Our near-pathological need to see our fellow man humiliated and embarrassed may have reached its zenith with the never-out-of-style Cheaters, but now, with NBC the unlikeliest of slum-dwellers, we have “To Catch a Predator”; Dateline’s answer to Allen Funt, only instead of pies to the face and fake spiders in the cupboard, we have perverts, condoms, and hot-to-trot young flesh (posing as even younger flesh) seducing sick fucks into breaking the law. It’s like Bill O’Reilly has made the transition to the majors — pedophilic obsession and strong yet deluded sense of right and wrong firmly intact — along with the hidden-camera danger of Punk’d. At bottom, though, it’s simply the most entertaining program on the air, as it understands that during prime time, there is nothing quite so hilarious as a married man with two kids and a well-paying job throwing it all down the drain for what he believes is an assignation with a young girl. Imagine what’s going through such a man’s mind: driving frantically to a home he believes is the dwelling of a 13-year-old, he’s exploding with an almost unimaginable lust. After all, the girl was almost unspeakably nasty on-line, throwing around desires, dreams, and sick requests like a full-throttled veteran. It’s every child predator’s dream (or man, when he’s honest), and he is but seconds from realization. Only instead of orgasmic delight, he is greeted by Chris Hansen and a swarm of local police. It’s like speeding across town to catch that Grade-A prostitute before class, only the bitch isn’t home, but her far-uglier and just-as-expensive roommate is. Not like I’d know anything about that.
To a man, though, they seem to know the jig is up, as most are reluctant to enter the forbidden paradise to begin with. Even those who do stride forth with the confidence of a peacock seem to check themselves once they reach the inner sanctum, as if the lives of quiet desperation heretofore endured have come full circle, and the realization suddenly crashes down with the weight of a thousand tortured, virginal years. Surely a sad marriage, nasty kids, and a demeaning job could not inhabit the same endless road that leads to an attractive — and unpaid — female, even one so innocent of years? For consider the men in this scenario: if they’re not old, gray, and pockmarked, they are young and decidedly greasy. They have bad skin, bad hair, unfortunate attire, and despite being confident enough to unfurl their cocks in assorted chat rooms, they hold not a single arrow in their quiver that would get them laid in a world not steeped in depravity. Most assuredly, these men seek illegal females because they are twisted and broken, but more than that, they prey on the young because only there, just a few sunsets past the age of reason, could it be possible to swindle a human being out of her blue jeans. At bottom, they are banking on this one girl, in this particular chat room, at this very hour, to be burdened by daddy issues. It’s a long shot to be sure, but dozens are more than willing to try.
I could argue that Mr. Hansen is smug, condescending, and judgmental, but as we are discussing the potential rape of minors, perhaps the issue warrants a furrowed brow or two. The hosts of Cheaters have also been sanctimonious bastards, and there, it was only adultery between grown-ups, so the religiously tinged moralizing was laughable on its face. Infidelity sucks ass for the cuckold, but such violations hardly threaten the kingdom. Here, though, are kids being exploited by adults who know better, even if the “kid” is an actress and no one was ever really in danger. But the men do not know that, and as the stings on this show prove, there is no shortage of creeps wanting to have sex with young girls. Sure, these aren’t pre-schoolers we’re talking about (though I imagine the response would be as strong), but the law is still being broken. I could make a reasonable case that today’s middle-school girls are tarts, whores, and teases who dress so provocatively that it’s quite unfair to judge the erections many of us spring in their presence, but fantasies aside, it’s still a crime to express anything sexual in their presence. No chats, no pictures, no invitations; and this is as it should be, though for our protection, not theirs. So why is “To Catch a Predator” in what seems to be its 35th week? And why could it conceivably go on ad infinitum; a traveling roadshow of debauchery and salaciousness, whereby the streets are cleared of presumably upstanding gentlemen who all, it would appear, harbor forbidden lusts? Is the male gender really this nasty?
I know, I know, it wasn’t too long ago that I took the female persuasion to task for graduating a disproportionate number of harlots from its universities and teaching academies, all of whom seemed bound and determined to seduce young men in their charge, but the cases were so atypically outrageous that they reached the headlines within hours of their discovery. If we used news copy to chart the number of men arrested each and every day for fucking — or attempting to fuck — minors, we’d have little time for anything else, as much as it would please Mr. O’Reilly and his desire to turn the spotlight away from his dying political philosophy. Moreover, we could not do a show, or even a short film, about females who hunt for underage boys on the internet, though it’s due less to their superior sense of morality than having more real-world options for pursuing an orgasm. If a man lacks cash and can’t stomach sex of the anonymous and homosexual variety, he must stoop to conquer, which, unfortunately, might include children. Any woman — at any time — can get laid; perhaps not always with George Clooney, but rarely would even the most beastly of the race be forced to participate in a truly unnatural act. Yes, women lie, cheat, and sink to hideous depths for love and lust, but it’s a different beast indeed to do so out of narcissistic impulses, rather than a need to ejaculate. Men just want to get off; women need to be reinforced as objects of stature and beauty, especially when they don’t actually deserve it.
The chat room logs that indict these men are everything you would expect, right down to the silly abbreviations and emoticons. Inevitably, all talk turns to “licking pussy,” which appears to be the obsession du jour of the predator set. Some men are skeptical, and even bring up the TV show (more than one has been a dedicated fan before his arrest), but if the undercover agents stay with it long enough, the predator wears down and asks to come over. A few masturbate on camera, others describe all sorts of possible positions, and even if the journey were never made, enough has been revealed to bring about at least one felony charge. For once the girl reveals her age — lie or not — the man is sunk. But they all believe themselves to be the exception to the rule, as if they alone have found the one hot girl on the planet who would invite an old man into their home for a sex party. But fall for it they do, from construction workers to cabbies, teachers to police officers; and with but a few exceptions, all deny having driven hours out of their way for sex. One man, for example, tried to convince Mr. Hansen that he made a four hour trek simply to “hang out” and talk with a girl over 20 years his junior. “The alcohol, marijuana, and box of condoms?” Hansen inquires. A shrug, perhaps a muffled “dunno,” and then it’s off to the front door, where the thin blue line is waiting to whisk him away to the only free sex he’s likely to get for the next one to three.
So why do we watch? Why the need, when every case is simply a near-exact repeat of the one before, right down to the denials, gifts, and chat room come-ons? It seems almost too obvious to state that we need to feel superior to others, if only through our viewing habits, but what else is there? As an offshoot, I am thoroughly entertained by those who ruin their lives, and the more trivial the reason, the better. Such rebels and outlaws fascinate me, as risk is an expression of the human character I avoid with almost machinelike precision. If the odds are against it, I’ll resist the effort, though such a character flaw fails to explain my attraction for bingo, which holds some of the worst odds in the entire gaming world. But as I am sitting down, and can expect to lose no more than $30 in a single evening, the whole thing smacks less of risk than a brief flirtation with senior citizenry. Going “all in” for illegal twat is hardly the moral equivalent of scaling a 14-er or emptying one’s savings to invest in a corner café, but as the rewards are so few in the face of the potential harm and punishment, I doubt a greater gamble exists. Still, that there are so many in our midst — men who pile the decades of their lives into the trunks of their cars for a single act — should frighten our civilization to its very core. Perhaps this also explains the impulse to end a life for a few dollars, or the instinct that begins a freeway chase over what would have been a minor traffic violation. Or maybe, in the end, it’s simply that inexplicable rush we all feel when someone, anyone, is caught doing something wrong. It’s not us, after all, so we relax and settle in; unarrested, unshackled, and free as a bird.