A friend of mine, David Amsden, wrote a piece for Slate this week. It was a diary of sorts, of a prom he went to with a 17-year-old girl. David is 24. (I used to work with him, and we have seen each other at events from time to time, so perhaps "friend" is not the best term, but he's a professional friend, so what does it matter?) Now immediately, just now, you had a hitch, a bit of a start. Of course you did. You’d be a pretty sick bastard if you just thought “cool,” but then again, there's also something oddly human about it. Just in the look, not in the act we recoil from.
David did not attend the prom with the 17-year-old to get his rocks off, it was on an assignment. He was exploring, in a way, our society’s recent accelerated fascination with the pre-teen set. The Olsen Twins, Mandy Moore, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears on the cover of Rolling Stone a few years ago. It was participatory journalism; I’m sure readers older than me could tell who invented it, but the brilliant George Lipton perfected it. Perhaps David’s piece is not of the quality that George’s explorations were, but there is no doubt it was done in the same spirit.
I laughed my ass off at the piece. I thought it was funny, well-written, perceptive, and insightful. There was nothing gross or lascivious about what he did. But as I read through the comments, I was shocked to find how offended people were. What, really did David do? Readers slung shit in his direction, hoping it would stick, flung accusations of whatever you can think of at him. I call these people middle-agers. No matter what stage of their career they are in, they remain in stasis somewhere between the reality of their lives and the ideal that they had created and still felt they deserved. Most of these people, I think, sit on the internet reading and looking for something to get offended at. This is a difficult argument, because any time people comment you’re going to have some incisive and thoughtful responses, whether they are for what you have written, or adamantly against and offended by it. But there is also this breed of halfwits who cannot wait to comment. They live for it. Validation of something, you might comment.
Because here’s the thing: You cannot look at Lindsay Lohan, as a normal, heterosexual male, and not have the fantasy immediately pop into your head. You correct yourself quickly afterwards, remind yourself that she is 17, illegal, far too young, you step away, but briefly, for just a second, you respond. She exists somewhere between adult and child, but the adult is painted all over her chest, on her outfits, in the way that she handles herself that it’s near impossible not to notice her, not to think about her. When Hilary Duff wears a cleavage bearing outfit and a short skirt, at 16, she removes herself from an adolescent realm and enters an adult world that although for her may be some form of control or pretend or make believe or even a reach to not be condescended to and viewed as an adult, there is a detachment for her between what she is wearing and who she is. For the viewer, there are just the clothes. Same thing with Britney. Part of what makes Lolita such a classic is, well let me see here, it says on the box that it speaks something of the human condition. The humor is the sugar that helps the medicine go down, but the commentary is that when a woman’s body, and make no mistake, these girl’s have women’s bodies, comes across a man’s view, there’s a moment, perhaps just a single moment before we realize that we shouldn’t be looking, where all we see is just that, a woman. (If anyone wants to say that Lolita is not an adult woman, even in body, please raise your hand and Tommy will come over and hit you over the head with a hammer because you are a retard.)
At a bar a few months ago I sat talking to a woman for 45 minutes. At some point in the conversation I asked what she did. "I go to school," she said. "Oh, what are you studying?" "Well, everything." That's when I paused. Everything? Something was off. "What do you mean, everything?" "English, History, Science, you know the normal courses." "What!? What program are you in?" The "program" thing was me hoping, hoping that this wasn't going where I thought it would be going. "Program?" Crap. It was. "I go to St. Agnes Prep." Now, I just made that name up, but the point is she was in high school. What was she doing at an adult bar on a weeknight? She had a fake ID. How did someone not catch on and chuck her to the street? Because she looked 24. I'm not exaggerating in hindsight to make myself feel better. The girl looked 24. And, no, I did nothing with her. Sick bastards.
David was merely commenting, partly on the story I told above, but mostly on this moment where most of the women flooding our screens are young, and a good percentage of those strut around semi-naked. If his thesis had been, “let me attend the prom and fuck this 17-year-old in an effort to examine this odd phenomenon,” then, yes, he's sick bastard. And he’s going to jail. But what he was doing was exploring, for him, part of this fascination in pop culture with the little girl-cum-budding sexual woman. I don’t see the problem with it. The examination, the journalistic questioning (whether it is journalistic is another matter, but it is writing, and I did find it interesting, humorous, well-written, thoughtful, and perceptive. Which I’ve already said.
Even with the volume of tirades against his piece, after reading through them I remained unconvinced that there was something wrong with what he had done. Time and again, read after read, thinking how uncomplicated the world must be to these people, how very black and white it was, I had the same reaction. Future politicians of America, unite. Please get a life.