Monday, October 1, 2007

The Nan Goldin Thing; or, How Dangerous is a Naked Little Girl?

Once again, the righteous have decided that the children of the world must be protected from art--or more accurately, from pedophiles who frequent art galleries. I thought pedophiles frequented playgrounds and Boy Scout Jamborees, but what do I know? (For those of you who haven't been following the story of the Nan Goldin photograph seized from a UK art gallery, you can get up to speed with this Times Online story. If you go to this BBC page, you'll see a link in the upper right for a video that actually shows a cropped version of the offending photo.)

I've already gotten in trouble recently for being soft on pedophiles, but I've got to say that I'm horrified at the idea of prosecuting anyone who makes or displays a photo like this one. So far all the police have done is confiscate the picture, and even that is completely inappropriate, if you ask me. Of course, there's no question that a pedophile with a thing for little girls would find the picture stimulating. So what? He'd probably get a hard-on watching ads for My Little Pony. Think we should ban them?

Censoring a picture like Goldin's does absolutely nothing to protect children. It protects adults who are either 1) irrationally fearful of the dangers of sexual predators; or 2) offended by nudity and the unselfconscious play of young children, which often has a perfectly natural (and healthy) erotic element. There's a world of difference between free-spirited play between two kids and the coerced sexual encounters depicted in true child pornography. People whose thinking is so clouded by repression that they can't understand that difference are certainly too stupid to be put in charge of protecting public safety.

I am sympathetic to one element of the prudes' reasoning, which is that it's inappropriate to display such an intimate image since the child in it is unable to consent. But I'm not sure I think there should be a law saying that a nude photo of a child can't be exhibited until its subject is eighteen. That would, among other things, prohibit a lot of valuable documentary photography, such as the famous photo of Kim Phuc Phan Thi.

I'll be interested to see how this finally plays out. I hope somebody has some sense, and they let the whole thing drop. This case is a classic example of the sort of thing I worry about when the feminist anti-porn brigade starts marching. Laws that prohibit expression inevitably wind up being used to censor artists (especially women artists) who make the mainstream nervous, while barely touching the scumbags who actually abuse and exploit kids..


Leopoldo said...

I wholeheartedly concur.

helg said...

You always make interesting points on such subjects.

Mary said...

Art is certainly not comfortable sometimes (in fact, perhaps most of the time). And all nudity in art isn't prurient, including nude depictions of children. That being said, I think it's a tough call for museum and gallery directors.

BitterGrace said...

I agree, Mary. I wouldn't really be too critical of an exhibitor who decided such a pic was too much--but that's very different from the state policing art.