Worse Than The Worst

by The New Republic | May 26, 2009

Readers who missed Isaac's post over the weekend really should have a look at the Weekly Standard piece he cited, "The Worst Thing About Gay Marriage," as it is, if anything, even more ridiculous than his characterization.

Still, it's worth noting the rapid evolution of the Standard's grasping-at-straws arguments against gay rights. Though he opposes gay marriage, the author of the piece in question, Sam Schulman, does at least allow that "It is a scandal that homosexual intercourse should ever have been illegal." Indeed, his argument is less an explicitly anti-gay one than the marriage-sucks-but-we-straight-men-have-no-choice model. "[W]ithout social disapproval of unmarried sex--what kind of madman would seek marriage?" opines the thrice-married Schulman at one point. "Many of us feel that licit sexuality [i.e., sex after marriage] loses, moreover, a bit of its oomph," he bemoans at another. One almost feels sorry for the guy.

It was not that long ago that the Standard's line on gay rights was that they were tantamount to an endorsement of pedophilia. In 1996 and 2001 the magazine published, respectively, "Pedophilia Chic" and "Pedophilia Chic, Reconsidered," two of the most obtuse, disingenuous essays it has ever been my displeasure to encounter. The case both made--the first, provisionally, the second, with greater assurance--was that, thanks to the gay rights movement, there had been a surge in acceptance of the sexualization of boys (by gay men) but there existed no comparable sexualization of girls in American culture. The most charitable possible reading of the pieces was that their author, Mary Eberstadt, had never turned on a television, attended a motion picture, entered a record store, or waited in a checkout line.

The first article, for instance, featured an extended discussion of the controversial 1995 Calvin Klein ads featuring glassy-eyed teens (male and female) in highly sexualized poses, including this paragraph:

Though girls and boys alike appeared in the ads, it was clear to any savvy viewer that the boys, rather than the girls, were the main event. For one thing, there was nothing really new about the girls. As a critic for Adweek remarked at the time, "Girls have been objectified forever. It's not shocking, sad to say." (It is particularly unshocking in a Calvin Klein jeans campaign; after all, it is now fifteen years since an underage Brooke Shields was used to suggestive effect.)

This did not, however, prevent her from concluding, several paragraphs later:

And here, as with the example of Calvin Klein, we come to the real heart of pedophilia chic: It's about boys. It is boys and boys alone who are seen as fair sexual game.

This, after acknowledging a couple thousand words earlier (the pieces are very, very long) that girls had been treated as legitimate objects of sexual desire for so long that it was no longer even shocking!

The second essay was a comparable exercise in not seeing the forest for the shrubbery, with Eberstadt sifting through the New York Times Book Review and journals of the American Psychiatric Association for any instance of boys being sexualized, while keeping her eyes clenched tight against the sea of sexualized girls in which we all swim.

"[I]f nihilism and nihilism alone were the explanation for public attempts to legitimize sex with boy children, then we would expect the appearance of related attempts to legitimize sex with girl children; and these we manifestly do not see," wrote Eberstadt--at a moment when Brittany Spears's Oops, I Did It Again had just completed 17-weeks near the top of the Billboard charts, the reigning Best Picture was American Beauty, and the reigning Best Actor was Kevin Spacey, for his sympathetic portrayal of an almost-pedophile in said picture. (It's worth recalling that his character declined, at the last moment, to consummate the act not because the girl in question was his own daughter's underaged best friend but because she was, unexpectedly, a virgin.)

I've known, very slightly, a few people who've worked at the Standard, and once gave one of them a pretty hard time about Eberstadt's pieces. I don't recall his exact reaction--this was several years ago--but it involved embarrassed shrugs and eye-rolling and a tacit admission that, he supposed, pieces like this were part of the price of admission to the conservative movement. That, at least, doesn't seem to have changed a bit.

--Christoper Orr

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