During the class discussion (2/20/02) of the objectivity of moral truth, I offered a counterexample to the claim that, "In moral matters, it's all just a matter of culture-relative opinion." The counterexample involved imagining a Predatory Pedophile's Paradise where for decades infants were produced and used for the purpose of being tortured and killed solely and only for the resident predatory pedophiles' amusement. It is surely an objective moral truth that torturing innocent infants just for fun is wrong. I also asserted that any moral theory that ruled such practices morally permissible, whatever else it might have going for it, is an incorrect moral theory. There seemed to be wide agreement among those present in class that this was a persuasive counterexample to at least the naive sort of moral relativism at which it was aimed.
A student remarked that s/he'd heard there is an actual organization that argues for the moral permissibility of pedophilia, and wondered what such an argument could possibly look like. I suggested that the disturbing documentary film, Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys about the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), available on video, would be a relevant source.
Here are a few of the reviews of that film that appeared soon after its release in 1994.
Copyright 1994 The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times
August 19, 1994, Friday, Home Edition
HEADLINE: MOVIE REVIEW;
'CHICKEN HAWK' SKIMS THE SURFACE OF CONTROVERSY
By KEVIN THOMAS, TIMES STAFF WRITER
In a calm, straightforward fashion, documentarian Adi Sideman, in "Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys," invites several members of NAMBLA, the 1,500-member North American Man/Boy Love Assn. (which counts poet Allen Ginsberg among its members), to speak for themselves.
They explain that the organization is a support group and does not arrange meetings between men and boys. They all deplore being designated as child molesters, insisting that all forms of intimacy be strictly consensual. Some say they live -- or try to live -- sexually repressed lives in a society so hostile to them, but others are candid, even defiant, about their determination to have sexual and/or romantic relationships with underage youths. Sideman also reports on the angry gay community reaction to known boy-lovers, and he examines the thorny challenge it presents to gay-rights leaders, who worry that groups like NAMBLA play into conservatives' fears that adult gays would like to "recruit" young children.
Although it is not possible for Sideman to begin to suggest answers to the emotionally charged issues his subject raises, he fails to deal with a substantial range of questions. We get the impression that none of these otherwise fairly ordinary men are attracted to pre-adolescents, but what age of consent would they pick if they had the choice? A number of them talk about the flirtatiousness of some of the boys with whom they have become involved. They point out that American society, with its puritanical roots, denies how early sexuality occurs in humans.
But what of the whole question of responsibility adults have to children, especially in regard to sexual and emotional situations? The irony is that Sideman, in not coming to terms with key implications in his explosive subject, makes himself vulnerable to hate-mongers' accusations that he has merely given NAMBLA a forum to espouse its cause.
"Chicken Hawk" will be preceded by the 25-year-old educational short "Meeting Strangers: Red Light, Green Light," which warns small children against strangers, counseling them to seek out the safety of parents, teachers and police. The film serves as a reminder that nowadays we are more willing to admit that, when it comes to children, no group of adults is automatically "safe."
MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: Although nothing graphic is depicted, its subject matter is suitable for the most mature audiences.
'Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys' A Stranger Than Fiction Films release of a Side Man production. Producer-director Adi Sideman. Executive producers Sam Sideman, Peter Smith. Cinematographer-editor Nadav Harel. Music Frank, Ravel. Running time: 57 minutes. In limited release at the Los Feliz 3, 1822 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 664-2169.
Copyright 1994 The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times
August 14, 1994, Sunday, Home Edition
HEADLINE: FILM CLIPS / DOCUFIGHT: 'CHICKEN HAWK': THE CONTROVERSY
By John Anderson
For a documentary, it's got a little of everything: sexual aberration and family values, radical sodomites and rabid reactionaries, ancient Greece and Allen Ginsberg. And when it was shown last March at the New York Underground Film Festival, Adi Sideman's "Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys" -- a 55-minute documentary about the North American Man-Boy Love Assn. -- started the feathers flying.
Founded in Boston in 1978 and currently claiming 1,500 members, NAMBLA celebrates sexual liaisons between adult men and underage boys. Not surprisingly, its existence has provoked every response but ambiguity: Conservative groups loathe the NAMBLA-ites; most gay groups despise them because their predilection feeds into the oldest homophobic stereotype about gays in general -- that they are, by nature, child molesters; and even those who would ordinarily defend the civil liberties involved are put off by NAMBLA. The group holds meetings, operates a hot line and publishes a newsletter, all in the face of a dearth of public support.
So it might be surprising that a film would give such a group a platform, allowing them to air their positions while showing them being threatened, reviled and going about NAMBLA business. But amid the protest marches, angry press conferences and widespread fury about NAMBLA -- something that is certain to follow the movie to Los Angeles when it opens Friday at the Los Feliz -- director Sideman sat in a sea of relative calm. Because, with the exception of his NYU film school professor -- who questioned whether the film was socially responsible, and then gave him an A on the project anyway -- no one on either side of the issue has had a bad word to say about it.
"I'm pro-'Chicken Hawk' and anti-NAMBLA," said Tom McDonough, 47, founder of the conservative, anti-homosexual organization Straight Kids USA, whose virulent opposition to NAMBLA is a major component of Sideman's film.
"I'm glad they're getting their 15 minutes of fame," he said. "I'm glad they're getting this exposure, because they're an organization that's out to do harm -- dropping the age of consent laws is what they really want to do -- and a lot of the members are involved in child pornography. They only did this movie if they were allowed tell their side of the story, and it really makes them look evil."
Chimes in Don Rosenberg, 46, of the New York-based National Traditionalist Caucus, "We thought the movie was very fair. I think Adi did a very good job of letting Leyland Stevenson (the film's central character) and his cohorts hang themselves."
Stevenson, 55, a spokesman for NAMBLA, was the focus of much criticism when the film opened in New York July 6 as perhaps the most riveting example of NAMBLA-ism. Shown in the film smiling beatifically as he discusses his sexual preference for young boys, or trying to wheedle his way into a boy's confidence at a small-town strip mall, Stevenson comes across as a man who savors his sexual encounters with unbridled joy.
"It's a positive movie," said Stevenson, who has been arrested for possession of child pornography and describes himself as an investor. "It presents flesh-and-blood human beings, as distinguished from stereotypes. It does not attempt to represent man-boy relationships with some absurd preconception that all such relationships are wrong or bad. It simply shows a few people who happen to be members of NAMBLA, and happen to be interested in boys, as what they are: People who have a system of values, a set of ethics and a set of priorities about what's worth doing in life, on their own terms."
For Sideman, 23, who came to the United States from his native Israel, discovering the existence of NAMBLA was only slightly more surprising than has been the reaction to his film.
"The Straight Kids people are happy with it because they think it shows the kind of atrocities NAMBLA is about, how evil they really are," Sideman said. "And NAMBLA loves the film, because its members think it shows how humane they are. It's something I never expected. But both extremes have found a way to use it for their own political reasons."
That there is such unanimity of opinion between warring factions is testimony to "Chicken Hawk's" coldly objective point of view.
"I never had a script, or an agenda," said the director, now an NYU senior. "I didn't set out saying, 'I'm going to crucify these people.' I knew that were going to do it to themselves." He laughs.
"What are we supposed to do?" he asks, of those who, like his professor, would call "Chicken Hawk" an apology for NAMBLA. "Should we shove it all under the carpet? If we simply say, 'These people are monsters,' and don't discuss it, they may very well just act like monsters."
McDonough's pursuit of -- some might say obsession with -- NAMBLA helped break a March, 1993, WNBC-TV story revealing that member Peter Melzer, who is seen in the film, was teaching at the Bronx High School of Science. He has so far focused almost exclusively on the organization, but sees its existence as symptomatic of larger issues.
"What we're trying to do is help stem the tide of gay propaganda that's been going on in America," said McDonough, who calls his Straight Kids USA a "sexual identity support group." "Homosexuals have hundreds of support groups to make them feel comfortable about being a homosexual. Now, if you feel comfortable about something, there's no need to change. So these groups are actually helping to keep them homosexual. We want to make straight kids feel comfortable about being heterosexual."
"What a lot of nonsense," responds Stevenson. "As if the vast 90-plus percent of society was not already promoting that particular lifestyle."
Stevenson and McDonough never meet on film; McDonough and members of the National Traditionalist Caucus are seen demonstrating outside the home of Renato Corazzo, the voice of the NAMBLA hot line (whose recorded message urging callers to "be safe, be brave, be proud to be a boy lover" been been played repeatedly on the Howard Stern radio show). NAMBLA members are seen being castigated by civil-rights groups at the gay march on Washington. A father is heard saying of Leyland Stevenson, "If he came near my kid, I'd kill him."
Ginsberg, who is seen briefly, issued a statement following the release of the film, saying that he'd joined the group in the mid-'80s as a "matter of civil rights and free speech," and as a response to the "self-righteousness" of the news media's judgment of the group. "To my knowledge, he hasn't seen the film," said Ginsberg associate Bob Rosenthal. "Allen is not a pedophile. I have many times trusted Allen in the company of my sons. His NAMBLA membership was purely about civil liberties."
While some may want to distance themselves from the group, or the movie, Stevenson -- whose frankness about his sexual preferences earns grudging respect even from McDonough -- holds firm.
"If I have any particular courage," he said, "it is simply to acknowledge that truth has a much higher value than the approval that other people may or may not give one at a certain point. If it's necessary to be politically incorrect -- and in this society it seem absolutely essential if one is even going to approach truth -- then I'm going to be as radically politically incorrect as necessary to further that objective."
Copyright 1994 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
July 8, 1994, Friday, Late Edition - Final
HEADLINE: FILM REVIEW;
Men Who Love Boys Explain Themselves
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Adi Sideman's crude documentary "Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys," has an inflammatory title that belies its even-handed portrait of the North American Man/Boy Love Association, the notorious pedophile organization better known as Nambla.
The film, which opens today at Cinema Village, is built around interviews with several men whose professed objects of desire are youths under the legal age of consent. One after another, they defend themselves against the view of Nambla as an organization of sadistic child molesters and pornographers, arguing that Nambla is a civil rights organization opposed to the age-of-consent laws. The more outspoken among them talk of child liberation in a "sexophobic" society. Nambla's opponents, like Tom McDonough, who founded a conservative action group called Straight Kids U.S.A., are also heard from. Mr. McDonough is shown yelling "Baby-raper!" in a demonstration outside the apartment of a Nambla member. Participants in the 1993 gay and lesbian march on Washington express chagrin at having a Nambla contigent march in their ranks. And a Nambla member, Renato Corazzo, is shown monitoring obscene hate messages on the organization's hot line.
Nambla, founded in 1978, claims a membership of around 1,500. Besides the hot line, it publishes a monthly newsletter illustrated with photos of pubescent boys.
Among those interviewed is Peter Melzer, a teacher at the Bronx High School of Science who was suspended from his job when it became known that he was a Nambla member. Mr. Melzer says he has never broken the law.
The film's most outspoken and vivid personality, Leyland Stevenson, was imprisoned several years ago for distributing child pornography. He describes his sexual relations with boys in the quasi-religious language of a persecuted fanatic. He even allows the camera to show him cruising in a suburban mini-mall. From his attitude of messianic hauteur, it is clear why Mr. Stevenson was chased out of his West Virginia town. And his creepy grandiosity casts a clammy chill over the film.
"Red Light, Green Light," the short film that accompanies "Chicken Hawk," teaches children to identify adult strangers who may be molesters. It presents a series of scenarios it calls "red light" situations in which a stranger's advances should send up warning alarms.
Copyright 1994 Newsday, Inc.
July 8, 1994, Friday, ALL EDITIONS
HEADLINE: Pedophiles Rationalizing Irrationality
By John Anderson. STAFF WRITER
(three stars) CHICKEN HAWK. (U) The North American Man-Boy Love Association, in all its irrational glory. Fascinating, frightening and important. 55 min. (vulgarity, adult themes). Directed by Adi Sideman. With the 20-minute short "Red Light, Green Light," at Cinema Village, 12th Street near University Place.
LEYLAND STEVENSON, who spent several years in prison for the distribution of child pornography, is probably the scariest of the pedophiles who populate Adi Sideman's "Chicken Hawk." Smiling beatifically, wheedling his way into children's confidence as he cruises the strip malls, he recalls his sexual encounters with a joy that's unconfined, and thoroughly monstrous.
For all their quiet-civilized and seemingly rational defense of what is probably society's most loathed aberration, the members of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA, never deal with the fact that they're interested in children, because they're children. An artist named Chuck Dodson makes fatuous declarations about kids exercising their sexual rights; Stevenson constantly perceives young boys "flirting" with him. But even if any of it were true, it wouldn't matter, because NAMBLA's prey shouldn't be obligated to fend off adult advances while determining their own sexual orientation.
To say Sideman has taken a hands-off position is a horrific pun, but it's also true, and wise. It would have been too easy to become strident, had he set out to make an agitprop piece about the evils of pedophilia. So he lets NAMBLA bury itself. And the organization obliges.
There's a certain grudging respect one gives these men for agreeing to appear onscreen and defend the indefensible. Renato Corazza, a teacher of Italian who claims he never engaged in physical pedophilia, attempts to explain the esthetics of boy love, with creepy intelligence. The poet Allen Ginsberg, whose appearance here comes as something of a shock, reads a graphic ode to youth. Peter Melzer, the Bronx High School of Science teacher whose membership in NAMBLA gave WNBC /4 's John Miller such a good ride, seems besieged.
The standard, unsubstantiated, arguments in favor of pedophilia are made: that victims often visit their molesters in prison; that boys call NAMBLA constantly in search of partners (and if anyone mentions the ancient Greeks again, I'm burning my Mary Renault books). Their pariah status makes them almost pitiful: At the 1993 gay march on Washington, NAMBLA's members are rightfully reviled for trying to hitch their wagon to a legitimate civil rights movement. And the venom of their antagonists almost makes NAMBLA seem like victims: In one particularly vile phone message left on the group's machine, the speaker's litany of vulgarities includes "kike," which indicates that perhaps there's something else going on in his head.
But Sideman's most important accomplishment is this: If an adult can be swayed even a little by the case of child molesters, then imagine how easy it might be to seduce a child.
"Chicken Hawk" will be shown with "Red Light, Green Light," a mid-'60s educational film about avoiding "deviants." Obvious and antique, it includes a multi-racial cast of children and a crew of "bad people" who are almost all 30-ish, male, well-dressed and good looking - unlike the members of NAMBLA, all of whom fit the stereotype of dirty old men.
Copyright 1994 Newsday, Inc.
July 4, 1994, Monday, ALL EDITIONS
HEADLINE: Controversy Focuses on NYU Student's Film
By Matthew Flamm.
ACCORDING TO Adi Sideman, the director of "Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys," he was just doing his homework. The New York University film major never expected that his shot-on-a-shoestring video portrait of four members of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) would arouse such concern. He certainly didn't expect demonstrations of the kind the anti-gay group Straight Kids USA has planned for the documentary's invitational premiere Wednesday at Cinema Village in Manhattan. "We're having a rally that will be anti-NAMBLA but pro-the movie," says Tom McDonough, Straight Kids USA's 47-year-old founder. "We feel everybody should see this movie because it exposes NAMBLA for all the evil they are."
NAMBLA members will also show up: They like the 55-minute documentary just as much as McDonough. "It shows feelings that are non-exploitative, that are positive, affirming the value of young people," says Leland Stevenson, a NAMBLA spokesman featured in the film, which will begin its two-week public run Friday.
It all started two years ago, with a sociology class Sideman was taking in which the professor mentioned the pro-pedophilia group, which was founded in 1978 and now claims 1,500 members.
"This was my third week in New York," Sideman, a 23-year-old Israeli citizen, recalls in an interview in his Lower East Side loft. "I couldn't believe it existed. I thought, 'This is very new, very out there.' "
Sideman gained access to the organization by calling its New York hot line and was six months into filming when WNBC / 4 broke the story that Bronx Science physics teacher Peter Melzer was a NAMBLA member. (At one point, Sideman and his cameraman were in Melzer's apartment when WNBC's John Miller was downstairs trying to get an interview.)
Says Sideman, "We were just film students doing our homework."
There are some who argue that he didn't do enough of it. Two NYU professors whom Sideman thanked in the closing credits asked that their names be taken off the film.
"Almost from the beginning, I said: 'You have to be careful you aren't making an apology for the NAMBLA people,' " explains George Stoney, professor of film and television at NYU.
"He never got what I consider a representative testimony of the damage that could be done" by NAMBLA members], continues the professor, who nonetheless gave Sideman an "A" for the project. "The film doesn't have the kind of social responsibility that I would like to see."
Sideman, however, insists that the absence of any explicit condemnation of the pedophiles only makes for a better film.
"I'm not a supporter of NAMBLA," says the filmmaker in a tone of voice that suggests the statement should be obvious. "But I never meant to dictate my point of view. I want the audience to judge for themselves."
Copyright 1994 P.G. Publishing Co.
MARCH 10, 1994, THURSDAY, REGION EDITION
HEADLINE: FILM ON PEDOPHILE GROUP DRAWS FIRE IN N.Y.
NICK CHARLES, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
It was part movie preview, part morals debate and part media circus.
Yesterday, organizers of the first New York Underground Film Festival, opening March 18, had a preview showing of a festival offering that is guaranteed to create controversy.
The film, ''Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys,'' is an hour-long documentary about a group called the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Roy Radow, a spokesman for NAMBLA who was at the screening, said his organization promotes consensual relations between men and boys but does not condone abuse or molestation of children. Also at the screening were members of Straight Kids USA, an organization that has drawn the media's attention to the activities of NAMBLA members. In the film, Straight Kids USA founder Tom McDonough and his associates are seen outside the home of a NAMBLA member, using a bullhorn, challenging him to make his affiliation known to his community. The movie also shows poet Allen Ginsberg addressing a NAMBLA meeting.
After the screening of ''Chicken Hawk'' -- a fairly evenhanded treatment of NAMBLA -- members of the audience began to question the NAMBLA and Straight Kids USA representatives.
''Pedophiles can be good, decent human beings,'' Radow told reporters present. ''There are decent pedophiles, and there are pedophiles who are not very nice human beings.''
But McDonough countered that members of NAMBLA are ''promoting a criminal act.''
Transforming the Q&A session into a circus was John Melendez, better known as ''Stuttering John'' to the legions who tune to Howard Stern's radio show.
''Do your dates scream out for their mommy or daddy?'' and ''Who are your five favorite child stars and what would you like to do to them?'' were some of the questions Melendez put to the NAMBLA members on hand who are featured in the documentary.
Melendez said the responses would be aired on Stern's show.
''Having sex with a child is not something you would speak passionately and openly about,'' said McDonough after he saw the film. ''You should speak loudly against it. They (the filmmakers) almost make these guys seem like angels.''
Director Adi Sideman, who took no sides in the film or the discussion, said he made the documentary to look at the taboo subject at a time when sexual permissiveness has come into conflict with forces eager to return to traditional morality.
The film will have its world premiere at the Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Ave.
More recently, a controversy has arisen about a book that seeks to undo harm to children done by ignoring their sexuality. Of course, both this controversy and the above reviews of Chicken Hawk raise interesting questions about dangerous knowledge.
For more on predatory pedophiles see Grooming the Victims at
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