Monthly Archives: July 2015

In The Times (can’t remember everything)

July 14th, 2015: an article in the Los Angeles Times entitled…wait, I’ve forgotten what it was called. Oh yeah—“Child Porn law hinders treatment, therapists say” An okay title, I thought–a bit limited, maybe. Stephen Ceasar, the journalist who authored the piece, hadn’t told me when we’d spoken two weeks earlier what it would be called. He didn’t tell me what the slant of his article was, and he certainly hadn’t told me that my quotes would be the first ones referenced in the story. There are so many facets to this issue it’s hard to remember them all. But that’s how it goes with interviews, I guess. Can’t remember everything. On the whole, however, this opportunity was well taken, so as I read the whole article, including the familiar arguments from the other side of the AB1775 divide, I could see why my point of view had been placed up front. So far, I’m the only one passing along an actual story to illustrate the issue.

The AB1775 controversy has been kicking around for about a year. A year ago is when The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) announced its support of the bill; alerting members to the first major changes to The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) laws in a generation like it was announcing a summer social gathering. Since then, therapists have been gradually waking up to a law that, contrary to the statements of Cathy Atkins, CAMFT lead counsel (the principals who sanctioned the bill are all lawyers), does a lot more than “clarify” the existing requirements of mandated reporters of child abuse. As written before in these pages, bill AB1775 inserts the following words into a subsection of California penal code, defining sexual exploitation of minors: “downloading, streaming, accessing, through any electronic or digital media”. The older language referred to photographic stills, slides, videos, among other things, and was of course anachronistic, but the definition of exploitation was confined to production and distribution, not mere “accessing”. Now the viewing of obscene material through anything electronic is conflated into a definition of exploitation, thus opening up several rabbit holes: notably relating to the prevalence of so-called “sexting” among teens, as well as the murkier issue of what constitutes exploitation in our society.

Not that the LA Times fully explored all of these angles–again, can’t remember everything. For example, the remarks attributed to LA district attorney Jackie Lacey (one of the defendants in a suit seeking injunction of AB1775), suggest that a child is abused and exploited each time an obscene image is viewed. Really? So, it’s not just the production and distribution of obscene material (BTW: also defined in the penal code) that constitutes exploitation, it’s also the consumption of the product. Interesting. What implications, you might wonder, does this have for an economy enamored of electronic and textile imports, many of which are manufactured and/or assembled in developing economies, by individuals, including children, who are subject to unfair, even inhumane labor practices; and living in extreme poverty as a result?

None, some will say, nonplussed by analogy, but still edging protectively towards their I-phones. I have one or two terms to describe these people: hypocrite is one. Selectively moralistic, is another. The conservative bias that ignores economic exploitation while frothing at the mouth at anything relating to sex fills me with contempt. It’s okay for kids to starve or not have access to healthcare or clean water, so long as they’re not having sex. That’s their blinkered, simpleton, corrupt point of view. “Well, that’s happening over there”, stammered one dissenter I spoke to, before adding, “it’s not our responsibility what’s happening overseas”. In other words, it’s okay to buy cheap products made overseas, produced on the back of indentured servitude. It’s not our problem, even though we benefit from the labor. “Okay,” I said, pulling back. Like a focused motivational interviewer, I choose to meet them where they’re at. “So, if an image of child porn comes from, say, Thailand or Russia, does that mean it doesn’t matter because it’s happening overseas?”

At such points in these debates, mental short circuits start happening. The subject, once simple and clear, has become muddied, complicated, and is implicating all. My dissenting listeners start to tremble and shake, feeling the defenses crumble. It’s too much, I think. They won’t remember everything, so I amend the focus, keep things closer to home, which is all that some people really care about, actually. “How about this: it’s estimated that a third of all current teens have consentingly ‘sexted’ at least once. Do you really want each of them reported to police, because that’s what this law calls for?” The person in question said she wanted both police and therapists involved in a discussion of “decency”: a worthwhile, if naïve answer. My rebuttal made things complicated once again–oh well: I indicated that a therapist who reports confidential material to police will almost certainly lose the trust of a teen patient. If the sexting teen is a girl she’ll likely receive a stern lecture from police, with feminist overtones about respecting herself and her body. A boy will receive a similar lecture, only with a tautological catch: he’ll be told to respect girls and their bodies also. Or, he may be referred to sex offender treatment through a provider who is certified by the California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB). I’ve been a CASOMB provider for a few years and I offer here that sex offender treatment is to psychotherapy what traffic school is to a college education. In this system, therapists operate under what’s called a “Containment Model”, wherein clients are subject to polygraph exam, and providers must report to probation or parole any ‘slips’ of behavior (as in recurrence of viewing of obscene material), which may then lead to probation or parole violation. This manner of therapy-with-a-stick is no one’s idea of sound or authentic care, but it will be the standard when anyone’s arrested via the new law.

I know. It’s too much. Some of you have stopped reading this, haven’t you?

My story, as I put it earlier, which fronted the LA Times article, concerned a man to whom I’d explained mandated reporting law as part of the informed consent process. His subsequently tentative suggestion of illegal porn use, followed by his withdrawal from therapy, was illustrative of the ‘hindering therapy’ problem, which the LA Times highlights. The other side might complain that the article was weighted in favor of those opposed to AB1775, but they’ve only themselves to blame. You’d think that if laws like AB1775 “help authorities prevent serious crimes from taking place”, then supporters would provide an anonymous example to support this claim, as I did with my counter. Believe me: journalist Stephen Ceasar was interested in a story, not just bombastic rhetoric. But supporters of the new law didn’t provide an example. They merely reiterated their empty pronouncements. Why? Because they don’t have examples, I think. They can no more illustrate that arresting porn users leads to arrest of porn producers than illustrate that arresting pot smokers leads to the arrest of drug lords.

So, why did AB1775 get written, or passed through the California legislature so easily? (78 yes votes to 0 no votes—and quickly rubber stamped by Governor Jerry Brown). Here’s why, in my opinion. A Southern California assembly woman, named Melissa Melendez, was looking to sponsor a bill that would simply score points with her conservative constituency. On her website she could (and she did) proclaim that she was “Cracking down on Child Porn”, knowing that voters would lap it up and not even require her to substantiate her claims. Her supporters are the type who will have co-signed similar impingements that comprised the Patriot Act in 2003; were they alive in 1942, they will have vociferously supported the internment of Japanese Americans, arguing that it could lead to the capture of saboteurs. It could work, they will have cried, like today’s AB1775 supporters. And they are the spiritual descendents of Wisconsin residents, who in 1946 were already sniffing for the next great evil of their time: holding up signs calling for the election of Joseph McCarthy to the United States Congress.

There. How’s that for remembering everything?

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

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Testament

Time for another review and a tie-in to…something. Recently saw Testament and Youth, a film apparently released worldwide last fall, but only recently making it to Bay Area theaters. The film is based upon a First World War memoir of the same name by Vera Brittain. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander plays the historical figure, a suffragette and then later, a pacifist. That pacifism comes later is one of the story’s tragic themes. Vera is born into a well-to-do family in rural Britain, headed by a stern, if decent paternalist (played by Dominic West), and mothered by a prim yet henish character played by Emily Watson. Opening scenes feature Vera as a petulant but gifted daughter, angry at her father for buying her a piano for her birthday, with money that should have been allocated for an Oxford education. He exasperates over her ingratitude. She despairs that chauvinistic men, however benevolent, will never listen. Vera wants the world to listen. She is poetic, ambitious of becoming a writer, envious of her brother and his two friends, a triumvirate of carefree maleness.

Vera spends her spare time in their company as often as possible, partly because they are charming and fun, but more importantly, because theirs are privileged and coveted lives. Her brother, in particular, is a cheerful saint: advocating for his sister, he insists that their father allow Vera to “sit” for entrance exams at her dream college, Oxford. The father reluctantly agrees, and Vera passes the requisite exam, despite flightily overlooking instructions to write her essays in Latin and not German, which she has prophetically learned as a child. She returns home, initially discouraged, thinking she has failed in her dream. However, the head mistress who oversees admissions appears to like Vera, saying she has an “original mind”. Indeed she does, though following events reveal her to be as naive–and in some ways traditionalist–as anyone.

It is 1914 and war is breaking out. The young men of the towns and villages are signing up for military duty, gleeful at the chance to serve, plus believing the villainous Kaiser will be vanquished in no time. Vera’s father, however patriotic he may be, is nonetheless anxious about allowing his only son to fight, but Edward (Vera’s brother) is determined to serve, and Vera, reciprocating Edward’s earlier support of her, exhorts her father to “let him be a man”. It’s an interesting passage in the film, and surely also in the original memoir, for it betrays a likely truism: that while many women challenged the status quo with respect to their social roles, fewer sought to challenge the mores that led men to slaughter. BTW: it’s known that most notable suffragettes, like Emmeline Pankhurst for example, supported the war and recruitment efforts, and even suspended their violent campaign for voting rights. Vera Brittain was on the periphery of this movement, it seems, but in the story is more concerned with her education. She is concerned about the war because it would separate her from her brother, and in particular, because it steals away the emerging love of her life, Edward’s friend Roland.

The middle portion of the film introduces everyone to the horrors of war, firstly by revealing the shellshocked detachment of Edward and Roland when they return home on leave. Roland in particular seems distant and angry, often snapping at Vera, impatient with her innocence. He recovers his loving nature sufficiently in order to propose marriage, but of course the wedding never happens. Roland is killed in France soon after, a year into hostilities. Grieving but galvanized, Vera abandons college, signs up to be a nurse, first on home soil, treating returning soldiers, then later on the front lines, in France. Initially, her challenge is to overcome the severity of her nursing supervisors, the grudging attitudes of her peers, who smell Oxford elitism upon her. But Vera is resilient, tough, and above all truth-seeking, which eventually wins her admirers. Most powerful is a scene in which she has sought out the commander of Roland’s former unit. Bravely, she penetrates the commander’s consoling platitudes and learns the full truth of her fiance’s dying ordeal.

It’s another turning point in the story, which plunges further into the horror of war, sparing no one the grisly details. On the front lines, Vera treats the maimed and the dying with increasing maturity but diminishing hope, all the while maintaining a grim hold on reality. One after another, characters perish. Finally, and inevitably, Vera learns that her brother Edward has also fallen victim. At this point it is 1917, just before the end of the war. On Armistice day, she wades through a crowd of revelers, unable to join in celebrations, for everyone she has loved is either dead or has been broken irrevocably. At her home in the countryside, her mother dithers, a shadow of her once vital self. She is unable to get out of bed. Her father is quiet, at times sobbing–a lonely, depressed man. The film’s climax is a town hall meeting: Vera takes the stage and shouts down a raucous crowd which is protesting the notion that Germany might receive any leniency in post war negotiations. She displays her credentials, her irrefutable losses, but recounts the moment in which her knowledge of German was put to good use. It was a death scene: one in which she hovers over a dying “Hun”, apparently taking in a confession that fights against the man’s final breaths. In the meeting, unlike the earlier scene, Vera discloses the content of the man’s thoughts: a plea for forgiveness from a former sweetheart; a moment of redemption that equalizes friends and enemies.

Vera’s memoirs, written in sequence in the post-war years, were a testament to the realities of war, highlighting the ways in which women are changed by war.

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On to the next thing

As I move from one writing project to the next–roughly one book per year–it’s hard to maintain the pretense that I’m committed to any project for any length of time. Months after they’re done, I find it’s hard to keep the stories alive in my mind, there to be nurtured, developed until growing legs and walking on their own. It’s as if they were like children birthed and then given away, never to be seen again. There: how’s that for belaboring a maternity metaphor (and using the word ‘labor’ to boot), and then spicing it up with a hint of surrogacy.

For my next novel, I’ve decided to do things differently. This time I’ll get a head start upon my own jadedness and write blog essays well ahead of publication. With Crystal From The Hills and The Situation, one story stretched over five years (of my time, that is), commentary began upon the eve of release, which in retrospect seems neither here nor there, as crickets were the sounds that greeted those books’ arrivals. Meanwhile, I’m currently taking Working Through Rehab on a mini tour of book readings, following an unexpected positive review in The Therapist magazine. For Blocked (the working title of my next piece), I don’t necessarily expect a better reception, by which I simply mean more reactions. Actually, I might be content to fly completely under the radar.

Or the search engine analysis. That’s a fragment from one the book’s opening gags: a allusion to metaphors changing alongside technology. Do you like it? I hope so (sort of), as clever plays upon words are part of the new book’s intended appeal–a function of my seeking a voice that would convey attitude but do so with mischief. That’s my way of saying that Blocked will require a sense of humor, because that’s what its characters use to get by in life. It’s kind of a Breaking Bad sort of thing. I notice that dark humor is well rewarded these days, by an audience and/or readership with whom I feel increasingly out of touch, though I can take a hint as to what it wants. How do I know I’m out of touch? I don’t. I just sit in an office day after day listening to people, so how should I know what’s happening in the world.

So why should I try, or dare, to write a social satire? Oh God, it’s not a social commentary book, is it? That’s not what I think you’re thinking. However, it is what certain friends and colleagues–people who don’t read this blog–may think. Or, they may like the idea of a book of commentary, but would gently suggest I dispense with fiction, and include tables and graphs, plus a fuller reconnaissance as to what readers want to know. I could do that and within a year produce a volume entitled Finding Love Through Secure Attachment, or something, starring an exposition of mirror neurons and a glib pronouncement we can re-wire ourselves with healthy experiences, which I find unconvincing actually. Anyway, such a book would be not just positive, as people like to say, but also promissory, and instructive.

Perhaps I will be content to entertain, and possibly shock. Oh, how I’d love to shock, though I don’t think I will. It’s too hard when you don’t know enough. Still, my story features some chestnut themes of mine, stuff that will resonate with some readers, bore others: the oppressive nature of systems; the banality of modern communication; the obscuring truth by apathy and social momentum. Added to those are headline issues, mostly to do with sex, which my writing has only flirted with so far (there’s another play). Significant things are happening in the world to do with sex, so it’s about time I added my two cents, blending in oblique fashion the contending views of people like Cordelia Fine and Warren Farrell. This pretense reminds me of something once  written of Jean Luc Godard’s Weekend–that it dramatized with surrealistic glory the contrasting worldviews of Mao Tse Tung and Lyndon Johnson. Excellent. That’s something to emulate, though it would be unlikely for me, because the days of capturing interest with allegorical traffic jams are behind us.

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