Conflation is when you confuse or equate two things that are not equal or do not have similar characteristics. In the article titled “In Polanski Case, ‘70s Culture Collides With Changed World” on the front page of today’s New York Times, Michael Cieply uses conflation to try and demonstrate that back in the 70s, sex with those under 18 was considered okay, not taboo as it is in today’s more righteous times.
But the only piece of evidence Cieply gives us is that in the 70s there was once a fictional movie in which a 17-year-old girl has consensual sex with a man in his 40s (Manhattan, 1979).
There are two conflations at work here:
- The conflation of a fictional plot with an actual event: The two are not the same. You can cite a number of fictional works to support the assertion of a trend, but you can’t use one fiction as your sole proof.
- The conflation of consensual sex with a 17-year-old with the rape of a 13-year-old: In both the 1970s and today, the attitude of people towards a 17-year-old getting it on with someone older was/is lot different from their attitude towards raping a 13-year-old. Virtually everyone in the 70s and virtually everyone today agreed/agree that rape of a 13-year-old is wrong and should be punished. But both in the 70s and today, the range of opinion related to consensual sex with someone a few months under the age of consent has varied, with many wanting to know the specific conditions and circumstances before passing judgment.
The premise of the article—that people in the 70s were more forgiving of child rape than people today—is wrong, wrong, wrong, which is why it remains unproven in the body of the article.
Cieply fills the article with bits of opinion by some self-proclaimed experts, none of it backed by any facts. Here’s the most specious example:
Joelle Casteix, the southwest regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, traced the changes in attitude toward sex with minors, among other things, to a change in the movies.
“The kids of the ’70s were raised with films — ‘The Omen,’ ‘The Demon Seed’ — that put adult sensibilities into children,” said Ms. Casteix, whose group last week called for continued pursuit of Mr. Polanski at a demonstration in Los Angeles. “But a lot of changes in the ’80s, the Reagan era, made people look at their kids a little more and realize they were children.”
The expert is saying that the films of the 70s made children more adult-like, until Ronny Reagan rode in wearing a white hat to save the day. How does that explain “An Education” (2009), “Tadpole” (2002) or “The Opposite of Sex” (1998)? How does it explain “Wicked Little Things” (2006), “Them” (2006), “The Ring” (2002), “Whisper” (2002) or “Pet Sematary” (1989)?