Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm intolerant of all that tolerance

I'm on the fringes of a social community which prides itself on its tolerance, creativity, and warm acceptance of society's misfits. No, I'm not referring to the neighborhood of the Castro, where I reside. I mean the Burning Man community, composed of people who either attend the event and live a life influenced by it or people who used to go back in the day, when it was a small event not yet publicized nationwide, and who now go to little spin-off camping events instead of the current form of Burning Man. (I myself have not attended since 1998, although every year I, tediously enough, yammer on and on about how "this is the year I'm going back to Burning Man" only to sell my tickets at the last minute).

Currently the community has been riled by some vicious debates over whether we can tolerate the behavior of some of the more extreme members. First there was Paul Addis, who prematurely burnt down the Man. Paul currently resides in the psych wing at San Francisco's jail after a dramatic arrest at Grace Cathedral on potential arson charges. I was amused no end at Paul's stunt, which drew me quite a bit of criticism from friends, who huffed, "Don't you know people were right there who could have been killed? There were people who inhaled a lot of smoke."

Even before he burnt down the Man, Paul's behavior was problematic. I've known Paul socially (and casually) since 1996, and during all that time, Paul was intense and sometimes scary. He is also smart, funny, creative, and energetic, unfortunately suffering from bipolar disorder. Paul puts a face to the problem of dealing with the mentally ill, a face with garish yet artful paint on it. How fair is it to judge someone for behavior which is a symptom of a brain disorder? Shouldn't there be compassion for one struggling with a serious illness? On the other hand, most people don't want someone like Paul about any more because he's, well, crazy.

Paul is now yesterday's news. The latest Burning Man figure of controversy is Matty Nash.

Tall, handsome, charismatic, and oh so alternative, 36 year-old Matty was the frontman for the Mutaytor, a huge and bizarre musical ensemble based in LA. He seemed to have it all, including a gorgeous wife who was the self-professed "den mom" for the band. The Mutaytor had professional representation and plenty of gigs. Then Dateline aired a "To Catch A Predator" episode, and there was Matty. A predator. He'd driven an hour to meet up with a putative thirteen year-old girl, with condoms, lubricant, and a vibrator in hand. Online he'd been trolling for sex under the screenname "sugardavis."

It turns out Matty had been arrested ages ago but kept it a secret from his bandmates and friends. In the end, he pleaded no contest to the criminal charges, accepted registration as a sex offender as part of his plea bargain, and posted a whiny pseudo-apology online.

The overall reaction seems to be "awww, he said he's sorry, and the decoy was really twenty years old, and those shows are so sleazy, and haven't you ever done anything bad? How can you be so judgmental?"

One of Matty's supporters wrote online:
"We are one body. If you skin your knee with a bad decision you don't cut off your leg to fix the wound. You acknowledge the misjudgement on your part, make changes, hopefully with the shared wisdom of your tribes experience and wisdom, and learn so as to be able to share the next time a mistake is made.

The Tribe quickly dwindles if you just keep dropping the fuck ups.
What's that whole "cast the first stone" bit?"
Another wrote that he "honors Matty" for "showing us the dark."

I don't honor Matty. When he was arrested, he admitted to the arresting officer he'd been in counseling with his wife because of his "sex addiction" and "meeting people off the internet for sex." (I don't believe sex is an addiction. It belittles the heroic struggles of alcoholics and true addicts to call sleaziness an "addiction").

In his letter to the community, Matty apologized for "having sex with people he met online" -- "people", not minors. He stressed that the decoy was 20 several times... as though to make it out that he went there with the intent of hooking up with a 20 year old. He never copped to having sex with minors or trying to have sex with a minor.

"Having sex with people from online" is a nothing, in my opinion. Although I'm off being monogamous with my husband, I have single friends who have used the Craigslist casual encounters section to hook up with strangers, strangers whom we might say quickly became new friends (and special friends at that). Whatever one might think of that, to me it's fine if everyone involved is a consenting adult. There's a difference between trolling for strange online and chatting for months with someone who is supposedly thirteen years old. The judge who sentenced Matty reportedly observed that he was disturbed by Matty's "grooming" of the decoy (who wrote in authentic kid IMese), which was classic pedophilic behavior.

If Matty had written in his open letter something like, "Oh my god, I was going after a 13 year-old. I can't believe I did that, but I did. Thank God they caught me", I'd feel differently about Matty's letter and about Matty. Instead, he downplayed his situation by talking about having an open marriage. He talked about how he didn't have enough money to hire good enough lawyers to get himself off.

It's also telling to me that all this came out after Dateline aired the footage of Matty being caught --- NOT after Matty was arrested. I wonder if Matty was hoping that footage would never be aired, and he'd be able to go about his life with no one (other than his wife, who seems to have kept his secret) knowing. His band mates were blindsided. One told a reporter that his phone started ringing off the hook the moment the Dateline episode was over, and then the band's booking agency summarily fired them. Gigs were canceled as promoters didn't wish to have a nationally-exposed pedophile performing. Matty whined in his letter that he was just trying to keep the focus off his friends and family by keeping all this secret, but if he had just left the band at the time of his arrest, the band could have had a calm transition and avoided the panic and stress it suffered later.

Like those motherfucking sparrows who always return to Capistrano, once again I was going through that tedious annual ritual of discussing my purported return to Burning Man this year. This time, though, it's a lot less tempting. I don't want to be part of a community which "honors" Matty Nash. I don't want someone like him around my beautiful daughters, and I feel sad for any young girls he preyed upon. Beyond that, I'm sickened by the "radical tolerance." Some things are worth judging.


hokgardner said...

Amen sister.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you.

Vodalus said...

What's particularly frightening, sickening, and other -enings is that as a moderately popular rock star, this man was ideally positioned to prey upon other young teenage girls. It almost seems inevitable and not speculative that he's taken advantage of actual children in the past.

It also seems twisted that the BM crowd "can't forgive" the impulsive action of an individual publicly known to have a severe impulse control disorder, but "honors" the premeditated attempt of a person best known for his suave entertainment persona. There are just so many brushes that you can use to paint the disparate responses: celebrity worship, disease aversion, neglect of women's issues, and even just simple "Paul hurt Us; Matty only tried to hurt Them"

Missy said...

Well said DH about the whole sorry affair.

Vodalus hit it right on, too, Paul hurt Us, Matty hurt Them.

While I think that some of the Dateline predators are sorry excuses for humanity that perhaps would never try to pick up a preteen without the Internet, (not excusing their behavior at all) it seems that from his reaction and excuse-making that Matt is different altogether, and would have no problem saying "But she wanted it" as his excuse to prey upon a thirteen year old.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Epiphany said...

Your instincts, DH, are those of a highly evolved person. If you've ever studied spiral dynamics, or read the work of Ken Wilber, the abusive folks are red, the tolerant are green and the critics like you are yellow. But since the green believe that everybody is equal and everyone needs to be tolerated/welcomed, they have to allow people like child molesters to be part of their "community."

Does it surprise you that there are child molesters at Burning Man? And also sociopaths, addicts, people who assault others mentally and physically, vandalize and steal? I believe that these people are attracted to Burning Man precisely because of the high level of tolerance. Hell, if you hurt somebody or their property and call it art, you will be a true artist because "edgy" and "controversial" art has more sway with people than beautiful art (especially if you're emotionally retarded at the age of 13 or so...)

There were plenty of people who absolutely loved and supported what Paul did, even after they called him names. (And you know that I decired his actions because I got hurt in a similarly mean-spirited prank a few years back.) I think we can safely say that sexually engaging a minor is a greater magnitude of bad than burning down something that doesn't belong to you, but they are all along the same continuum of boundary-crossing.

I think your analysis of what Matty wrote is spot-on and that he didn't take responsibility for what he had done. And, if you kept reading the thread, that fact earned him many, many critics and enemies, people who don't think he should be welcome. Not everybody supported him and his coming-out letter.

Bottom line for me: There are so many deeply fucked-up people at Burning Man that people need to keep those who are more fucked-up around to make themselves feel better. You can feel pretty good about yourself as an alcoholic if you've got a child molester to compare yourself to.

Trouble said...

some activities should not EVER be excused. Preying upon children, sexually or otherwise, is one of them. Good post.

Anonymous said...

I believe that these people are attracted to Burning Man precisely because of the high level of tolerance.

And that, in a nutshell, is why my brother-in-law goes there every year. He says it's the only place he feels accepted. I guess his family is too uptight to put up with stealing, drunk driving, sponging off of my father-in-law, not working, and so forth.

I haven't forgotten to write something about my lovely in-laws. I've just been overtaken by events lately.

FENICLE said...

I had to catch up a bit.

Oh. My.

I totally agree with Trouble. (And you.)

Anonymous said...

Damm, where did we go so far off track? Socially conscious is one thing but not being able to identify the clear bright lines that separate the loony form the depraved make me wonder if this kind of burner moral relativism is such a great ideal to pursue. Thanks Carol, nice to hear from you.

avishai said...

I was one of the first on that open letter to call his BS. Can't seem to find the tribe letter, anyone have a scan/ screenshot?

Kalev said...

(I don't believe sex is an addiction. It belittles the heroic struggles of alcoholics and true addicts to call sleaziness an "addiction").