To binge on to catch a predator
"Please, take a seat."
A pleasant and welcoming statement for most, a terrifying one for child molesters.
If you don't know why offering a paedophile a seat might be terrifying for them then you've probably never seen a TV show called "To catch a predator".
In the show, TV presenter Chris Hanson confronts would be child molesters at the climax of a carefully choreographed sting operation.
The show enlists the help of a brilliantly named group called 'Perverted Justice'. They set up profiles in online chat rooms, pretending to be girls and boys in their early teens.
It's shocking just how quickly these fake teens are approached by sleazy older men (it's always men) who immediately begin the grooming process.
As the show builds towards the climactic moment, when Hanson reveals who he is ("I'm Chris Hanson" is another famous catch phrase from the show), we are given the complete back story.
This generally consists of a run down of the lewd and usually disgusting messages and pictures sent by the predator to what they thought was a 13 year old girl or boy.
Hanson then questions them for a while before letting them leave. They are, of course, intercepted by the police as soon as they get out of the house.
That's the whole show, every episode is more or less the same, and yet it is one of the most engrossing things I've ever watched.
We look on with pleasure as these men realise that they've been caught, that their lives are ruined. The camera zooms in as they begin to squirm, to plead with Hanson. Without fail they will tell him that this was their first time doing anything like this, that they made a mistake. They beg him to just let them go and promise that they've learned their lesson.
The whole thing is interesting for many reasons, such as the psychology of these men, the impact the internet has had on society, the vulnerability of children in the modern world, the ethics around luring these men into this situation and publicly shaming them etc...
All of that stuff has been talked about at length. What I'm more interested in right now is why I find this spectacle so engrossing.
This show was incredibly popular when it first aired and now on Youtube the videos get millions of views.
So why do people enjoy watching this stuff?
Is it just a modern form of public flogging? We don't throw people to the lions anymore and have long since done away with public executions. Maybe we miss the spectacle of serving someone their comeuppance publicly.
It's not just about justice being served either, it's about watching these criminals realise that they've been caught. We like to watch people being caught in the act. We want to see the devastation on their faces when they realise it.
Interestingly the ones we consider most evil are often the ones that offer up little in the way of a reaction when caught. We’re disappointed that they didn't throw a tantrum or have a bit of an emotional breakdown. How could they not? They must be really evil…
In human society there is nothing more heinous than a crime committed against a child, or indeed an elderly person. I can't help but wonder if this is why 'To catch a predator' was such a success. We get to see the worst that society has to offer, and we get to see them being caught red handed.
No matter what bad things we've done in our own lives they most likely pale in comparison to what these guys did. So we get to feel better about ourselves by exposing ourselves to people that are objectively worse than us.
I also wonder if this is the same mentality that drives some of the brutal shaming we see online. If someone does or says something bad on social media they can be set upon on by a digital mob. Does the mob form because people relish the opportunity to distract themselves from their own behaviour by pointing their fingers at someone else that did something worse?
I don't really know, just speculating wildly here. I might be wrong about all of this, but at least I'm not a paedophile.