At this point, not having heard from the editors at The New Yorker, I assume they aren’t going to print the letter I sent in response to an article published in the April 11 issue. The Voyeur’s Motel by Gay Talese is a disturbing piece about Talese’s long association with Gerald Foos, a man who bought and retrofitted a motel decades ago so he could watch his customers having sex. Apparently the article is an excerpt from an entire book Talese has written on this subject.
Knowing how difficult it is to have a letter published in The Mail section of The New Yorker, I listed all my professional affiliations, hoping my credibility in the movement to end violence against women might help get my letter attention. But I seem to have remained unplucked from the slush pile.
Very disappointing, not because it means I won’t appear in The New Yorker, but because it means the editors there don’t get it. They published an article that reinforces rape culture at a time when there is finally starting to be some serious public attention paid to how male privilege and assumption of entitlement to sexual gratification leads to sexual assault, and what can be done to prevent that. The piece highlights, without challenging, how Foos and Talese participated in sexual exploitation from positions of privilege. Foos had the money to buy and modify a hotel to be able to satisfy his sexual needs. Talese wielded privilege from his position as an established journalist to justify participating in Foos criminal behavior and not intervene.
So I’m going the self-publishing route. Here is my letter — you actually don’t need to read the Talese piece. It’s meritless.
Who Is the Voyeur?
While Gay Talese has no trouble finding fault with Gerald Foos for his lack of self-awareness and easy justifications for decades of voyeurism, he appears blind to the ways in which he is very like Mr. Foos (“The Voyeur’s Motel,” April 11). Talese does, at one point, ask, “Where was I in all this?” He goes on to give possible answers but never settles on one and continues, “Still, whenever an envelope from Foos arrived, I opened it.” It’s apparent he opened the letters because he’s a voyeur also. He has hidden his voyeurism behind a successful career as a journalist, but he still climbed the ladder with Foos and watched a couple engage in oral sex from the attic of the Manor House Motel.
Perhaps Talese feels he has a stronger moral compass than Foos because the murder Foos witnessed and helped initiate bothers him more than it does Foos. But what about the rapes and sexual exploitation, undoubtedly perpetrated against people with less privilege than financially secure white men? Foos also reported these to Talese over the years, yet Talese gives them only a passing glance. Where is the concern about those crimes and Foos doing nothing to stop or prevent them? Where is his correspondence with Foos imploring him to act?
Mr. Talese must not know about the growing body of evidence that bystander intervention to stop or prevent sexual crimes can be an effective deterrent. Voyeurism was a crime in Colorado under the Unlawful Sexual Contact statute when Talese received the first letter from Foos. Talese had countless opportunities to intervene with Foss from the very beginning, without creating any conflict arising from confidentiality agreements or journalistic considerations, however self-serving they may have been. He had a critical responsibility to intervene that deepened with every new revelation from Foos.
Claiming a journalistic interest in Foos’ “research” does not change the criminality of both men’s behavior. Talese could more usefully employ his journalism skills reporting on ways to prevent sexual crimes, including those Foos perpetrated and witnessed. Talese may argue that his interest had nothing to do with his own titillation from Foos’ reports of sex and sex crimes. But Talese can’t deny his role as a bystander nor avoid the evidence that he finds satisfaction in observing and judging others, just like Foos.
32 West Street
Northwood, NH 03261
Advisory Council, National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Research to Practice Specialist, Prevention Innovations Research Center, University of New Hampshire
Former Executive Director, New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence