June 1, 2014

The Catholic church and Boy Scout abuse scandals as part of the '80s revival in the wake of 9/11

The bulk of sexual abuse cases within the Catholic church and the Boy Scouts were part of the broader rising-crime trend of the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Yet it took until 2002 for the Catholic church scandal to break, and 2007 for the Boy Scouts scandal. (The Washington Times did a series on the Scouts in '91, but it did not reverberate throughout popular awareness.)

Fast-forward to 2014, and we aren't dealing with these topics anymore — not because we've become desensitized, accepted them, and come to expect such behavior. If it hasn't been a hot topic for awhile now, we can't be desensitized to it. And those who weren't tuned in to the period when it was a hot topic, like the younger Millennials, ought not to be desensitized, and should be raising a stink.

It's just something we don't want to think about anymore. The Boy Scouts are going to let faggots back into the ranks of troop leaders any day now, and no one is making the obvious jokes about what that just might lead to. We're supposed to trust the experts and authorities within the organization and any governmental supervisors, and go along with it. Thinking about, let alone talking about, y'know... sex, especially when it's perverted, harmful, and offensive, would just be... well, awkward.

What was it about the climate of 2002 to the late 2000s that allowed these topics to surface and be taken at least somewhat seriously among the elite and the general public alike? You didn't see this level of outrage during most of the '90s or during this decade so far.

I think the public response to cope with 9/11 put folks in a more open mood, both the victims who were coming forward and the audience who could've chosen to tune them out. When people sense a rise in the level of dangerous attack, they naturally band together and support each other more than when they feel like the world is safe enough to go it alone.

So, from about 2002 or 2003 through I'd say 2007 or '08, the social climate suddenly got more open, engaging, and freewheeling. There was also a revival of pop culture from the later half of the '70s and especially the '80s, as we sensed that those rising-crime times had lessons to teach us in our post-9/11 world. However, after 5 to 10 years of no more 9/11 style attacks, we gradually came to view the original attack as an awful fluke, and resumed the closed-off cocooning trend that began back in the '90s.

Not only, then, was that climate more favorable to discussing an epidemic of sexual abuse in the abstract, it was even more open to these concrete scandals because they took place primarily in the '70s and '80s. We weren't remembering only the uplifting parts of life in the good old days, but the darker current running under everyday life back then as well.

In 2014, high school kids couldn't find it any uncooler than to sport the American Apparel / '80s aerobics look that their counterparts were in 2006, and bringing up the depravity of homo leaders in a major church or youth organization would just be... y'know, awkward. It almost feels like we're back to the second Clinton administration, only more so, with neo-Hanson and neo-Spice Girls music on the radio, and with sex scandals striking audiences as titillating (at most sordid) rather than disturbing.


  1. I thought the authorities within the Scouts organization were generally opposed to allowing openly gay Scouts, since it's a religious organization. They buckled under after a campaign. And checking on Wikipedia, they actually won a Supreme Court case in 2000 establishing their right as a private organization to set membership standards. This is not about respecting experts or authorities within an organization, but pushy activists.

  2. Yeah that is a good point about the feel of things now paralleling the 2nd Clinton term. Hanson's "mmbop" was annoying as HELL like much of today's music, but I have to admit I thought some of their other songs were actually decent. A girl in my high school computer lab class played their CDs on repeat. Sad state of affairs when Hanson is more talented than 95%+ of the artists making popular music today!

  3. Insightful, I was thinking the same thing about the late 90s vibe. I'm thinking the outgoing period in the 2000s ended around 2005.

  4. Hopefully, since we are in late 90s culture, that means things will become more outgoing soon(though, hopefully, this time there won't be a catastrophic event like 9/11)

  5. Sorry to triple-post, but didn't think of everything at once. It seems as if falling-crime is associated with high levels of corruption. I expect that, despite its reputation, the 50s were very corrupt. That said, the breaking of recent scandals - such as the waiting-list scandal at the VFW - is a good sign. Maybe we are now entering a rising-crime time.

    The 2002-2005 period saw the exposure of lots of other corruption. For instance, Enron, the sexual torture at Abu Ghraib, etc. In a repressive, low-crime environment, the tendency is to sweep things under the rug; or maybe people are so sheltered that they don't see what's going on.

  6. I'm skeptical of Curtis' theory since dysfunctional polities tend to be rife with both corruption and violence. The Lucky Jim effect again. Transparency International puts out international indices of corruption, but since they only started doing that in the 21st century we don't have that much data over time. This article references a number of ways to rank U.S states by corruption and one might tease out patterns that way.

  7. I don't know, man. You're correct that more scandals are reported during times of high crime - but maybe the truth is that bad stuff is always going on, we just find out about it when people are outgoing. Afterall, do you think that kids were being abused less by the Catholic church during all the low-crime times? I don't know..

    Maybe I was wrong to say that low-crime is more corrupt, but it may be equally as corrupt as high crime times. The corruption is kept hidden and under wraps.

  8. If 9/11 was sufficient to get old Catholic abuse stories widespread attention in our low crime era, shouldn't the high crime era have been sufficient to get low-crime midcentury abuse similar attention?

  9. The Catholic church, unlike the other religious groups (especially Jews, who are a "sacralized victim group" in Haidt's terms), are under suspicion and have to prove themselves. Hence they commissioned a neutral third party to collect and analyze a whole bunch of data on the abuse of minors. They published it in the early-mid 2000s.

    Hardly any abuse during the '40s or '50s. Most was from the '70s and '80s.

    But that doesn't mean there was no abuse at all in the '50s. Why didn't the rising-crime climate get folks to come forward? Probably because they were too busy dealing with the broader rising crime rates, whereas in the wake of 9/11 there wasn't a whole lot else on our collective plate.

  10. Not only, then, was that climate more favorable to discussing an epidemic of sexual abuse in the abstract, it was even more open to these concrete scandals because they took place primarily in the '70s and '80s. We weren't remembering only the uplifting parts of life in the good old days, but the darker current running under everyday life back then as well.

    The major historical sex abuse (60s, 70s, 80s) discussion in the UK has been over the last 3 years due to the Saville thing. Some of this stuff relates to men and boys (Cyril Smith, whose case certainly hasn't been treated as "uh... awkward"), but also lots to men and girls. Often, it feels in a way often more like an extension of the current trend of feminism and anxiety over sexism and helicopter parenting.

  11. As if the violence/art cycle theory hasn't been demonstrated enough here are the words from the horse's mouth (lead singer of My Chemical Romance)
    'Way was working as an intern for Cartoon Network in New York City during the September 11, 2001 attacks. Seeing the effects of the attacks first-hand prompted Way to change his views on life in the following weeks. He told Spin magazine, "I literally said to myself, 'Fuck art. I've gotta get out of the basement. I've gotta see the world. I've gotta make a difference.'"[12] To help deal with the emotional effects the attacks had on him, Way wrote the lyrics to the song "Skylines and Turnstiles", which has since been identified as the first song by My Chemical Romance. Soon after, My Chemical Romance began to assemble as a band'


  12. Rather than causing the crime wave and outgoingness, I believe that 9/11 was part of a wave that began before it, based on my own experiences. I can remember that August determining to join the track team the coming year. And that senior year was def. different than what had come before, and it wasn't just senioritis.

    Most people are effected way more by events in their daily lives, and see news events as spectacle, though in the case of 9/11 it probably did have a psychological impact on the working-class, who intuited that some of them would soon have to fight a war. but rather than causing this change in the air, 9/11 was probably part of the rising tide.


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