From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll’s portrait photography of Victorian children to Annie Leibovitz’s Vanity Fair photos of Miley Cyrus. When it comes to child pornography, do we really know it when we see it?
By: Vanessa Uy
If it’s hard to draw a timeline that shows how often free speech is co-opted by despotic political leaders, let alone made impossible to sort it out from genuine out and out obscenity due to the influence of “Aspirational Paedophilia” posing as free speech / artistic expression. Was this “threat” to Western Civilization started in 1998 when Hustler magazine CEO Larry Flynt started the Barely Legal franchise - thus making paedophilia aspirational – back in 1998? Or was it when the Russian teen Lesbian duo Tatu and accused punk poser Avril Lavigne battled for fame in 2003? Though many anti- Avril Lavigne websites still accuse Avril Lavigne of glamorizing the “Dickensian Dinginess” aspects of child pornography, by citing the way Avril Lavigne’s on-stage butt-crack exposure which became sexist humor fodder on the Joe Rogan Dough Stanhope era “The Man Show” is similar to the way Fiona Apple and Sheryl Crow glamorized the "Heroin Chic” in the late 1990’s. This despite the fact that Avril Lavigne will probably be turning 24 this year, thus proving the 21st Century adage that the blogosphere is indeed a fierce and fickle mistress, especially as an art critic. Add to that the recent row over the Miley Cyrus a.k.a. Hannah Montana “controversial” Vanity Fair portraiture by Anne Leibovitz and the Australian child pornography row over artist Bill Henson’s photo exhibition in a Sydney gallery depicting nude pre-pubescent kids that even “Lord of the Rings” and “Elizabeth” star Cate Blanchett managed herself to get embroiled. But the question remains; do we really know child pornography when we see it? Or is child pornography just a manifestation when the most cherished of our sociological constructs like Human Rights and Civil Liberties get trampled upon every time Halliburton and KBR exercises their “right to be greedy”?
When it comes to defining pornography and / or obscenity, the rational among us – which I hope constitutes the majority – always point out the immortal words of the former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. The famous quote of former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart goes as: “I know it when I see it.” Some say this highlights his failure to define obscenity during the Jacobellis v. Ohio case back in 1964 which later became a landmark US Supreme Court decision. But to some people – including myself – believes that what US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart meant about his famous quote “I know it when I see it” is that cases of pornography and / or obscenity should be examined on a case to case basis. Especially when it comes to Bill Henderson’s controversial photo exhibitions that the current Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has deemed obscene even though thousands of others have deemed it as mere artistic expression.
Sadly the wisdom of this landmark US Supreme Court decision went on unheeded – even viewed as just a mere US Supreme Court docket - when then President Ronald Reagan spent millions of American taxpayers’ money on a dubious pro-conservative biased study on pornography. Reagan asked then Attorney General Edwin Meese III to head this “commission on pornography”. This culminated into the 1,960 page report titled “Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography Final Report” dated July 1986. Unfortunately, the Reagan – Meese definition of “pornography” is next to useless when used as a benchmark to find out whether the “staged” antics of Avril Lavigne, Miley Cyrus and their ilk are guilty of glamorizing child pornography and / or promoting aspirational paedophilia.
The good news is that level headed folks everywhere now see the 1,960 page “Commission on Pornography Final Report” as nothing more than the Reagan Administration’s attempt at co opting every freedom loving American’s Right to Free Speech back in the 1980’s. Which makes the then President Ronald Reagan’s remarks on the signing of the Child Protection Act of 1984 rather somewhat bunkum. Hell, Avril Lavigne could have uttered those same remarks on Saturday Night Live and everybody would think that it’s one of those retro 1980’s stand up comedy routine.
The bad news is that the legacy of the Reagan – Meese pornography commission fiasco means that every “devout” Anglo-Saxon Protestants around the world now harbor an “eternal suspicion” every time they see those beautiful Victorian era Art Nouveau-like child portrait photography of Lewis Carroll – a.k.a. Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson. And interpret these as “child pornography”. Just like the current fiasco pertaining to Annie Leibovitz’s “Homage to Lewis Carroll” Vanity Fair photos of Miley Cyrus. Although the one where Miley Cyrus’ perky pubescence showing through her diaphanous sports bra might inspire every Vladimir Nabokov wannabes to invent lepidopteral / entomological labels for pubescent teen-age girls.
Despite of the political demagoguery that has become part and parcel on our attempts of defining what constitutes pornography and / or obscenity, to me, we may be misleading ourselves. Let along completely missing the point every time we examine the problem from the very narrow and somewhat limiting perspective of Abrahamic Theology / Judeo-Christian Morality. And everyone can now freely hate me as I say Darwin and Nietzsche could be right on the mark.
After reading the main article of the February 2000 issue of Discover Magazine about how Mother Nature utilized beauty as a survival trait. It began to dawn on me that as a society Western Civilization has yet to sort out what falls under “Slave Morality” and what falls under “Master Morality” in order to accept the true nature of ourselves. Babies, young kids, even pubescent teen-aged girls are genetically designed to be beautiful because it has a better chance of survival every time grown-ups with means (i.e. money, food, power, WMD s etc.) feel obliged to take care of them. We should be thankful to Mother Nature for delaying the manifestation of the "ugly gene” (usually this gets full-blown when one reaches 18) in each and every one of us for as long as humanly possible.
Though some might label my Darwinian embrace of aesthetic beauty as mere demagoguery, well, that’s their loss. Although in a perfect world, scantily clad perky pubescent teens do make great superheroes. Bad guys and everyone’s “Uncle Phil” would be “too distracted” to be evil. Someone should send a memo to Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee about this. But in the end who would you trust as the final arbiter when it comes to what constitute pornography and / or obscenity, yourself or an “organization” who thinks that the decision for one of their founders to burn alive 3,000 Jews is a good thing?