Written by Lysander
Artist: Peter Sotos (USA)
Title: Buyer’s Market
Label: AWB Recording (USA)
Cat.#: AWB 016
Genre: Spoken word/experimental
“What does that mean? What does molesting you mean?”
“Touching us in places we don’t want. And then they would, like, threaten us, like, ‘you don’t say a word, else we’re going to come to your house and kill everybody except for you… and we’re going to send you to the Devil.’”
‘Molestation’ and ‘abuse’ have become increasingly nebulous but trendy terms. Especially since the early 1980s the global moral panic and hatred over child sex abuse has done little else but chase its own tail. In a sense, it’s given many parents an agenda, a cause and a purpose, especially for those whom it didn’t directly affect, for whose children weren’t the victims. Through dint of having children they become part of a troupe, a religion which licenses pacifistic parents to wish equal or greater pain upon supposed perpetrators against whom, in many cases, there is no shred of concrete evidence.
In 1983, hysteria over child sex abuse in the US would begin to ramp up, a trend which continued for many years, subsiding in the early 90s. In the UK, it would continue for longer with martyrs like Sarah Payne, Millie Dowler, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman capturing the public eye and imagination. But what was more impressive, and more interesting than the murder of these children was the media’s reaction to it, and the mindset and personalities that they were able to forge around them. Each murdered victim was deified in the eyes of the media, and by the late 1990s parents from all over the country were starting to go out on their own personal witch hunts. The ridiculousness reached a climax when the News of the World, aware of the seething public outcry which it had helped create by whipping the nation into a moralistic frenzy, published the names and addresses of a number of British paedophiles, all of whom had already served their jail time . This led to a knock-on effect with parents not only searching these people down, vandalising their property and terrorizing their families, but in their uninformed idiocy tracking down paediatricians, not realising who they were actually pursuing .
Of course, the icing on the cake was to be that, years later, the News of the World would close its doors after extremely serious allegations that Rebekah Brooks, its editor, had authorised hacking of Millie Dowler’s mobile phone voicemail in the wake of her disappearance and murder. Brooks, who had previously run the “Sarah’s Law” campaign through her paper in order to promote awareness and protect children from sexual predators, ended up as an international laughing stock having secretly been monitoring and harming the very families she was trying to protect. In the end, “Sarah’s Law” turned out to be little else but a cheap tabloid ploy to increase sales figures.
Peter Sotos knows the power of press all too well. Ever since the 1980s Sotos’ incredibly detailed and extremely graphic writing style has largely been unmatched in its praise of serial killers and their mindsets. In 1984 Sotos self-published the underground magazine “Pure” which only managed to make it to two issues before being picked up by Scotland Yard, for photographic rather than literary content. This led to his immediate arrest and trial for possession of child pornography, a suspended sentence and over $60,000 in legal bills for him to pay off. Pure III, already written but not to see the light of day until the débâcle blew over, was published officially a few years later.
“Pure” was unrelenting in its depictions of sex-crime. Through meticulous and excruciating research Sotos gained access to case details not normally disclosed in news broadcasts, with features on little-known personalities such as William Heirens, Edmund Kemper and Josef Mengele included. Every blow of a claw hammer, every last death rattle was documented in fine detail, with the word “eloquent” often used to describe the crimes themselves and the protagonists regularly noted as “libertines”. Sotos focused very much on the victim’s situation. When writing on the recipients of crime, he was always careful to give them real personality, whether they be at blame or blameless, whereas the media would always go for the latter. Sotos was vocal that each case was relative: “it always amazes me when people talk about how victims become saints. My God, there’s this case in England that’s really incredible. Rachel Nickell was this woman who was just walking down Wimbledon Common, and she was raped in front of her child. I don’t care what this woman would have done, I mean, I don’t have evidence that she was this slut, this slattern, but the prose that came out describing her in this walk down the lane with her child, like she was an angel, she was this thing where all the heavens collided to make this paragon of beauty. It really is disgusting.” More than anything, Sotos has always been clear to point out that his concern is not the nature of the press itself, but the false personalities they create. As a result, his writing has been largely misunderstood, with those people even speaking in support of him coming out with, in his words, “incredibly stupid things”.
In addition to his work for the well-known noise project Whitehouse, Sotos has also been responsible for putting out a few titles under his own name. In the early 90s he released Buyer’s Market, a five-track offering of sound collages comprising spoken word samples from parents, law-enforcement officers and victims of sex crimes. The title of the album is an almost humorous allusion to the saturation of supply over demand in this area. This is especially relevant to the case of Ted Bundy, who is referenced by name and was very particular over his victims; all being white, attractive college students with long brunette hair parted in the centre. This so-called “market” is in direct contrast to the high prices paid for child pornography which Sotos also undertook research on, much harder to find in the 1980s than it is now. In one article Sotos cites a sting operation on Thai distributor Marit Thararee with the prices chargeable: “before arresting Marit the customs officers were able to purchase for $100 cash, four separate envelopes each containing three different shots of a girl, about 12 years old …for $300 cash another 40 shots of different children; and for $5000 an offer of 600 colour photographs.” Take yourself back 25 years, and you’re looking at some very high prices indeed. The police are very careful to choose what they let through the net information-wise: in a very recent case in the UK a 15 year old boy was tortured and killed by his family on suspicion of being a witch, the Daily Mail reporting one source from Scotland Yard as saying that crimes related to witchcraft were “hidden and under-reported”. Similarly, at the beginning of this month, the Guardian reported over eighty cases in the last decade of child abuse linked to witchcraft . The mind boggles with regard to what else lies under the radar, with cases such as the infamous Necros Pedo tapes of 2000, where children from orphanages were bought, abused and killed on tape for high-paying UK businessmen, probably only scraping the surface .
Buyer’s Market is a difficult listen, but it’s one which warrants repeated goings over. At first it’s all too easy to be assaulted by the graphic descriptions of abuse from the children interviewed, the stories recounted by the snivelling parents at hearing the news of the loss of their child or the factual recounting of events by hardened police officers. Its moral, more than anything, is to make us question the validity of the cases involved, the personalities painted of both victim and perpetrator, and, like Noe’s film Irreversible and Sotos’ own writing style, to make us feel that violence is indeed painful, long-lasting and destructive. These days we have become all too desensitised to violence on paper and on screen: real life violence is not ‘Schwarzenegger violence’, it does not have a certificate or a schedule; it is protracted, unglamorous, long-lasting and ruthless. If anything, Sotos is giving something back to us which we may have lost though the gloss of Hollywood. Something that we paid for. If you feel disgust, displeasure or empathy when listening to the words on this disc, he’s doing something right in presenting them to you.
The validity of some of the cases here is an important point. Track two contains sound samples from the interviews of those involved in the McMartin trial of the 1980s in which Ray Buckey, founder of the McMartin preschool in Virginia was accused of orchestrating a large series of paedophilic, satanic orgies on school grounds. The public jumped on it and the trial lasted for seven years, costing the US taxpayer more than $15m, and ceded no convictions at its conclusion. The parents of the children involved, all too keen to leap onboard the day-care abuse bandwagon that ran into over fifteen other major trials of the decade, believed everything their children concocted and testified in court. It was only during the trial that it become gradually clear that the evidence from the children was very difficult to uphold since they were so susceptible to outside influences: most children tend to include excerpts from the interviewer’s questions in their answers in order to give the answer they believe they should give. Also, repeated questioning of children will often lead them to change their answers since they will believe they are giving the ‘wrong’ ones . In the first track “Children”, for instance, a child is asked to provide detailed examples of how she was interfered with on a plastic doll, but later analysis of this practise concluded that children will overact and exaggerate explicit acts on dolls even if they have not been maltreated themselves; furthermore there is no correlation between how a child will act with a doll dependant on its own experiences .
Sotos’ views on parenthood are predictably strong. Having a poor relationship with his own parents, apparently because they were intolerably “normal”, he views most parents as being mindless, spawning automatons with a “pathetic, insecurity-driven sense of mindless benevolence that controls and rationalises their entire being”. It is for this reason, and this self-caused sense of loss, that he has little sympathy with the familial victims of these crimes. Indeed, he describes it as an “exciting” moment when newscasters ask parents of kidnapped children how they feel, only for those parents to break down in tears – “however you want to define ‘exciting’”. It’s a fair point though, after all, does the question really need to be asked? The greater sensation a news channel provides, the more successful it is; playing the humanitarian card won’t work.
However you choose to view the content of Buyer’s Market, it’s offering something that few other sources can. The extreme high majority of news reportage is biased, manufactured and at times, false. Buyer’s Market manages to glue together speech and language from hundreds of different sources, all sought out at painstaking dedication by Sotos. A sonic collage and emotive work of art, it strongly hints at the inadequate partiality and stolid nature of the press, which projects emotions for us to lap up whilst simultaneously skewing facts and inventing personalities. One thing’s for sure though, the events themselves will remain unchanged, and Sotos is clear to offer as many sides to the stories as he can. Yes it’s horrific, and yes, the crimes within here are gaudy and hideously unfair, but as McMartin reminds us, “there is no such thing as fair. ‘Fair’ is a word in the dictionary. If you think there’s such a thing as ‘fair’, go ahead and think it. It doesn’t mean anything.”
1. To Name and Shame; BBC News, July 2000
2. Paediatrician attacks ‘ignorant’ vandals; BBC News, August 2000
3. Interview with Jim Goad, Total Abuse 1996
4. Pure III vol 1, p.47
5. ‘It was sadistic and surpassed belief’; Daily Mail, March 2012
6. Ritual abuse of children; The Guardian, March 2012
7. British link to ‘snuff’ videos; The Guardian, October 2000
8. Rule, Ann (2009). The Stranger Beside Me
9. Ceci, Stephen J.; Maggie Bruck (1995). Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children’s Testimony
10. Pure III vol 1, p.64