The perversion of being an adolescent

The Perks of Being a Wallflower perfectly illustrates the dangers of the modern, unhealthy obsession with child abuse.

Stuart Waiton

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As spiked noted earlier this week, the current witch-hunt around the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile reflects an obsession with paedophilia, a misanthropic trend in society where everything and everyone is somehow connected with abuse. And if the Savile affair were not enough to make the point, then a new film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, makes it in spades. Because in this story, everything is fundamentally underpinned by abuse. I make no apologies for the spoiler, though. I hope no one feels the need to see this film.

The film begins with Charlie (Logan Lerman), who has just arrived at school having been away with some kind of mental problems for a while – we don’t know what or why. At first, the film plays out as a nicely drawn rites-of-passage tale about an intelligent, quiet lad and his quirky pals – gay Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson), a sensitive and lively young woman trying to find love and friendship.

The film could have stood alone as just this. But no, there has to be a dark explanation for some of the (entirely normal) difficulties of adolescent life we are presented with. And, you’ve guessed it, that explanation is child abuse. So Charlie, we discover, was abused by his favourite loving auntie when he was four years old. His aunt died in a car accident and this initially appeared to be one of the reasons for his breakdown. But in the end, all is made clear. Meanwhile, Patrick has experienced and witnessed serious violence towards himself and boyfriends from fathers who hate gays. And if all that is not enough, Sam apparently dates bad older men because her father’s mates used to have sex with her from the age of 11!

In the past, rites-of-passage movies would generally focus on just that – the difficulty of the normal and everyday – as life is often a struggle when you are growing up. Today, that is no longer enough. Instead, there must be deep and degraded explanation for why young people sometimes have an anxious sense about themselves and the world.

It’s worth comparing this film with past growing-pains films, like Stand by Me. Such films would relate to difficulties and even abusive relationships in families, to a drunken parent, a lack of love from a father, or an aggressive dad, and would more perceptively look at issues related to class and class prejudices. Today, we don’t seem to be able to get away from child sexual abuse – and everyone, it appears, is affected by it. All the main characters in The Perks of Being a Wallflower have been abused by adults in some way and are damaged by it. We even see a boyfriend slap Charlie’s sister and there is a pause: is this the start of a new cycle of abuse? Perhaps again reflecting the times, in Stand by Me (a far superior movie) the young lads find solace and meaning through their experiences and each other’s company; in Wallflower, Charlie has a breakdown and needs the external expert – the friendly psychiatrist – to help him out.

Sadly I took my two kids to see this film – rated PG12 – having checked online about whether this was appropriate for their age range (they are 11 and 13 years old). But while there was some very minor sex and violence, the really distressing thing was trying to explain to my kids afterwards that they shouldn’t get too concerned about paedo aunties and that there was a wider obsession with child abuse. This did little to dampen their concerns. ‘It’ll be strange talking to Auntie Mandy now’, my 11-year-old daughter said as we drove home. She couldn’t get to sleep that night.

Perhaps ‘child-protection experts’ would tell me this was a good lesson learned for my kids; personally, I thought it was a rather vile one. Essentially it told them to watch out for rapist friends of the family and kiddie-fiddling aunties. Child abuse is unacceptable; serious child abuse is also rare. Sadly, one thing that is all too common is the obsession with child abuse and the message that we surrounded by perpetrators and victims. It is the campaigners, experts and ‘creatives’ who seem themselves to get a perverted pleasure from obsessing about child abuse.

Stuart Waiton is a sociology and criminology lecturer at Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland, a director of Generation Youth Issues and founder of Take a Liberty (Scotland).

See the trailer for The Perks of Being a Wallflower here:

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