NAMBLA and NORML: Changing Deviancy
Deviance is defined by sociologist as “any act that violates the norm” (Ruane, 198). Therein lies the problem. Just like there are those that consider the United States Constitution a living breathing, subject to change, what is considered normal also changes generation to generation. Many of the activities that we consider normal today were frowned upon as recently as ten years ago. Sociology studies the social forces involved in the establishment of these evaluative standards, violations of the standard and the reaction to these violations.
In the 1950s the number of men with pierced eyes would have been relatively small, today men of all ages and ethnic groups have all types of piercings. The same could be said of women when discussing tattoos. The percentage of tattooed women has grown over the past decade. In fact the “tramp stamp” is one of the most popular among younger women; a tramp stamp being a tattoo on the lower back. While there is no scientific studies that show women with these markings are more sexually active than others, they are considered part of the “Raunch Culture” discussed in Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.
An interesting example of the acceptance of deviance can be seen in the 1978 movie Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The movie is set in the 1950s and opens with a conservatively dressed Travolta holding hands and walking on the beach with Newton-John. This would be the idea relationship for that time. However as the movie progresses Newton-John’s character, Sandy, is torn on how to keep Travolta’s, now in dark leather coat and greased back hair, interested in her. The conclusion of the movie has Sandy giving up her conservative look for a sleazy black spandex outfit complete with leather jacket. The moral of the movie? To keep your man, dress and act like a slut.
Piercings, tattoos and the transformation of Sandy in Grease are considered normal everyday deviances. These acts “are not viewed as deviant by those committing them and often result in no social sanctions” (Raune, 201). I would argue that many get tattoos and piercings to express their individualism; they actually are joining part of a larger nonconformist culture that in its own way is conformist, as you need a certain look to belong. The bottom line is though that their actions harm no one and are becoming more accepted as a norm in today’s society.
There are those in society whose deviance is looked upon as criminal. Organizations such as NAMBLA, North American Man Boy Love Association, and NORML, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, are trying to educate society so that it will accept their behavior as normal and acceptable. The ultimate goal is to legalize their activities so that they will suffer no sanctions for their actions.
NAMBLA has a tough sell in today’s society. There are very few members of society that believe that children should be sexually active, especially with older men. The NAMBLA website lists among its goals;
. . . to end the extreme oppression of men and boys in mutually consensual relationships by:
• building understanding and support for such relationships;
• educating the general public on the benevolent nature of man/boy love;
• cooperating with lesbian, gay, feminist, and other liberation movements;
• supporting the liberation of persons of all ages from sexual prejudice and oppression.
Our membership is open to everyone sympathetic to man/boy love and personal freedom (www.nambla.org).
The attempt is to make the correlation between their behavior and groups that are beginning to gain some acceptance and pro-liberty groups. There is very little support from the gay and lesbian community for this type of activity, and gay men for years have been battling the stereotype of being child molesters. It is also difficult to believe that any political group would lend their name or support for this type of activity.
NORML on the other hand may be on the verge of becoming a normal everyday deviance. “NORML's mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the repeal of marijuana prohibition so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer subject to penalty.” Programs such as Showtime’s Weeds, or Cheech and Chong movies have lead to a softening of the public’s perception of marijuana. Many have tired of the war on drugs and the cost believing that, “drug abuse is bad, but the drug war is worse” (www.drugpolicy.org).
The fact that some states have decriminalized small amounts for personal use and medical marijuana bodes well for the acceptance of this behavior in the future. State governments look at the legalization of marijuana as a revenue source that could fill empty coffers and provide services to the public. According to Time Magazine, in an article about California’s consideration of legalizing marijuana, “The state's proposed $50-per-oz. pot tax would bring in about $1.3 billion a year in additional revenue.” There is talk of a ballot initiative, if the state legislature doesn’t act on the legalization for tax revenue proposals now under consideration.
The challenge for sociologists and law enforcement is to examine the behaviors of people involved in criminal deviance and determine how to stop the activity. The difficulty is that these individuals form groups “that provide members with a unique set of values, beliefs, and traditions distinct from those of conventional society” (Siegel, 106). That community makes it more challenging to infiltrate and find answers to the causes for the behavior.
The sociologist and law enforcement might choose to handle their investigations in much the same way. Both would attempt to gain the trust of an individual in an attempt to gain entry into the closed community. Once inside they would observe the habits, hierarchy and learn the history of the group. Neither would attempt to influence the workings of the group as their interference would disrupt the natural order of the group. It is interesting that both professions use similar techniques given that their goals are different.
Once the sociologist gathers their information they seek to determine the cause and affect the deviant behavior has on the person, community and society at large. At the conclusion of their analysis a sociologist seeks to find a remedy for the problem, perhaps by some government action or local charity.
Law enforcement on the other hand, once their information is gathered, takes a different track. Depending on the type of action they become involved in the community; buying drugs, soliciting prostitution, setting up meetings with child molesters, or taking the information gathered to get a search or arrest warrants. Law enforcement’s remedy for the deviant behavior is an arrest, court action and incarceration. Their solution is often good only in the short term as the activity returns to the community or the individual continues the deviant behavior upon his or her release from prison.
The study of deviance is important. If all activities were considered the norm we would be living in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. A community that shares everything and is conditioned to believe that nothing is deviant will not survive for long. There will always be people, fads and events that are deviant, it is the level of the deviancy that will determine whathas value in a society. The NAMBLA organization challenges us to believe that sex with young boys is good and an expression of personal freedom. What value would that normalization bring to society at large?
One man’s normal is someone else’s deviant behavior. Law enforcements role is to capture and punish the criminal behavior that society deems abnormal. The only time this can be changed is if the laws are changed. So, while people are always claiming that you can’t legislate morality, they expect the legislature to do so, as a way of protecting society. By lobbying for a change in the law a group such as NORML can “legislate” morality, by taking an illegal activity and making it legal. The same could be said for prostitution in Las Vegas; what is illegal in forty-nine states is legal there, therefore it is not criminal deviancy, it is normal everyday deviancy.
The role of the sociologist is different. They do not judge or force a change in the community. The goal is to determine the root cause of the deviancy and offer a solution that can correct the issue. Law enforcement and the court system seek to change society at large. While a sociologist looks at a small segment of society and addresses that self-contained groups issue.
Ideally as sociologists discover the root causes for many of the deviancies that plague the world today, we will have a better understanding of each other. In the end anything that can help bring about an appreciation why people act the way they do, can only help society.
2 Timothy 3:1-7
Grease. Dir. Randal Kleiser. Perf. John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John. Paramount Pictures, 1978.
Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. New York: Free Press. 2005.
McNichol, Tom. “Is Marijuana the Answer to California’s Budget Woes?” Time. 24 Jul 09
Raune, Janet and Karen Cerulo. Second Thoughts: Seeing Conventional Wisdom Through the Sociological Eye, 4th Ed. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press, 2008.
Siegel, Larry J. and Joseph J. Senna. Introduction to Criminal Justice 11th Ed. Canada: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.
“What’s Wrong With the Drug War.” 03 Feb 10. <http://www.drugpolicy.org/drugwar.>
Has it ever seemed like your life is falling apart, there is no hope, there is no one to turn too? The job is dominating your life, you can't get ahead, and your relationships are crumbling? No matter what you try to do, the chaos and downward spiral continue; you call out to God, but He doesn't seem to answer.
You're lost, afraid, alone, the darkness is closing in, and in your desperation, you are willing to throw God under the bus, and press on, on your own. Unfortunately, that doesn't work, and life becomes "wash, rinse, repeat."
As tough as it may seems; now is the time to humble yourself, turn to God, and lean on Jesus. Asking Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior, may not turn things around overnight, but there is a peace and hope that is not found in yourself. As much as we think we can control things, we cannot. I speak from personal experience.
When it seems no one else does; God loves you. When you feel no one else wants you, God wants to have a relationship with you. When others turn away and abandon you; He will still be there.
Please do not give up hope. Ask Jesus for forgiveness, ask Him into your heart, and ask Him to be your Lord and Savior. The journey may not get easier, but you have someone who will never abandon you, even in your darkest hour.
This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, And saved him from his troubles.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
Colossians 3:12 NKJV
Everything in life is temporary, even life itself.
john Gregory Parks
I only worry about the things I can control; as I control nothing, I have no worries.