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NAMBLA, Humor and the Media

by Peter Herman

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Let's face it, there are any number of organizations we could name that are much larger than ours. Yet, how many garner the amount of attention we get? How do we explain the public's fascination with the media's portrayal of NAMBLA?

Despite NAMBLA's thirty-three year existence and despite the remarkably high name recognition it draws, receiving as it does frequent references in popular culture, very few outside of NAMBLA know or can accurately identify our organization's mission and beliefs. In large measure, this is due to uncritical and irresponsible media which has thoroughly distorted our organization's identity. Few who depend on popular media for their information would be aware of the actual idea NAMBLA has steadfastly adhered to - that love between a man and a boy, when fully and freely accepted by both participants and expressed in any mutually agreed and safe way, is of immense benefit not only to both individuals but to the wider society as well.

Our message has obviously been mangled beyond recognition and disseminated to a gullible public accustomed to uncritical consumption of mass media. The susceptibility of people to accept phantasmagoric portrayals is as ancient as that of human societies. Even today, many will find more plausibility in the "rapture" than in Darwinian evolution. Human folly finds no bounds where emotions, superstition and prejudice trump facts.

Today, researchers tackling controversial subjects, especially in human sexuality, who present theories contrary to cherished false notions risk only their careers. No doubt, politicians and corporations have had a role as they find it essential to influence the media narrative to further their own agendas. Fortunately, burning at the stake is a little too retro for modern Western tastes, but there is no telling how far societies may still regress.

Humor, so far, is still a safe way of pillorying ignorance and fatuous beliefs. The cartoon series, The Simpsons, has done just that in many subtle and not so subtle ways including many digs at the victimization industrial complex. In a recent episode, The Simpsons even mentioned NAMBLA using its correct acronym but substituting a single letter "t" for "y" in its full title. This is but the latest of spoofs presented by such programs as South Park, Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show.

In the recent Simpsons episode, Bart, the exemplar of boyish mischief, actually embarks on a humanitarian mission. He enlists the help of the iconic nerdy scientist of the series and other equally nerdy allies to reprogram plush, robotic toy baby seals from vicious attacking machines to the original lovable ersatz creatures that they were originally designed to be.

As huggable creatures, they were giving the oldsters at grandpa's "retirement castle" a will to live. Evil funeral directors, sensing a reduction in business, had reprogrammed the toy baby seals to be vicious, biting animals.

When Bart's team meets, his nerdy scientist ally, using a PowerPoint presentation, introduces the project as "North American Man Bot Love Association" with the initial letters reading vertically "NAMBLA". One of the participants then says, "We really should change that name" but receives the rejoinder, "I'll change it to whatever you like as long as Man Bot Love is in there somewhere."

When the project is successfully completed with the toy seals being permanently returned to their cute lovable state, we see them charming everyone, especially the residents of the retirement castle who are seen hugging and dancing with their artificial friends. Those familiar with the South Park NAMBLA episode may see a reference to the tawdry dance scene therein. But where South Park portrays us as imposing ourselves on the boy characters, the parallel scene in The Simpsons is a joyous one where one can hardly miss the symbolic substitution of bots for boys.

There is further symbolism here when we consider the funeral directors' going to extraordinary lengths to put their profits ahead of others' happiness (by turning something that should have brought joy into something that brought terror) just as our society goes to extraordinary lengths to prop up the profitable status quo, turning loving relationships which should be a source of happiness into something terrifying.

One could argue that the creators of The Simpsons are simply lampooning NAMBLA. Given their past trenchant digs at the molester-under-every-bed hysteria, this explanation is very unlikely. The brief dialogue quoted earlier does not support such a hypothesis. In the episode at hand, vacuous societal notions are those being ridiculed. But in all of the series' silliness, the creators of The Simpsons can easily enjoy deniability.

So it has always been. The court jester of old could get away with a lot. In hilarity, there was deniability. Few people realize that the term "yahoo" was actually coined by the 17th century satirist Jonathan Swift. His Gulliver's Travels was more than a child's silly fairy tale but a biting criticism of the politics of his time. In one of the four travels Swift has Gulliver encounter "yahoos", a tribe of filthy avaricious human-like creatures who are looked down upon by the "Houyhnhnms" a race of noble and intelligent horses. Few of the British nobility that Swift painted as "yahoos" were any the wiser. Unfortunately, our present day "yahoos" are still around and still unable to recognize themselves as such.

The Simpsons, perhaps more than other satirical cartoon series, including the previously mentioned satires, is unusual in seeing so well through human folly, all the while itself seeming utterly foolish as Gulliver's Travels once also seemed.

The fascination with NAMBLA as tortured by most media may be akin to fascination with distorted faces, gargoyles, chimeras and other monsters. These are representations of what is familiar in ourselves yet which we have been made to fear.

What is encouraging in the attitudes presented by, among others, the creators of The Simpsons, both in this latest episode and past ones, is that they are speaking to an undercurrent within the public that does understand the silliness of these fears but are too afraid to seriously state the obvious, possibly even to themselves.

This essay, when read by our detractors, will no doubt be viewed as delusional. This may all be to the good as we do not want present-day Jonathan Swifts to undercut themselves.


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