Suffer the Children: National Crisis, Affective Collectivity, and the Sexualized Child
Canadian Review of American Studies
Abstract: This article takes up the explicit and implicit political deployment of children in relation to two recent enactments of childhood innocence and vulnerability: Dateline NBC’s wildly popular series, To Catch a Predator, where men who think they are meeting an underage child for sex are caught on camera, exposed, and arrested; and the phenomenon of Purity Balls, a growing practice within fundamentalist Christian communities, in which a daughter pledges her virginity to her father during a yearly father-daughter formal ball. The article situates these particular examples within the political and ideological utilization of children that has been increasingly apparent within the American political landscape in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. It also draws on the theoretical work by Lee Edelman, Lauren Berlant, and Peter Coviello in order to explore the political and cultural implications of the way that the trope of childhood vulnerability circulates to reiterate a particular kind of heteronormative, patriarchal social imaginary, what Edelman identifies as reproductive futurism, and to anticipate the constitutive effects of vicarious trauma for imagining the nation.