minds and bodies, causing them to behave in erotically driven ways.” Her interpretation hinges on her description of child molesters as intrinsically incapable of understanding that their impulses come from within. A cursory glance at NAMBLA’s website (most definitely not on my work computer) leads me to believe that at least this cohort of politically activated pedophiles do not dissociate their impulse but delude themselves in the capacity for children to consent. In this frame, the children aren’t Svengali seducers but equal participants, which complicates Ladowsky’s blanket analysis. NAMBLA doesn’t represent the approach of all pedophiles, but NAMBLA’s public face shows how pedophilia, like all sexual impulses, has a variety of sources, motives and strains.
Her most interesting point, that the show depicts a kind of utopia were all difference has been dissolved, also seems the least likely to actually apply to the show. Her claim is that pedophiles glom onto the show’s utopian impulses because they pine for a world where generational distinctions would be eliminated. Even her half-assed Star Trek tourism should suffice to handily contradict this. Sure, the Enterprise seems to have a pleasant office atmosphere, but despite thousands of years of technological advance, the crew experiences nothing but the hostilities of people warring over resources and identities in the exact same way that we do in the present. Moreover, the Prime Directive, the ethical underpinning of the crew’s exploration states that the crew should avoid interfering in the organic development of cultures, which is much more morally relativistic than it is utopian. Perhaps pedophiles wish that FBI agents took such a “live and let live” approach to trolling chat rooms for pre-teens, but that’s more pragmatic than utopian.
It may be that pedophiles are attracted not to utopian ideals but social tolerance movements and socially tolerant people, a far more plausible explanation for their attachment to Star Trek. At the most practical level, the sort of nerdy and socially awkward enclaves within sci-fi culture provide a safe space for a much wider range of eccentricity than say, a squash league might. Because it’s possible than many of these same people feel sexually clumsy, it might be easier for a pedophile to form social bonds without the risk of sexual interrogation. It’s probably not too incredibly odd for a middle-aged white male Trekkie not to talk about girlfriends or dating. In this respect, Trekkies afford non-judgmental social camouflage to a pedophile.
This is part and parcel of the attempts of politicized pedophiles to virally hijack the moral claims of people not ethically repugnant. Disturbingly, the NAMBLA website claims to be “cooperating with lesbian, gay, feminist, and other liberation movements”. Infecting the language of civil rights, pedophiles recast themselves not, as Ladowsky suggests, victims of some outside force, but vanguards in the cause for liberty. Presumably the word “cooperating” with means insinuating themselves into the work of the gay rights movement and trying not to get kicked out of parades. Just as Ladowsky collapsed gay men into pederasts, many child molesters wish to see themselves as also part of a historically misunderstood category that will be vindicated in good time. I find this association by oppression as revolting as Captain Kirk apparently finds the clitoris. Gay people should not have sympathize with child molesters any more than they should have to identify with other forms of rape. While oppressors rarely nuance their categories, linking all kinds of disparate phenomena under the “shit not like me” label, that doesn’t mean those oppressed are the same—that’s precisely the bigot’s goal. Just because both have been marginalized historically does not mean that the justifications for their marginalization are equally specious. Ladowsky’s analysis only reinforces this pernicious blur ——what starts off as an attempt to discover the pedophilic underpinnings of the show ends up tossing every sexual minority into an intellectual blender.
Why not find out if child molesters also like CSI, Bed Bath & Beyond and Capri pants? Of course these items haven’t developed subcultural movements like Star Trek has, but they could just as easily become theoretical colanders for sorting out pederasts. Why not examine the psychological structures of fan culture to see if what attracts pedophiles is relatively roomy atmosphere of acceptance from freaks and geeks? Star Trek acts as a magnet for general science fiction fans, who usually enjoy a wide variety of television, film, and books from the same genre. A better analysis would have included concentric circles in which Star Trek would be a pinprick in the center. Positioning Star Trek as a salient cipher for pedophilia makes for good copy on Arianna Huffington’s blog, but in the end, it’s her analytical style that seems the most pathological, paranoid and desperately seeking the sexual in the textual for the pure sake of finding it there. Buffy fans, beware.