So Chris Hansen crowdfunded a new “To Catch a Predator.” I think I could end this article here. I won’t, if only because I haven’t discussed how sixty-two people are now, for donating a hundred and fifty or more (upwards to around two thousand) real, actual dollars, part of the “Hansen vs. Predator” club. This entitles them to, and I quote, “first access to all episodes, VIP access to dailies, Chris Hansen behind the scenes, and special content that won’t air in the actual series as well as the t-shirt, coffee mug, and signed photo” listed in other rewards.
Some context: Chris Hansen is a journalist best known in popular culture for his show To Catch a Predator, where he and his crew, along with police agencies, used decoys to lure in sexual predators targeting children over the internet circa the early 2000s. This was then broadcast on NBC, to immense controversy. Earlier this year, on Kickstarter, Chris Hansen revealed a potential show (by now fully funded) called Hansen vs. Predator, with the same essential premise but also taking into consideration modern social media.
For the uninitiated, Kickstarter functions by the developer offering “rewards” in exchange for donations: the more money one contributes, the greater the prize. And as stated above, Hansen vs. Predator had a massive selection of prizes.
But some of you might object: “sure, this is in poor taste, and clearly making a mockery of sexual abuse against minors for cheap profit, but is it offensive enough?” I then present the following. If you give Chris two hundred dollars, he will follow you on Twitter. Two hundred and fifty dollars, you can get him to send a thirty second video to a chosen target. A thousand, and you get associate producer credits and a prop, signed, from one of the sets where Chris and his associates interview child molesters. A thousand five hundred, and you receive a director’s chair with the logo for Hansen vs. Predator on the back. And for those not comfortable with going all the way (you can be an executive producer for only five thousand dollars!), a “take a seat” mug is offered for a mere twenty bucks. “Take a seat” being, of course, the phrase Mr. Hansen uses when talking to people who sexually abuse children.
If the last paragraph seemed too daunting, let me summarize: Hansen vs. Predator, in its advertising and efforts to draw in funding, minimizes molestation nearly to the level of a joke. The title is clearly based on the film franchise “Alien vs. Predator,” which is itself an exaggerated confrontation between two science fiction movie monsters. Furthermore, the reward campaign seemed to be under the impression that Chris Hansen’s To Catch a Predator had devolved into an internet meme—which admittedly is true—and that encouraging this was the best way to market their show. Which is also true, evidently, but nonetheless horrific. The work, as presented, asks potential contributors to donate in order for Chris Hansen to “catch predators.” But this is bizarre, and more to the point ignores the central dynamic of the show: the fact that it is, in fact, a show. What differentiates this from a circus act?
Thus, Hansen vs. Predator trivializes for financial success child abuse. It is marketed as a meme on the level of cats with hamburgers, and offers a world where the dangers of internet predators is well known only the chance to have these offenders be captured and humiliated for the world to see. It can exist only as a sort of moral pornography, where the viewer’s pleasure stems as seeing these men “get what’s coming to them.” When we observe the perverse “rewards” structure for supporting the show, it is fair to wonder exactly how this can actually protect minors. If the appeal is the memetic structure of the original To Catch a Predator, alongside the same desire that draws viewers to “true crime” novels and shows, the best this show can hope to manage is to bring attention to the issue of sexual predators. Which leads us to the critical question: in the year 2015, does anyone not know about pedophiles and pederasts on the internet? Is the show really going to help, or is it thirty years obsolete, and designed only to draw money into the hands of its creators? We hope for the best, but it gives us little cause to hope.
Information gathered through the Kickstarter page for Hansen vs. Predator at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1606694156/hansen-vs-predator/description, and information on To Catch a Predator from the article http://www.nbcnews.com/id/14824427/ns/dateline_nbc/t/theyre-still-showing/#.UAUeSF2zm94