Daniel Bergner isn't the devil's advocate, but he is a pervert's apologist. This author and contributor to the New York Times Magazine has a new book titled "The Other Side of Desire," which argues it is unfair to judge bizarre, harmful and disgusting sexual attractions as bizarre, harmful and disgusting.
Bergner's book focuses on four real-life fetishists: a husband with a secret foot fetish, a man with an attraction to amputees, a vicious female sadist and a man who longs for sex with his 12-year-old stepdaughter. Book reviews and interviews suggest he hasn't written a book to judge the fetishists, but rather to judge the society that would rush to condemn their drives and behaviors.
Bergner tries to define deviancy down by quoting one of his experts, a New York psychiatrist who quips, "perversion can be defined as the sex that you like and I don't."
Unsurprisingly, Bergner has the support of many book critics. Media outlets enjoyed promoting the book by picking out and running with the most salacious tidbits. The book contains several subplots beneath its four primary characters. A Bergner interview with Salon.com began by introducing readers to one of the minor characters in the book, a Wall Street retiree wearing a red latex bodysuit and a black hood who is strapped to a table while electric shocks are surged into his genitals.
Faced with this indelible picture of sickness, Bergner instead provides the man strapped to the table with an opportunity for self-defense. "Is this a weird way to deal with life?" this freak asks. Then the man continues: "Consider the man who bought Mark McGwire's seventieth home-run ball for three million dollars. Who's weirder?"
The most objectionable of Bergner's four primary perverted subjects (and the only one who seems to disgust him in the least) is "Roy," the man attracted to his young stepdaughter. In real life, he succeeded in seducing the child, which consequently destroyed his marriage. Condemnable? Of course not. Bergner told Salon that Roy's perverse pull toward pre-teens "falls in this blurry area on the continuum" and "the psychological boundaries are a lot less clear than we'd like to think ... We all want there to be a clear line, and there just isn't."
Luckily for society and for young girls, there is a clear legal line, a black and white definition of right and wrong. It's called statutory rape.