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Desmond: The Bacha Of Brooklyn

Woody Allen, Desmond Is Amazing, and pop culture's corruption of a child
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Bacha bazi is a traditional practice in Afghanistan and some other central Asian cultures, in which boys and adolescent males are compelled to dance for older men, usually as a prelude to pederastic sex. PBS’s Frontline did a documentary on The Dancing Boys Of Afghanistan.  Warning: it’s not safe for work.

Before I talk about the bacha of Brooklyn, let’s take a quick detour.

The Hollywood Reporter has a long story today about Christina Engelhardt, a woman who said she became Woody Allen’s lover at age 16 (he was 41), shortly before he began filming one of his best-known films, Manhattan. 

Allen refused to comment for the story, but the woman produced enough supporting material, including personal correspondence from Allen, for the magazine to take her seriously. Besides which, Allen’s sexual desire for teenager girls is well known. From the story:

The pair embarked on, by her account, a clandestine romance of eight years, the claustrophobic, controlling and yet dreamy dimensions of which she’s still processing more than four decades later. For her, the recent re-examination of gender power dynamics initiated by the #MeToo movement (and Allen’s personal scandals, including a claim of sexual abuse by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow) has turned what had been a melancholic if still sweet memory into something much more uncomfortable. Like others among her generation — she just turned 59 on Dec. 4 — Engelhardt is resistant to attempts to have the life she led then be judged by what she considers today’s newly established norms. “It’s almost as if I’m now expected to trash him,” she says.

Time, though, has transfigured what she’s long viewed as a secret, unspoken monument to their then-still-ongoing relationship: 1979’s Manhattan, in which 17-year-old Tracy (Oscar-nominated Mariel Hemingway) enthusiastically beds Allen’s 42-year-old character Isaac “Ike” Davis. The film has always “reminded me why I thought he was so interesting — his wit is magnetic,” Engelhardt says. “It was why I liked him and why I’m still impressed with him as an artist. How he played with characters in his movies, and how he played with me.”

If she’s hesitant to judge Allen by today’s standards, you might wonder why Engelhardt is coming out with this story now? Because she has a teenage daughter now, and she says she would not want her daughter to do what she did.

I was in college when I first saw Manhattan. It is considered to be one of Allen’s best films. It is also creepy as hell. Here’s a clip in which Allen’s character is trying to break up with his 17-year-old girlfriend (played by Mariel Hemingway):

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLCvFcaZW3Q]

I remember being disturbed by this story line — which is central to the film’s narrative — but trying to talk myself out of it. Woody Allen is a great artist, and ‘Manhattan’ is a great film, I kept telling myself. These things may both be true — I no longer believe that about Allen, who hasn’t made a good movie in decades — but that’s beside the point. The point is that when I first saw Manhattan, I tried to smother my sense of disgust at that story line. It was only when the Soon-Yi scandal emerged in 1992 that I reconsidered that earlier judgment. Now, it’s incredible to think about, isn’t it?

Three years ago, Hemingway, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Manhattan, revealed something stunning. From Wikipedia:

In her memoir Out Came the Sun (2015), Hemingway detailed Allen’s visit to her family home in Ketchum, Idaho upon completion of filming. After intimating that he wanted to take her to Paris, Hemingway warned her parents “that I didn’t know what the arrangement was going to be, that I wasn’t sure if I was even going to have my own room. Woody hadn’t said that. He hadn’t even hinted it. But I wanted them to put their foot down. They didn’t. They kept lightly encouraging me.”

I wanted them to put their foot down. They didn’t. They kept lightly encouraging me.

Two things here: first, how parents and other responsible adults abdicated their responsibility to protect young people from sexual exploitation. Second, how normal stuff like that was in the popular culture of the 1970s.

I bring all that up as background to something disgusting that just happened in New York City. The 11-year-old drag superstar who goes by the name “Desmond Is Amazing” performed onstage at a Brooklyn gay bar, vamping and receiving money like a stripper. Here’s the full-length version of the image at the very top. Note the cash in Desmond’s hands:

I’ve seen a clip of this little boy onstage at the gay bar, 3 Dollar Bill, which funnily enough, does not mention the December 3 performance on its racy Facebook page.

You can see a clip of it from Instagram, starting at around the 1:50 mark on this YouTube commentary.  . Here’s another Instagrammed image from Desmond’s performance:

This is a manifestation of pedophilia, straight up. No, I’m NOT saying that anyone sexually abused this kid, or laid his hands on him in any way. I am saying that sexualizing an 11-year-old, and having him prance around stage performing a sexually suggestive dance in a bar, for grown men to throw money at him, as if he were a stripper — well, look, if that’s not pedophilic grooming, what the hell is?

Believe it or not, 3 Dollar Bill is not likely to lose its liquor license over this. Under New York State law, a minor can be in a bar if accompanied by parent or guardian. Desmond’s parents were probably there with him, allowing their little boy to perform in a bar for men who desire men. Andrew and Wendy Napoles have been full partners in exploiting their child — and have received lots of media praise for their progressive attitudes.

Desmond has been celebrated on Good Morning America — not reported on, but actually celebrated:

NBC’s Today show has also celebrated Desmond as “inspiring”.

And so on. There is almost nothing that our mainstream media will not celebrate if it is labeled pro-LGBT.

Is it going to take us 30 years or so to look back on this with disgust, as we now do to Woody Allen’s exploitation of Mariel Hemingway, which was celebrated in its day?

Let’s remember Mariel Hemingway’s words of reproach about her parents: I wanted them to put their foot down. They didn’t. They kept lightly encouraging me.

Desmond’s parents, the gay bar owners, the television producers and celebrities who praise him — they are heavily encouraging this child to destroy himself. Weimar America is a hell of a place, ain’t it?