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August 25, 2006


I was planning to let this pass, but as Lee Siegel digs himself deeper and deeper into some catacomb of self-righteousness over James Kincaid, he's begun flinging his dirt all across the left, a schtick that's grown tiresome. Now, because too few people appear to agree that Kincaid is a child molester, we're all a bunch of "liberal automatons" and "clueless knuckleheads" who "respond like growling Pavlovian dogs to any suggestion that people cannot indulge their every sexual appetite."

So let's talk this one out -- one blogofascist to another. Kincaid is an English professor who studies the sexualization of children in American media. The other day, he wrote a piece for Slate on the reemergence of Jon Benet, arguing "JonBenet would not get all this attention did we not want to bestow it. It's not the media forcing on us something we'd rather not have: We're lining up at the trough to be fed...[it] allows us to fulminate against trivial problems while ignoring huge problems close to home, meanwhile wallowing in self-righteous porn babble: We are able to use the half-clothed bodies of children as centerfolds while professing shock that anyone would so display them. The story is always the same: Somebody else finds the bodies of children irresistible and we want the chance to rail against these monsters, meanwhile relishing the details of the very bodies we claim indifference to. It is a classic example of scapegoating."

Siegel criticizes Kincaid for being a "a very snide and superior writer," which, for obvious reasons, I can't help but point out (Writer, heal thyself!). More alarmingly, in three posts entitled "James Kincaid and Pedophilia," he asserts that Kincaid's belief that we view children sexually and so take a subconscious glee in fulminating endlessly about those who would sexualize them, obviously reveals him as a pedophile. Siegel, floating high above any evidentiary standards or textual support, has now made this accusation with ever greater degrees of explicitness, the last of which accused the left of being in cahoots with pedophiles. His advice for us, as I understood it, was that we'd begin winning elections when we ceased supporting NAMBLA. Wonder why James Carville never thought of that.

I grew interested in the Kincaid smears, though, so I took a look into his book "Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting." Here's the capsule:

Citing examples from the tabloids, celebrity trials, and popular movies starring children, the author explains society's need for horrors such as ritual abuse, "kiddie porn," and accusations against clergy and day care workers. Preoccupation with this misguided sexuality allows the public to ignore the poverty, neglect, malnutrition, and poor education that constitute true child abuse. Kincaid suggests abandoning the Gothic model and acknowledging that erotic feelings are a normal part of life that rational adults can control.

I assume the preschool gangbang comes later. But maybe his views are different in the Slate piece Siegel's focusing on. Let's take a look:

For kids really do not fare very well in our culture: Millions of children are, in fact, abused in unspeakable ways. Five hundred thousand kids every year are classified as "throwaways" (children whose parents or guardians will not let them live at home, as distinguished from "runaways"). 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.

Oh. While Kincaid is irritated by the excess attention lavished on this murdered white princess while the nation's urban children suffer far more systemic, and controllable, ills, Siegel is irritated by Kincaid's self-righteousness:"[Kincaid] 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."

A glance at Siegel's blog shows that Benet's reemergence went unnoticed until Lee got in a huff about Kincaid's article. But a check of the Siegel ouvre is more interesting. So far as I can tell, the only thing Siegel has written on pedophilia is a lament that he didn't engage in it. In the March 15, 1999 issue of TNR, he published a diarist detailing one of his life's great regrets: His refusal to fuck Uma Thurman when she was sixteen, and he was her 26-year-old tutor. As Siegel tells the tale, "Uma was a model at the time I met her, not yet famous. She had an open face and slightly swelled features and pale blue eyes that seemed wide with surprise and also moist with deep recognition of the nature of their surprise. Just hanging out, she looked like she was on the brink of physical ecstasy. She seemed to be willing her inwardness out through her pores, all for the pleasure of others...She began to flirt with me. Putting her cat provocatively in her lap, she stroked it and described a suggestive fantasy to me." I can't imagine why Kincaid thinks the media describes children in erotic terms.

Lee was not aroused, and it appears to have caused him considerable psychic anguish throughout the years. His unwillingness to abuse his position as a tutor and sleep with a sixteen-year-old caused a decades long shame so acute he finally had to exorcise it, 13 years after the fact, in the pages of a national magazine, copiously detailing the years of regret and resentment he endured. Siegel did not commit an act of pedophilia (or, for that matter, statutory rape), and he spent a decade plus feeling ashamed of it. And now, he has the gall to accuse Kincaid of pedophilia for believing that our culture sexualizes children. Children, like the sixteen year old English student who "an open face and slightly swelled features and pale blue eyes that seemed wide with surprise and also moist with deep recognition of the nature of their surprise...[and] looked like she was on the brink of physical ecstasy."

What's that Kincaid wrote about scapegoating?

August 25, 2006 | Permalink


It's pretty clear, isn't it?

Methinks Siegal doth protest too much?

Somebody caught him in the act of being a little too interested in poor JonBenet's story--and image--and now he's lashing out in every direction.

Yes, Lee, Prof. Kincaid (whom I've had the pleasure of having for a professor--he's very good) is on to you. And we all know it. Now shut up and stop making it worse.

Posted by: Lolly | Aug 25, 2006 12:02:09 AM

Amazing catch with the Uma Thurman bit. That about ends it, I think.

Posted by: Lukas | Aug 25, 2006 12:07:17 AM

I wonder if Siegel got his job at TNR because Martin Peretz was tired of being their most ridiculous writer.

Somebody linked this post in the TNR comments, under the impressively blunt sentence, "Siegel wanted to fuck a child."

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 25, 2006 12:10:06 AM

I think Atrios's 'Ew.' pretty much says it all. Frank Foer really does need to start reading what gets published under his editorial imprimatur.

Posted by: ahem | Aug 25, 2006 12:11:19 AM

Now shut up and stop making it worse.

Hopefully it's too late and Kincaid will sue his ass.

Posted by: Vladi G | Aug 25, 2006 12:16:30 AM

"So far as I can tell, the only thing Siegel has written on pedophilia is a lament that he didn't engage in it. In the March 15, 1999 issue of TNR, he published a diarist detailing one of his life's great regrets: His refusal to fuck Uma Thurman when she was sixteen ... Children, like the sixteen year old English student ..."

Siegel is crazy as usual. Kincaid makes sense.


Post-pubescent sexual desire ain't pedophila. A sixteen year old Uma is only partly a child.

K-Lo has a post over at The Corner that pissed me off when I read it earlier today.

Now compare and contrast K-Lo's post with a post over at Yglesias today that is just fine and dandy with "child" sex.

Siegel deserves to be torn apart. His piece has the logicial consistency of a Marty Peretz piece, albeit with more coherent writing. And had he slept with Uma, it would have been a move of questionable morality (and illegal in certain states) which is certainly fair game.

But I find something very bizarre about the mainstream debate that uses the same terms for the sexuality of five year olds and seventeen year olds.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 25, 2006 12:26:12 AM

What Siegal wrote about Uma Thurman is disgusting. It's not that he found her, at 16, to be attractive. He describes her using words and phrases intended to evoke images of a child even younger, one who is barely entering puberty, rather than one most likely having gone through that stage already.

The anger and vitriol in Siegal's writing is bad enough. However, there is an element to it that quite throws me off balance. When he advises people to grab their Wellbutrin, I wonder if that is an almost-unconscious intrusion from another part of his brain, letting us know that Siegal's own psychotropic medications are not quite working the way they should.

If the Democrats do well this November, and especially if Lieberman loses, I expect Siegal to take some time off to get some "rest." He clearly needs it.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 25, 2006 12:28:00 AM

A 16-year-old isn't a child in the pedophile sense. We rightly have laws regarding age of consent, and grown men are seriously fucked in the head that go with teenage girls. But they aren't pedophiles, just assholes. It isn't a sexual perversion to find a 16-year-old girl attractive.

But Ezra's right on the larger point. Siegel is confronted with a hot 16-year-old flirting with him (though I'm not as sure as Siegel is that Miss Thurman actually wanted to have sex with him), and he can't maintain, can't put it into perspective. It does support Kincaid's point, which is that a lot of our prudery/puritanisms are really motivated by our lusts and our revulsion at them. Siegel's posts this week insinuate that you have to be a pervert to make this point. But his Uma ruminations put his current vehemence in quite an interesting light.

Posted by: kth | Aug 25, 2006 12:32:11 AM

For the record, the term "pedophilia" is frequently applied inaccurately. It's a very specific clinical term referring to an incurable disorder in which the sexual preference of an adult is for children under the age of puberty.

Adults who lust after biologically sexually mature children are *not* pedophiles, nor do they suffer from a sexual disorder.

That's not to say by any means that it's OK for adults to sleep with 16-year-olds, but that's a cultural and legal standard, not a clinical one.

Molesting JonBenet Ramsey was pedophilia; screwing a 16-year-old Uma Thurman would have been statutory rape.

It may seem pedantic to insist on the distinction, but these are really two *very* different types of aberrant behavior.

Posted by: Swift Loris | Aug 25, 2006 12:34:14 AM

What Petey said.

It's all a confusing mess, but I think that equating the sexuality or lack thereof of a 18-minus-one-day year old with pedophilia. We set up an artificial barrier that is only too easy to cross (at least mentally) as you're watching a 17 year old Britney Spears marketed sexually...
The "underage" thing becomes a marketing ploy, sexually mature females are dressed like little schoolgirls, children are marketed like little women, everything gets blurred and for a few warped people it makes it easier to let that age limit creep lower.

Something else I've noticed, and I think its related if only tangentally... maybe a manifestation of the same few cells in the human brain:
Since the age of the net, suddenly everything that was previously innocent is labelled "porn."

Tasteful nudes of adults, or even not nudes - just women draped in something, etc., are now generically referred to as "porn." You see it all the time these days on the net, people blurring that distinction.
An artistic pose of a woman facing away from the camera with a bathrobe half slipping off in muted lighting is categorized with fisting videos.

Sorry for the tangent, but it just seems like our whole country is deliberately sexually confused at the moment, and a lot of it has to do with marketing.

Posted by: craig | Aug 25, 2006 12:43:29 AM

The term for lusting after post-pubescent youths is hebephilia, or ephebophilia, or derbyshirism.

Posted by: Kip Manley | Aug 25, 2006 12:46:54 AM


Hah. Come to think of it, why hasn't Foer given the Derb a blog yet? Not only is he a better writer than Seigel, he's more likely to say non-insane things (hell, apparently Derbyshire is more progressive on abortion rights.)

Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Aug 25, 2006 12:51:59 AM

Seigel is disgusting. Of course there's a difference between a five year-old and a sixteen year-old. But, seriously, how fucked up is it to expose your fantasy about a sixteen year-old whom you name? And at least the "Seigel wants to fuck a child" commenter is technically correct. Is there any evidence at all that Seigel is?

Can we at least get the major media to stop using TNR folk as representatives of the Democrats? Things look good for November, and we don't really need to be associated with defenses of Coulter, horrific arguments, wild accusations of pedophilia, and soft-core fantasies about kids under a tutor's care.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Aug 25, 2006 1:04:00 AM

Personally I think Siegel is an engaging--if not reliable--book critic, so it's unfortunate to find out that he's a bitter lunatic.

If you want a good time with Siegel, check out this interview with, um, Spike Lee.

Slate: To come back to this, I have to say, I really don't like these movies like Barbershop and Beauty Shop. I just don't. I think of what you were doing—yet you made these films possible, right?

Lee: Don't put that on me.

Slate: No, but you created an open field for black filmmakers.

Dude is not right.

Posted by: whetstone | Aug 25, 2006 1:09:13 AM

"Come to think of it, why hasn't Foer given the Derb a blog yet? Not only is he a better writer than Seigel, he's more likely to say non-insane things"

I have no inside knowledge of the inner workings of TNR, but my suspicion is that Siegel doesn't report to Foer.

I always think of TNR in the same way I think of the WSJ, with an insane 'editorial page' and excellent 'news pages'. I put Siegel in the 'editorial' camp.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 25, 2006 1:15:48 AM

Betcha Uma Thurman is probably going "Yuuuuuck!" right now.

Posted by: Phoenix Woman | Aug 25, 2006 1:16:58 AM

"If you want a good time with Siegel, check out this interview with, um, Spike Lee."

That's a funny, funny piece. Perhaps Siegel is actually a performance art comedian along the lines of Ali G.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 25, 2006 1:24:15 AM

art critic : Lee Siegel :: artist : people who can draw Tippy the Turtle from the Art Instruction Schools commercial?

Posted by: jfaberuiuc | Aug 25, 2006 1:40:30 AM

How long before he uses the word "paedofascism" ?

Posted by: anthony baxter | Aug 25, 2006 1:53:28 AM

Before I would say the media fascination with Jonbenet implicated a nation of paedophiles I would need to extract out those elements the story has in common with missing white women, Tom & Katie, Britanny's babies. There would likely be some paedophilia left.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 25, 2006 3:40:24 AM

Did Siegal ever write a review for "Dangerous Liasons"? In which a 15yo is taught to perform fellatio....by her tutor? I have to wonder how much of Siegel's memories of Thurman as a student come from his own fevered imagination.

While 16 is not grounds for paedophilia, I believe it is still technically jail bait, especially for someone ten years her senior.

And someone tell Herr Siegel that it's automata, not automatons.

Posted by: Taylor | Aug 25, 2006 5:10:36 AM

Betcha Uma Thurman is probably going "Yuuuuuck!" right now.

Probably getting rid of her cats, too.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Aug 25, 2006 7:07:20 AM

I don't think a 16-year-old is a "child", but that Siegel is still salivating at the missed opportunity and is quite willing to drool in public about it indicate that he's more obsessed with this subject than is, uh, normal.

And his preoccupation with a pretty pubescent blonde girl (16 year olds are girls, if not "children")who later becomes famous, well, it kinda proves Kincaid's point in a way. That is, that there is a sick sort of fascination with pretty, fragile, famous rich white girls that objectifies them and dehumanizes them-- and takes our minds off reality. Now I know that we're supposed to think that Ms. Thurman, being famous, has no right to privacy. But here Siegel is, drooling about her years later, when she's got children and a life, acting as if she exists primarily as a salacious memory, describing her in highly sexualized terms and using her name in a possibly apocryphal experience -- she came on to him! She licked her lips! Her eyes said yes yes yes!

It's just weird and juvenile and obsessive. I don't doubt many men look back and wish they'd done something with someone... but to talk about a real person -- in print-- like she's nothing but a Playboy centerfold his mother confiscated before he could masturbate over it-- and he's accusing someone else of being obsessive?

He's the one objectifying a girl. And he's just proving Kincaid's point that this behavior is irrational.

(Not that Siegel has harmed any little girls-- I don't make his mistake of projection.)

But anyway, here he is foaming at the mouth again about "liberals"-- I swear, it makes him sound like a nusto John Bircher circa 1957. Have all these TNR guys gone unhinged? Do they really think "liberals" (who after all are the only people who have ever paid for that magazine) are the real villains in the country? It's almost laughable, this spittle-flecked focus on "liberals" and "bloggers". And George Bush is still president... maybe they haven't noticed that.

Posted by: pippen | Aug 25, 2006 7:32:43 AM

Obviously a sixteen year old isn't a five year old -- but both are underage, and, for their age, oversexualized. That Siegel would make such a stink over Kincaid while having so determinedly contributed to the sexualization of children (and a sixteen year old is a child, particularly compared to someone nearing thirty) is a bit hypocritical. As I said, I was going to let this pass, till Siegel began tarring the whole of the left with the sexual deviant brush.

Posted by: Ezra | Aug 25, 2006 8:11:30 AM

Check this out

Jeff Wells is always way out there, but there's always a hint of "holy crap, this COULD be true"...

Posted by: mikebdot | Aug 25, 2006 8:52:02 AM

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