Vore and the Surveillance State (AKA: Will your fantasies land you in prison?)

Surveillance camerasSo NYC’s “Cannibal Cop” Gilberto Valle stands convicted, and he’ll do time for…what? The fact that seems to have eluded a lot of people, because people are busy and often just read the headlines, is that the “Cannibal Cop” never ate anyone. He never killed anyone, or abducted anyone, or injured anyone. What he did, and the reason he is going to prison, is described by some people as “plotting,” by others as “fantasizing.”

This isn’t a post about the Cannibal Cop, not exactly. That said, I’ll point you to the excellent reporting being done on the story by by Daniel Engber at Slate. What’s important, for this conversation, is that you become aware of a fetish community, one that’s found a real life online, called “vore.”

Vore is complicated, but put very simply it’s a sexual fetish that involves eating people, seeing people being eaten, or being eaten oneself. It’s often depicted in cartoons or stories, is often cartoonish in that the “eaten” person is eaten whole and not killed, and often speaks from inside the belly of the eater, and if you’ve come across it accidentally, vore is odd and somewhat baffling. It’s also, according to one theory, the reason Gilberto Valle is going to prison.

Again, this isn’t really about “Cannibal Cop.” I’m not here to argue that he was innocent of any crime. Maybe it’s true that he never intended to harm anyone. Maybe he was just getting off on super-detailed fantasies. There’s evidence to support that. But I can’t help thinking that in the pre-Internet days, if you went around making arrangements with strangers to kidnap, murder, and eat some women–and if you were making arrangements to pay those strangers for cooperating–you’d probably be doing time.

What interests me more about the story is how Valle wound up arrested. Police had his computer under surveillance for quite some time, and the bulk of their case was based on evidence they collected through that surveillance–chat logs, documents he wrote in collaboration with fellow co-conspirators/vore fetishists, and such. This aggregate evidence was shown to a jury, who agreed that Valle’s activities constituted not the elaborate fantasies of a fetishist, but criminal conspiracy.

Take this in combination with recent news about America’s advancing surveillance state, and the implications are a little bit scary. Even if we presume the Valle really was conspiring to commit real-life murders, there have to be plenty of harmless people out there indulging violent, odd, and unusual sexual fetishes through online fantasy and role-play. What happens in a world where those people are unknowingly being watched by the government?

The answer, I think, is a lot more people facing criminal charges because their fantasies were just a little too odd or uncomfortable for the government–and if they are also too odd or uncomfortable for jurors, the answer may be a lot more people going to prison for their sexual fantasies.

This, to me, is why Right Wingers who so reliably beat the “small government” drum are so very comfortable with government surveillance. Sure, they claim it’s about stopping terrorists, but it ties so neatly with moral proselytizing. In a world where your sexual fantasies may land you in prison, you have to keep those fantasies secret–and if you never know who is watching, your “perversions” may never get to come out and play. Which is exactly what certain people want.

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