Archive for February 20th, 2012

“Oh, Foxy Loxy, the sky is falling!” said Turkey Lurkey.  “How do you know?” said Foxy Loxy.  “Goosey Loosey told me,” he replied.  “And Goosey Loosey, how do you know?” “Ducky Lucky told me”.  “Ducky Lucky, how do you know?”  “Henny Penny told me.”  “Henny Penny, how do you know?”  “Chicken Licken told me.”  “And Chicken Licken, how do you know?” “Part of it fell on my head!”  “Make haste, then,” said Foxy Loxy, “and all come into my den!”  –  English folktale

Chicken Licken and company meet Foxy LoxyI’m sure everyone remembers the story of Chicken Licken (or Chicken Little, as she is called in America); some natural object (usually an acorn) falls on her head and she runs about shouting, “The sky is falling!” The other barnyard fowl then join the panic until a clever fox offers them shelter in his den, where he quickly devours the foolish birds.  The tale appears in many forms from all over the globe, including a 2500-year-old Tibetan version in which the animal who starts the panic is a hare, the frightening event a ripe fruit falling with a loud “plop” into a pond, and the predator a tiger.  Weaker modern versions in which the silly animals escape disaster subvert the moral of the tale, which could be stated as “Those who panic due to perfectly natural events or hearsay will be taken advantage of by the clever but unscrupulous.”  The “trafficking hysteria” is obviously an example of this, with ridiculous geese running about squawking “The sky is falling!” merely because someone else told them it was.

In real life, panics are usually a little more complicated; they are set off by a combination of events rather than one, and unfortunately do not generally end with the rapid devouring of the idiots who started the hysteria.  But the phenomena which trigger them are still nearly always perfectly natural ones; in the case of “trafficking” hysteria, for example, the triggers are women trading sex for money, people ignoring arbitrary laws which wrongfully restrain them from what they need to do, people crossing borders to work, and xenophobia.  The first two also combine with another natural event, young people doing things of which their elders disapprove, to produce a different but related moral panic we’ve discussed several times recently:  university students having compensated sex to pay their bills.  As Dominique Jackson pointed out, this isn’t remotely new; older men have always sought younger women since time immemorial (even when, as in my column of one year ago today, they get in trouble for it), and young women have always been willing to capitalize on it (as well they should).

But the fact that these things are as natural as the fall of a nut doesn’t stop media Chicken Lickens and Turkey Lurkeys from getting into a panic over them, as demonstrated by these two recent items which appeared on EconJeff’s blog.  The first one appeared in Click On Detroit January 17th and Jeff commented on it the following day; since I have nothing to add to his insightful comments I’ll just embed an excerpt from the news story in boldface before quoting him:

A pornographic website features college co-eds having sex in dorms, and recent videos…feature students from the University of Michigan.  The DareDorm.com producers have posted advertisements on websites to recruit new students for new movies.  Anthony Kalil, a student at U of M, has heard about the campus porn invasion.  He knows students are being offered up to $10,000 to do the videos.  But he also knows the ramifications of shooting an X-rated movie.  “For somebody to let a crew in to film something like that, you’re ruining yourself and you’re ruining your friends.  It’s just not a good idea,” Kalil said.  “It’s definitely a decision that you are going to have to deal with for the rest of your life.  Twenty years down the road and you have kids, they go on the Internet, they are going to see mommy and daddy when they were drunk in college”…

Can you imagine?  Students having sex in the dorms?  Video cameras?  The internet?  Money?  What is the world coming to?  Surely the end times are near! …Note the use of students (presumably carefully selected for their negative views) to provide the illusion that Channel 4 is engaged in reporting rather than running an anti-sex editorial.  Could they really not find a single student with something positive to say about getting lots of money for doing very little work? …Suppose that you can get $10K for a video.  At typical local wages for undergrads, that means putting in, say, two or three hours of time rather than 1000.  Those 1000 hours could be spent, say, studying.  They might allow an aspiring student to take harder classes or complete a harder major than he or she otherwise would.  Is that necessarily a bad tradeoff? …In the age of Facebook and surveillance cameras does anyone really think that one video on Dare Dorm is going to ruin someone’s life, as suggested by the undergraduates interviewed for the story?  How exactly will someone’s children find their parents’ Dare Dorm video from among the zillions of porn videos on the internet? …Note to Channel 4:  there are lots of important things to report on in the Detroit metro area.  This is not one of them.

I must point out that Jeff is a professor of economics, not a sex worker rights advocate, yet I couldn’t say this any better.  The very next day, he posted a commentary on a local news item about “the medium-term paid relationship services market, informally known as the sugar babies market…[which] lies somewhere between paid escorts who charge by the hour or day and particularly mercenary marriages…[note] the obligatory scary remarks from local law enforcement (playing double duty here as moral scolds)…”  The story appeared on January 18th in MLive:

Students at Jackson-area colleges and universities are among the “College Sugar Babies” signed up on a worldwide dating-for-dollars website.  SeekingArrangement.com, which touts itself as the country’s leading…[compensated] dating website…recently released its top 20 list of colleges and universities with the largest number of sugar baby signups in 2011.  [Local institutions]…did not make that list, but they did have…[a total of 33] students…who registered as “sugar babies” last year…SeekingArrangement.com advertises “mutually beneficial relationships” and has garnered national [media] attention…One in every two “sugar babies” who join the website today are college students, and college “sugar babies” now make up 40 percent of the site’s population, [a recent press] release said.  The numbers and universities are identified by students who register on the site using their “.edu” email address.  They automatically receive a free premium membership upgrade and are classified as “College Sugar Babies,” which receive three times more inquires from potential “Sugar Daddies”…

The website does not promote a direct exchange for sex, so using it does not directly violate the law, said Jackson County Sheriff Steve Rand.  However, he said the website is potentially dangerous.  “The Internet is the wild, wild west and there ain’t no sheriff,” Rand said.  “It’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt on a site like this.  It’s a recipe for disaster”…

Legal adults using their time and assets sensibly without busybody interference from self-appointed “sheriffs”?  The horror!  Sheriff Rand says it’s only “a matter of time” before “disaster” strikes; considering that this sort of thing has been going on for at least 12,000 years, I presume he imagines we’re overdue for “somebody to get hurt” and that the sky will be falling any minute now.

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