Peter Sotos’s early zines have pictures of ejaculating penises juxtaposed with pictures of missing children. Pure #1 and #2 were shocking, but also educational: front of house seats to a society where Rota Fortunae crushes even the smallest, the most innocent, and the least deserving. Rota Fortunae soon crushed Sotos, too – in 1986 he was charged and convicted on possession of child pornography. This book is part fiction, and part descriptions of his arrest.
Pure was disturbing, and parts of it had a hero-worshipping quality that I didn’t especially care for (“The tape recording of the torture is remarkable. Although much is inaudible, and it is certain that much more took place than what is on the tape, it is still a great joy to hear – Brady’s mastery is clearly in evidence.”), but what happened to Sotos doesn’t feel right.
What he does is not morally different to what a news channel does. He exploits human misery, and so does ABC. He just happens to be direct, rather than mincing and prevaricating and pretending to be above it all. Tool describes a telling event. “The front cover of Pure #2 was an extreme close-up of a child’s hairless cunt being spread open by an adult. The night of my arrest, the three main networks in Chicago used me as their lead story, and they all showed close-ups of the cover.”
The first story is written in the second person, and consists of a psycho’s one-sided talk with (apparently) a kidnapped child. Cruel games and Faustian bargains ensue. There’s nothing but dialog in this story, and we’re left to imagine what’s happening to the child in between the kidnapper’s words.
The second story takes us on a exploration of inner-city prostitution, except it’s from the view of a laughing and jeering punter instead of a well-meant liberal documentarian. I like how Sotos writes from the perspective of the bad guy. Normally people writing from “the other side” do so mawkishly, as if they’re trying to make us aware that they’re not really like this in real life. Sotos relishes the role. “Eight” is framed as a sympathy letter to a mother who has lost a daughter, but midway through it changes into something unwholesome and disturbing.
In “Five”, Sotos takes it upon himself to educate us about kiddie porn. Porn featuring young babies, apparently, is not very interesting. The real kicks come from kids who are old enough to have some awareness of what’s happening. In the 80s, the media branded Sotos a pedophile. I’m wondering that he might be something worse than a pedophile. All a pedophile wants is to have fun. But what kind of neurosis would drive a purportedly normal man in his 20s to collect kiddie porn instead of postage stamps?
Superficially, I can understand the appeal of this kind of atrocity tourism. Innocence traduced makes for quite a spectacle, and Tool collects a lot of it. But I’m not convinced that’s the real reason. Sotos has published dozens of books in a career spanning thirty years, and for him it seems not a hobby but an obsession. Anyone will stop for a few seconds to rubberneck a car crash, but Sotos looks far longer and harder than most people…and inevitably, he ended up in a crash himself.