If the name "Peter Sotos" means anything to you, chances are you think he's vile, and loathsome; a monster.
Wikipedia will tell you Peter Sotos is "a Chicago-born writer and musician. In his books, Sotos examines sadistic sexual criminals and sexually violent pornography, particularly involving children. In 1984, while attending the Art Institute of Chicago, Sotos began producing the controversial magazine Pure, notable as the first zine dedicated to serial killer lore. In addition to offering many details about the crimes of serial killers and Nazis, the text in the magazine praises them."
"A photocopy from a magazine of child pornography was used as the cover of issue #2 of Pure. This cover led to Sotos's arrest on charges of obscenity and possession of child pornography. The charges of obscenity were later dropped, but Sotos pleaded guilty to the possession charge, receiving a suspended sentence.”
I've always been fairly shock-proof, and I don't mind seeing the apple cart upset, or upsetting it myself now and then. Sotos is a good writer and a critical thinker, so to chalk Pure's vile and loathsome content up to adolescent posturing was a conclusion that seemed somehow, incomplete.
But Peter Sotos went too far.
One of his favorite subjects, for example, is the Moors Murderer Ian Brady. In England, from 1963 to 1965, Brady and his cohort Myra Hindley killed five children; they sexually assaulted at least four of them.
And they recorded some of their crimes.
Brady and Hindley abducted 10-year-old Leslie Ann Downey on her way home from a local fair. They tortured her; a tape recorder captured Leslie's pleas and tears and screams, and in 1984, in Pure,
Peter Sotos likened Brady to an artist whose palette was her pain.
I was appalled by what I read.
Though not so appalled I didn't return a time or two, perhaps, in part, from disbelief. Or boredom, or maybe it was just a bit of innocent scapegoating: even in my lowliest state, I was surely not so low, as Peter Sotos.
Not entirely innocent though, either; there's a perverse streak in all of us, that makes us want to shatter what's marked "fragile."
But as it seemed he went out of his way to be repulsive, I wondered why one night, at a reading from his latest book, Peter Sotos couldn't face the audience. Those in attendance were apparently receptive, even enthusiastic about his work. And yet, for that moment, he could not stand before them and read his own words.
I find that story striking, and I imagine the experience was as humbling for him as it was for me to learn, that some of my most passionate beliefs are those I share with monstrous, vile and loathsome Peter Sotos.
Beliefs, about things like that damned “To Catch a Predator” show; more obscene than what it was ostensibly created to expose, in its final, inglorious episode, a district attorney no less who never even left his home to rendezvous with the "To Catch A Predator" decoy, blew his brains out upon discovering he was the target of a "sting." Others fell more easily, maybe even rightly into the trap, but invariably the so-called watchdogs of Perverted Justice just hounded some poor slob out of the hovel that otherwise he probably never would've left, to then be met by the smooth-haired, smooth-mannered Chris Hansen of NBC's Dateline, whose contribution to the field of investigative journalism rests squarely on his straight, white teeth and cheesy, male-model good looks enabling him to stand alongside perverts and be soothingly, reassuringly, Us.
And not Them.
Hansen has kids too ya know. He cares.
What he, and apparently no one else at NBC gave two hoots in hell about is that the stranger-danger premise on which the show was based is largely a media-created and media-driven myth. When you run out of toothpaste you don't drive across town, you go to the corner store and criminals, including sex offenders, operate much the same way; unless something moves them off the path, they take the path of least resistance. Consequently, and statistics bear this out, children are much more
likely to be unnecessarily prodded and/or poked by the family doctor, or priest, or uncle, or even you, than by some Internet phantom intent on taking an online chat to the next level.
In the late 80's and early 90's, the satanic ritual abuse scare and the charges of molestation leveled at the McMartin Preschool staff whipped public sentiment into a frenzy reminiscent of McCarthyism and the Salem witch trials. Shows like “To Catch A Predator” are the legacy of that slow-to-die hysteria. Whatever it takes to keep our children safe, we say; harsher sentences, chemical castration, actual castration, some have even suggested colonizing sex offenders, ironic indeed given our country's origins. But if
that's what it takes to protect little Tyler or Tiffany, so be it.
We'll do whatever it takes, with the exception of looking at our own relatives and friends. Or at our spouses.
Whatever it takes, unless that means looking at ourselves.
The stranger-danger myth persists because it allows us to ignore the discomforting reality that most sexual abuse of children comes at the hand of someone known to them. Through transference, strangers with candy become the object of our fear, and as exploit and excess are defining elements of pornography, when those who advocate “whatever-it-takes” prey upon that fear, they are, in my opinion, ultimately little more than producers of primetime porn.
In 2007, in his book Show Adult, vile and loathsome, monstrous Peter Sotos said roughly the same thing.
Sotos wrote the afterword to Ian Brady's book on serial killers, The Gates of Janus; I read excerpts of Brady's book. Excerpts were all I could stand. Brady is long-winded and narcissistic and tedious, and for all of it, of what truly motivates a serial killer, he never really tells you anything.
I should've considered the source. If it were only up to him, he said to the mother of one of his victims, he'd tell her straight away where on the Moors he buried her little boy. But for the prison officials he could tell it all—or, but for his lawyer, or
but for the fact it amused him to watch all hope of finding the child's body draining from her face, and god only knows who else Ian Brady might have said prevented him from doing the only decent thing there was to do, except of course the one man he will never hold accountable—Ian Brady.
Unlike the inflated vocabulary and pompous tone of the Moors Murderer, in his afterword to Brady's book, Sotos is honest and straightforward, and noticeably absent now is the Dionysian celebration of Brady's crimes which, in part, gave Pure its notoriety.
The introduction to The Gates of Janus was written by Colin Wilson, whose tone is deferential; shameless flattery on Ian Brady's part, no doubt, and one imagines neither of them needed much persuading. Wilson writes:
"Therefore I asked him (Brady) to do the thing I would have done, to think about writing a book. Since he obviously knew about serial murder from the inside, this suggested itself as the obvious subject."
Sotos will have none of it. His afterword to The Gates of Janus is a sobering rebuttal to Wilson's introduction:
"There are better things to do. First off, you don't ask a child molester to write a book on serial killing. A child rapist. A child pornographer. A child murderer.”
"Because the child rapist and murderer will obviously lie. And, because he wants to believe you need to see and hear more than you'll ever actually do, he'll even start to enjoy telling you he's lying. Because it's the easiest thing to do. It's the obvious choice. He can adopt the dime-a-dozen serial killer front of puffed-up superiority, all from his tiny cell, and serve the typical cold dish of mental clarity over personal introspection. A wide view of painful dark humanity instead of tastes and salacious dives. Roots over themes. Brave actions rather than fearful words.”
But this excerpt from a later zine called Parasite might better illustrate his tendency of thought, and here too is a different voice from the one which spewed out Pure:
"Joy Swift's situation is the kind where one would expect to find all sorts of lies and rationalizations. A fifteen-year-old girl gets married to a guy more than twice her age and shits out two kids by the time she turns 18. Of course, at the time of her marriage her
husband already had 3 kids, the oldest of whom was a 13-year old girl. Naturally his intentions are questionable. And as her story progresses to the point where the family end up living in a tent down by the river, the white trash pit's so deep that any details tend to be judged more by their pained clumsiness than for anything like information value."
"But the lazy stumbling of a backwoods clan is not the reason one would be tolerant of, or interested in, Joy's history. Her book A Cry for Justice covers the effects of having a 14-year old neighbor shoot her little brood to death."
"Billy Dyer shot four of George and Joy's kids during a robbery attempt that turned ugly due only to Billy's angry mental instability. The children were aged 14, 12, 3 and 1 ½. The oldest two were Joy's stepsons, the younger ones her natural babies."
"Joy finds herself with a unique viewpoint due to her extraordinary circumstances. Her clouding or completely disregarding the facts of her life with petty fibs and cheap justifications are nothing when compared to her desperate search for meaning through the corpses of four children. Of course, she finds solace in god: the great refuge of the powerless. But Joy takes us through the machinery like an old shut-in mom pointing out the road sites on a day trip to the brewery. Her faith is transparent and vengeful, and thus all the more poignant."
"Finally, she decides to visit the boy that destroyed her family, dreams and personality—to fill him with the word of god. Fittingly, Billy Dyer is unrepentant and manipulative."
"And Joy misses the point."
"While she struggles to give her and her kids' lives over to something like a god, it is Billy Dyer to whom she has surrendered everything."
Sotos once spoke of Ian Brady as inspired, like a maestro conducting a symphony composed of children's screams. And once, I thought Peter Sotos was simply vile and loathsome, and a monster.
"Now he saw himself forever as the doer of one deed; this I call madness."
Nietzsche wrote those words.
It is also madness to forever see another as the doer of one deed, and impossible to be simply anything.
For higher ratings, some will pick the bones of murdered children, and some who talk of "closure" turn a profit by digging in the wound. Much is good but much is also evil in the world, and much of what we think is one, is both.
But something in us all makes us want to shatter what is fragile, and in lesser hands Joy Swift would be the noble victim of a cruel and senseless act, instead of what she is.
And right and wrong and flesh and bone, and just like Peter Sotos, altogether human.