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Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting Paperback – January 4, 2000

3.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

According to the media, the sexual abuse of children has reached epidemic proportions, and those who do not think so are in denial. English professor Kincaid (Annoying the Victorians, Routledge, 1994) uses the model of the Gothic novel to explore the origin of this concept, showing that by employing Victorian and Freudian ideas our society has simultaneously idealized and eroticized images of children and youth. 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. Written with clarity and wit, hers is a timely, interesting book. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.?Barbara M. Bibel, Oakland P.L., CA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

A compelling cultural history of children and sexual desire. Kincaid, a professor of English at the University of Southern California, seems to have screened every movie that ever featured a child, and his reading list is extensive as well. He takes on some obvious targets, like the legions of child actors whose images are the very essence of innocence and purity, but whose photos and mannerisms belie a darker knowledge of desire. It's no accident that child stars seem always to be photographed in the same way: eyes wide, mouth opened in a smile. It's a sexual gaze, says Kincaid, and while adults may argue that childrens images are entirely free of sexual connotations, there can be no doubt that these children serve as erotic objects and fetishes to the culture at large. He also calls attention to widespread hysteria over childhood knowledge of sex: the threat of kidnapping, the fear of abuse in day-care centers, the fear of the Internet being used by pedophiles. Never mind the fact that only about 100 children a year are abducted by strangers, that the McMartin day-care case was a horrible sham, or that Internet ads for ``kiddie porn are nearly always police-run dragnets. The war against such nonexistent crimes, Kincaid writes, masks the real abuse to children, like poverty, physical abuse, and simple indifference. What Kincaid proposes in this cogent work (though it's marred by some overly snide asides) is that we accept that our children are sexual creatures and dispense with hysteria in favor of a frank and reasoned approach to a subject thoroughly obscured, at present, by fear and sensationalism. Often fascinating and sure to spark controversy among the recovered-memory and Courage to Heal set. (24 illustrations) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (January 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822321939
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822321934
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,449,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Back in the 1950s, Leslie Fiedler stunned America with his thesis that the great American novels were homoerotic love stories: Huck and Jim in "Huckleberry Finn," Ishmael and Queequeg in "Moby Dick," etc. He seemed correct as well as sensational, and American writing since Fiedler's magnum opus "Love and Death in the America Novel" and his jarring essay "Come Back to the Raft again Huck Honey" has only buttressed his point.
James Kinkaid has made an even bolder claim a half-century later, that pedophile fantasy can be found at the heart of our most revered movies like "The Good Ship Lollipop" or "Home Alone." "Our culture has enthusiastically sexualized the child while denying just as enthusiatically that it was doing any such thing," he writes, capsulizing his argument. I think this claim in intuitively true. A lot of films show kids in their underwear gratuitously and use the ambivalence of art to insinuate what taboo dictates cannot be directly stated. Macaulay Culkin in the "Home Alone" movies is a beautiful blonde with unnatural cherry-red lips like Harlowe or Monroe!
But the conclusions Kinkaid draws from his observations aren't as forceful and eloquent as the debunking observations themselves. If he is right, what does this mean? His answer seems to be kind of vague. He suggests we rewrite the Gothic script and stop overrating innocence and panicking about the burgeoning sexuality of the young. His pervasive humor throughout the book suggests a kind a campy scholarship. I am all for humor, but I think Kinkaid needs to write another book about how our society can get out of the quandary of its sexual hypocrisy. It's a larger and more complex subject than he seems to think.
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Format: Hardcover
Kincaid begins from the premise that our culture's stories are flexible, and reflect our underlying cosmologies. He demonstrates convincingly that myths about childhood innocence and concurrent vulnerability arose historically as we created a separate cultural identity for children. This stoked a quasi-erotic love of children as innocents, and a hatred of those who act out that eroticism. There is a widespread obsession with children, and an obsession with those who act on that societally generated eroticism. Those who are inclined to hate have fostered a bitter hatred of those who are trapped by the wrong kind of love of children. Dahmers and Gacys are rare and twisted individuals, but they are held up by these haters as representatives of all who break the rules for touching and loving children. Kincaid shows, though, that society dotes on cute, eroticized children, as long as appropriate hypocrisies are maintained. He suggests that the frenzied hatred of child-abusers is fed by this same hypocritical eroticism. Up to this point, Kincaid is bold and persuasive. Children themselves become damaged by the myth, being taught that be be desired or contacted erotically by an adult is to become the most damaged of society's victims, and even potential abusers themselves, and that any love expressed in these relationships, perhaps by the only adult who has shown them love, is absolutely thereby discounted. The truth is that "hard-core" sexual contact with children is a harmful and abusive practice, and only the most blind or self-serving can deny this. Kincaid does not attempt to deny this, although he questions its frequency.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Aside from the lurid title, Mr. Kinkaid's book on the "glorification" of child sexuality is a harsh study on America's fascination with all manner of things erotic. Born in Europe, I can say with some knowledge that Americans do seem to have a bizarre need to know all the details of molestation cases...almost as if they were suffering from the same desires as the perpetrators. Mr. Kinkaid's points are well presented, although to the point of monotony. After several pages devoted to Shirley Temple, I will never be able to view "Heidi" in the same way again. The dichotomy of writing a book of this sort is that Mr. Kinkaid becomes almost as guilty of the very activities of which he accuses Americans. Yes, some ideas and subjects must be broached in a manner that borders on exploitation, but still....a little less detail of certain elements would have sufficed. All in all, Mr. Kinkaid has written a very disturbing, yet highly important work. Perhaps the next time a mother or father decides to dress a nine-year-old girl up in a skimpy bikini, they will think twice before doing so. Cute? Maybe...But what message are we sending, anyway, when we show as much young flesh as we tend to do? Remember Jon-Benet Ramsey?
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Format: Paperback
Kincaid takes on a droll tone throughout this book that urges us to examine our relationship to children. Kincaid wishes to get rid of the paranoia and hysteria around the threat of child molesting and provides some evidence that adults are somewhat sexually attracted to children, but loath to admit it. If we admitted the attraction and stopped treating it like a sick perversion we could live in a saner, less fearful environment. Our culture also celebrates the childlike features as sexual, but we condemn those who get too turned on by them. Beauty contests for children are given as an example of our making children sexy. Kincaid suggests that we stop looking for monsters and sinister purposes in others, thinking that they are potential child molesters. We should stop passing draconian laws that give godlike powers to the police. And we should not accuse others of being child molesters for advocating a lighter approach to child molesting problems.

Kincaid thinks that we are trapped in a never-ending gothic story of a monster that comes after our children and violates their innocence .We then do a lot of porn babbling about the events as if to say, "It is an awful unspeakable story. Please tell it to me in every detail again." The child molesting stories serve prurient interests in adults, sexually titillating them.

Kincaid goes over films and books and pulls out the sexual overtones of child characters in entertainment such as Shirley Temple with her flirtations and kids in their underwear for half of the movie. When a child star reaches adolescence people often forget them since they are no longer cute, but are gangly, awkward looking teenagers.
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