To Clad a Predator: I Feel Naught but Pity for NBC’s Trapped, Preppy Pervs

Ahh! They just don’t make ’em like they used to. No, I’m not talking about flight attendants or groovy sports cars. I’m talking about perverts.

Like so many of you, I am in the thrall of NBC’s To Catch a Predator. Last Friday night found me glued to the box watching a California-based sting. There are many eyebrow-raising aspects to this show—one perv on Friday’s show was trawling using the ultradiscreet screen name iwanttorapeyouanally—but above all I am shocked by the personal style of the entrapees, those Internet predators who are lured to their on-camera shaming and arrest by the handsome-but-naff host Chris Hansen and his team. These young blokes in contemporary sportswear are so astoundingly wholesome in appearance—some are even quite cool and groovy—that the show feels more like a casting for a J. Crew “real people” catalog shoot than a sleaze-sting. Where are the archetypal heavy-breathing corpulent geezers one has always associated with child molestation? Where are the beer guts and the pleather low-rise loafers? Where is the ear hair?

I suppose that I, a “fashion person,” should be overjoyed that even malevolent pervs are dressing with sartorial aplomb. But I’m not. I find it all quite disorienting. I miss the good old days when a vile sleazeball dressed like a vile sleazeball. The Members Only jackets and the clown suits … now those were perverts!

While To Catch a Predator may be stylistically disappointing, it is profoundly illuminating. This nasty enterprise perfectly mirrors our collective hysteria and ambivalence regarding childhood sexuality: One minute we’re singing along with “My Humps” and dressing kids in hoochie clothes, the next we’re accusing every priest of sticking his hand up a choirboy’s cassock. A creepy mixture of vigilante morality and lurid voyeurism, To Catch a Predator allows us to simultaneously decry, vilify and punish while wallowing in the pornographic details of the imminent encounters. Oops, I better stop right there. I may have overstepped my boundaries: This sounds like what my husband Jonathan calls “an issue.”

Let me explain: Whenever I sit down to write this column, my Jonny always says, “Now remember to stay away from any ‘issues.’ You’re just not qualified to discuss them, because you are much too stupid. You are a Fashion Person, so do us all a favor and stay away from ‘issues.’”

With this in mind, let me address this subject from a personal perspective.

I knew a pedophile once. It was years ago, and the person in question has long since departed this planet. Appalled and mystified by his own inclinations, this bloke died without ever having broken the law. He responsibly managed and controlled his dark and illegal impulses through psychotherapy. If he were alive today I cannot help thinking he would have been sucked into NBC’s proud web of entrapment. Along with hauling dangerous people off the street, To Catch a Predator also has the power to activate predators like my old acquaintance—thereby turning them into criminals—and hurl them onto national TV for our dubious delectation … Oops! There I go again, straying into the area of “issues.”

O.K. Lets get back to the style aspect of the show. The chicest person on To Catch a Predator, by a thousand million Members Only jackets, is the cop who wears the tree camouflage costume and flings himself at the departing perv. His outfit is very avant-garde and conceptual in a Japanese-y way. Think Issey Miyake. The least chic person? The decoy Lolita who greeted the arriving sexaholic last season by shrieking, “Hi! I’m just going to put a load of laundry in the dryer. There’s some sweet tea and cookies on the kitchen table.” Her tragic cutoffs and hoodie represent a squandered opportunity for a little fashion panache. Maybe this season a national retailer could supply clothing for an onscreen credit: “This week’s entrapper-ess was dressed by Scoop!”

Regarding old-school perv style: Don’t worry, it’s alive and well and living in irony-drenched Williamsburg. All the Brooklyn boys are modeling themselves on that unmarried guidance counselor or sixth-grade science teacher—you remember him!—who always had his students over to play video games. What’s the look? Amber-hued oversize eyewear, an unkempt beard, heathered cardigan, gray corduroys and Wallabees.

Now we’re talking! To Clad a Predator: I Feel Naught but Pity for NBC’s Trapped, Preppy Pervs