Watching Berry’s testimony, I was struck by what an intelligent, articulate, and good-looking young man he is. But although I felt he was brave for sharing his story, I was troubled as well by his open testimony. Later, I caught Berry on Larry King, and I was again struck by how intelligent and well-spoken this attractive young man is. And I was further troubled by the ideas that were coming up in my head.
What troubles me about Berry’s testimony and his Larry King interview? The overwhelming sensation that this young man is still being manipulated and exploited and that he is aware of and complicit with it as well. It seems to me he is still on display, not just on the Internet, but also in print and on television. Berry’s story was first told over a year ago by Kurt Eichewald of the New York Times (and the NYTimes has made the story premium content, so you must be a paying subscriber to access the story from the NY Times website), and he has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Who knows where the next stop is for this young man on the publicity trail. I concede that perhaps sharing his story is cathartic for him, a means of therapy, perhaps eventually of closure. But something’s not right with this picture.
I have no doubt Berry was a victim, plain and simple. Even though he “consented” to strip and masturbate in front of a web camera, he was seduced and manipulated into the situation as a child. Yet I can’t help but wonder, as things progressed – did he not know, even as a child and then as an older teen, that his behavior was inappropriate? Berry spoke to that in his testimony, acknowledging his own lack of morals in some ways, yet making it clear that as a troubled young boy, he was easy prey. As I listened to his testimony and the King interview, I began to wonder how the adults in his life could have failed him so miserably. What was his mother doing, thinking – and why, when his activities became known at school, didn’t social services step in?
I wonder as well how this young man can ever possibly have positive and healthy sexual relationships – not only because of his porn activities and how that must surely have warped his understanding of sex, love, and trust, but also after his face has been plastered not only on the Internet as a “porn star,” but throughout the media as a victim and apparently, given his testimony, as the poster boy for a more rigorous and aggressive stance against child pornography.
Berry presents himself in many ways as rehabilitated (from drugs and porn). But I wonder if he is totally rehabilitated. I wonder if he has exchanged the fame and attention he received for stripping and masturbating on the Internet for the fame and attention he is now receiving for what in many ways (metaphorically speaking) is stripping and masturbating once again in the public view. Yet certainly, his testimony is important to hear, and perhaps his story will strike a cautionary note for teens and adults as well. But somehow, Berry’s recent public appearances feel manipulative and exploitive. And I am not entirely sure who is doing the exploiting and manipulating. The press? The House Panel? Berry’s lawyers? Berry (who no doubt has learned the art of exploitation and maniulation quite well)? Perhaps everyone.
A transcript of Berry’s testimony to the House panel is available in PDF format at http://energycommerce.house.gov/108/Hearings/04042006hearing1820/hearing.htm).