The Marketing of Indignation


WorldNetDaily is crowing about having pressured a publisher to drop a book on same-sex relationships in ancient Greece and Rome with this hysterical reaction to, as far as I can tell, nothing more than the abstract of this chapter. The WND accounts use liberal helpings of scare quotes when referring to the "experts" who contributed "scholarly" essays to the book—though both adjectives are perfectly accurate. No such skepticism in this conspicuously un-bylined piece when it comes time to "interview" WND editor David Kupelian, just coincidentally author of a recent book (The Marketing of Evil) on our morally corrupt culture, though he doesn't appear to have any remotely relevant credentials. A cynic might even think this was a pseudo-controversy manufactured as an excuse to peddle a few copies of Kupelian's tongue-clucking tome.

As for the substance of the bruhaha: WND apparently regarded the chapter in question as propaganda for pedophiles because it suggested that hybrid lover/mentor relationships between ancient Greek adults and adolescents might not have been horrifically scarring to the latter.

First, even if that claim is totally without merit, it's troubling to see a publisher bullied into withdrawing a book because a scholar advances a controversial thesis. Wouldn't it be better to let it run and rebut the argument rigorously?

Second, the erastes/eromenos relationship was a relatively formalized one that (subject to the usual social restrictions) was understood by that culture as a normal part of the transition to adulthood. While that doesn't make it healthy, that's a sufficiently different context from a furtive bad touch from dirty Uncle Ernie that any comparison to pedophilia in the modern sense would be strained at best. Again, the only reason to elide that distinction is if you're counting on your readers' ignorance to gin up marketing buzz for your own book.

Finally, a touch of perspective here: Until a few centuries ago, the average girl in the West would've likely been married off by her parents by age 16. Most of our ancestors were "pedophiles." That's not meant as some kind of cultural-relativist endorsement of the practice: It was part and parcel of a culture that largely treated women as chattel, and is pretty clearly incompatible with our laudable liberal ideals of autonomy and informed consent. But it does mean that if you're asking whether the Greek erastes/eromenos relationship was damaging, you need to ask, "Damaging compared to what?" Relative to the modern practice where we encourage teens to hold back from sexual activity until they're emotionally mature enough, it probably was. In the context of an already-sexualized adolescence, where 14-year-olds weren't just watching Britney gyrate, but expected to be starting families? Not obviously.