Sex, Lies and Cyberspace
I've always found the idea of writing a crime novel rather attractive, even though I rarely read them. I also like the idea of a novel in which the internet plays a central role. The problem is that there can't be many crime plots that haven't already been used and plots are not my strong point anyway.
One plot that lacked any credibility was the one in Channel 4's 'Kill Me If You Can' on Tuesday night. But this was a true story. Even the judge at the trial said that no writer could ever have invented it.
The story is difficult to summarise but I'll have a go.
A Manchester teenager spends a lot of time in a chat room. He meets an older woman who recruits him as a secret agent with promises of meeting the Queen, millions of pounds.....and sex. He also meets a 14 year old boy with whom he becomes friends in real life. After many bizarre sub-plots, the woman orders him to kill his best friend. He stabs him through the stomach, the boy spends weeks in intensive care but eventually recovers.
A key question for the police was who was posing as the fictional woman agent, and several other characters in the chat room. Naturally, they suspected it was a paedophile or psychopath.
The final, incredible twist was that it was the younger boy who had invented these characters and instigated his own murder. He became the only person in British criminal history to be charged with inciting his own murder.
I'll be surprised if a movie isn't made about this case - a cross between Billy Liar and James Bond.
A second programme could also be made that looked in more detail at some of the questions raised by the case.
The most baffling thing is why the 16 year old swallowed such a ludicrous and ridiculous load of fantasy. It is his unique gullibility that makes such a tragedy very unlikely to be repeated. (You need to have seen the full story to realise that even most ten year olds would not have confused this fantasy with reality).
We were told that much of the conversation in the chat room was about masturbation. This has always been a popular hobby for teenage boys but was never something they admitted to or discussed. And 'wanker' has always been a term of abuse. If today's teenagers are more open about it and are even comparing notes, as it were, that seems to me a much healthier honesty.
There also seemed to be a strong homo-erotic element to the relationship between the two boys, particularly on the part of the younger boy. On one occasion he persuaded the other boy to masturbate on webcam to prevent the rape and death of his online girlfriend at the hands of a gay stalker. It didn't occur to the older boy that a gay stalker was unlikely to be stalking and raping women.
Later, the female secret agent alter ego of the younger boy ordered the older boy to perform oral sex on his friend. Although the programme was a bit coy about this, the inference was that he reluctantly did so.
And when the older boy stabbed his friend, he said "I love you" as he did so.
It seems to me that the story shows the collision of the two teenage preoccupations with sex and death. One aspect of the hormonal maelstrom of adolescence can be an obsession with death that is quite unrelated to personal circumstances or depression. That's why the writings of Sylvia Plath have always been popular with some teenagers and, although I'm no expert, I believe it's a feature of Goth sub-culture.
It's also the case that many teenagers are wrestling with their sexual identity, unsure if they are predominantly gay, straight or bisexual. This, of course, is used as an argument for a higher age of consent. I disagree with that because I don't believe that single sexual experiences convert 'a phase' into a lifetime preference. If that were the case, there would be millions more gay men in the world since so many boys have homosexual experiences. Indeed, we were told that the younger boy in this particular case, who instigated the sex with his friend, now has a steady girlfriend.
The one heartening aspect of this amazing and tragic story was that the judge gave both boys a Supervision Order rather than the long prison sentences they were expecting.
And in the programme at least, there was no attempt to heap blame on the evils of the internet. There are, of course, rare and high profile cases of young people coming to harm through meeting people on the internet. In the same way, there will also be a small number of children who, despite all the warnings, will get into a car with a stranger.
But it seems that many teenagers today are using the internet to discuss sexuality and emotions with a frankness that only the anonymity of the internet can facilitate. That seems to me to be an overwhelmingly positive and healthy thing, particularly for those who live in places remote from social life or support services or who are in families where they cannot have an open and supportive relationship with adults.
As a gay teenager growing up in the pre-internet age, the worst thing was the sense of isolation, the complete inability to talk to someone who was like myself. I think that probably caused more despair than the social prejudice of the time or the inability to form friendships or relationships with other gay people. The internet has removed that isolation from young people in the developed world and, for all its dangers, I would go so far as to say that it has probably saved many lives.