Okay, I’ve reviewed some pretty fucked-up stuff on this site over the years, but it’s probably fair to say that nothing I’ve seen — not Cannibal Holocaust, not Goodbye, Uncle Tom, not Men Behind The Sun, not A Serbian Film — compares in terms of being as genuinely unsettling as one-and-done director Adi Sidelman’s disarmingly matter-of-fact 1994 documentary ChickenHawk : Men Who Love Boys, a short (51 minutes, to be precise), concise look into the lives and mindsets of guys associated with the semi-notorious NAMBLA — an acronym, for those who claim not to know, for The North American Man Boy Love Association.
NAMBLA’s core philosophy is an unusual one indeed — they hold to the belief that children are inherently sexual beings, with curiosities and desires just like anybody else, and that they are capable of having fully mature, consenting, reciprocal (in terms of both emotions and bodily fluids) relationships with — well, fully-grown adults. Specifically, fully-grown adult men.
Yeah, yeah — I know all the arguments : the Greeks and Spartans engaged in this kind of thing all the time, the Romans were cool with it (the film even mentions Nero’s public marriage ceremony to a twelve-year-old boy, not that I’d recommend invoking Nero’s name as a great historical example of, well, anything), and there are tribes in New Guinea where elder-on-kid sexual relations are still a matter of course to this very day. Never mind that there are tribes in New Guinea where cannibalism is still a matter of course to this very day, as well — when you’re in NAMBLA’s shoes, you gotta take your allies where you can find ’em. And strange as it sounds, you do have to sort of give them a kind of awkward near-respect for being brazen enough to organize themselves despite more or less all of society’s entirely-understandable disgust. Just to get back to cannibals again for a second, we all know they’re out there here and there, and walk among us in some (hopefully) small number, but I don’t see them having the guts (for lack of a better term) to form, say, a North American Human Flesh Eaters Association.
Please don’t confuse that previous statement for any sort of admiration on my part for NAMBLA and its ilk, though —I don’t know about you, but the general impression I have of “pederasts,” or “boy-lovers,” or whaetver the hell it is child molesters prefer to call themselves, was probably imprinted on my psyche at an early age by Gordon Jump’s guest-starring turn as a bicycle shop owner with a taste for not-yet-ripened fruit on Diff’rent Strokes. As a result, these fellas have generally seemed to me to be more, frankly, pathetic than anything else, and Sideman certainly does nothing to dispel that notion in ChickenHawk. Listening to these guys wax poetic about how 12- and 13-year-old boys are, as they see it, “flirting” with them just by doing the normal everyday shit that kids do would almost be amusing, if the consequences for the “flirtatious” youngsters in question weren’t so devastating. When one of the NAMBLA-ites talks about a camping trip to the woods he took with a barely-pubescent little tyke, he goes to great lengths to stress that the whole trip was arranged by the boy, as was the idea for them to sleep in a double-width sleeping bag with no zipper in the middle. The creepy old fart chooses his next words even more carefully, though, and doesn’t come right out and say the kid “consented” to being reamed out by the old-timer, merely that “nature took its course,” and that said illegal “love”-making was a “very special moment” for him and, he “hoped,” the boy, too.
He wasn’t certain of it, mind you — he just hoped.
Now, to return to the basic tenets of the “World According To NAMBLA” for just a moment —the “historical precedent” argument these guys trot out fails to wash with me because times change and it means something entirely different to be a 12-year-old in a world where life expectancy is 40 if you’re lucky than it does to be a 12-year-old in a world where we live to be 80. The “kids have sexual curiosities and desires” argument likewise doesn’t hold much water either because, yeah, while kids do indeed have sexual curiosities and desires ,they’re generally about other kids their own goddamn age, not 50-year old men with pencil-thin mustaches, bad hairpieces, sweaty skin, and oily foreheads. So any sort of moralistic stance for pedophilia is just something I can’t buy into.
Now — bear with me here — where the NAMBLA creeps do have a valid point, though, is that no individual should be persecuted, much less prosecuted, for thoughts in their heads and feelings in their hearts that have never been acted upon. I don’t know if pedophilia is a genetic predisposition or what, and I certainly don’t blame the LGBT community for wanting to keep these folks as far fucking away from them as possible since there’s an absolute universe of difference between sexual activity engaged in by consenting adults and sexual activity engaged in by one absolutely positively rarin’-to-go adult and a young child who cannot, in any way, shape, or form be held legally or morally responsible for their actions and therefore can’t be said to “consent” to anything at all . All that being said, when the queasy-looking fellow in the photo above was fired from his gig at a public school merely for being associated with NAMBLA, and not for any specific acts of child molestation (hell, he’d never been so much as accused, much less convicted, of anything), I think he should have “lawyered up” and sued the school district for everything they’ve got. Instead, he just sits in his less-than-modest apartment right across the street from the school that ousted him , watches the boys in the playground from his window, and compares himself to Moses looking out at “the promised land.”
Is a statement like that enough to make your stomach churn? Absolutely. Do I blame the parents at the school for wanting to keep this guy away from their kids? Not in the least. But let’s be honest — those kids have about a 10,000 % better chance of being harmed, even molested, by those selfsame parents than by the admittedly deviant (and unrepentant) lonely old creep they are supposedly being “protected” from. Unless and until this guy does anything, he’s got every right to keep his job as long as his — uhhhmmmm — predilections don’t affect his work performance. You may not like it, but you can’t claim the mantle of moral superiority over anyone, even a pedophile, if you’re willing to throw somebody under the bus merely for having criminal thoughts in his mind, because ya know what? We’re all guilty of that. I’ve never fantasized about molesting a kid, but I’ve certainly had the urge to kill a few people in my time, and so have you. We didn’t act on it — unless you’re reading this in the computer lab at Riker’s Island or something — and we’re allowed to go on about our daily business, as we damn well should be. Same goes for this clown. No matter how repulsive the inner workings of his mind may be, he should be allowed to live his life as freely as he wants to as long as they well and truly remain inner workings.
Likewise, you can’t help but feel a bit repulsed by the actions of a good number of our fellow non-child-molesters who are shown harassing NAMBLA members a bit too enthusiastically. Standing outside their office and chanting at anyone coming in or out, leaving anonymous death threats on their answering machine — this isn’t the behavior of people “concerned for the children,” it’s the behavior of a bloodthirsty mob out for a pound of flesh. And who’s an easier target than a grown man who admits to having sexual feelings for little kids? My message to all the overly-vociferous NAMBLA harassers is a pretty simple one — pick on somebody your own size. It doesn’t take much by way of balls to scream at and threaten the most marginalized, lame, pathetic losers on the planet. Direct your rage at somebody with some actual power if you’re still into proving your manhood. Might I suggest Goldman-Sachs? Citibank? Wells Fargo? Chase Manhattan? Who’s a bigger danger to the lives of you and your family — a desperate, lonely, unhygienic, unemployed slob who gets a woody looking at drawings of naked teenagers, or the asshole bank CEO who owns your mortgage?
All of which, perhaps confusingly, is not to say that I feel the members of NAMBLA and their ilk deserve any sympathy. When Sideman shows noted “beat generation” icon Allen Ginsberg reciting a poem that begins “sweet boy, give me your ass!!!!!!!!” at the boy-lovers’ national conference and the (obviously quite small) crowd roars and cheers its approval, it’s pretty obvious that most of these guys are genuinely loathsome individuals who have absolutely earned a healthy amount of scorn. But it’s a matter of degrees here, people. In the overall scheme of things, these folks, repugnant as they are, pose a very small threat, while your average bank, oil company, hedge fund, or defense contractor poses a mighty one indeed. Just imagine what a glorious world we would be living in if the average Wall Street executive were as ashamed to show his face in public as the average NAMBLA member!
If it seems I’m extrapolating a bit here, that just goes to show that ChickenHawk is, indeed, a thought-provoking piece of work. It’s definitely a challenging — hell, even difficult — bit of filmmaking, but it does what all good documentaries do — shows both sides of the issue without bias or emotion, raises thought-provoking questions while bypassing the urge to spoon-feed answers, and allows the viewer to make up his or her own mind. All in the space of about 52 minutes.
While this movie was probably the most- talked-about selection at legendary “fringe” documentarian Todd Phillips’ inaugural New York Underground Film Festival back in the day and got pretty good distribtion on VHS under the auspices of the great Film Threat, it has never, at least to my knowledge, been given a “legitimate” DVD release (although it was available as a bootleg for awhile from an outfit calling itself Divine Trash Films). That doesn’t mean you can’t see it, though — more than a few enterprising individuals have put it up on YouTube in its entirety. Don’t expect a link here since I don’t need that (or, hell, any) kind of unwelcome attention around these parts, but if you really want to see it, just type it in the search box there and you’ll find it easily enough. I would certainly encourage you to do so — it’s one of those films that nobody should see if they don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for in advance, but if you go in forewarned and forearmed, you will find it to be a truly rare thing indeed : a movie that more than likely absolutely confirms your initial impressions in regards to its subject, but gives you plenty to ponder over anyway.