Where do I begin?

Honestly. I was going to happily post about having a story shortlisted for an Aurealis Award (which is very shiny!) and then I hear about a news story telling me that a NSW Supreme Court judge has ruled an internet cartoon in which lookalike child characters from The Simpsons engage in sexual acts is child pornography. Ludicrous, infuriating and depressing … trifecta! Here’s the full report from The Age:

In a landmark finding, Justice Michael Adams today upheld a decision convicting a man of possessing child pornography after the cartoons, depicting characters modelled on Bart, Lisa and Maggie engaging in sex acts, were found on his computer.

The main issue of the case was whether a fictional cartoon character could “depict” a “person” under law.

“If the persons were real, such depictions could never be permitted,”Justice Adams said in his judgement. “Their creation would constitute crimes at the very highest end of the criminal calendar.”

Alan John McEwan had been convicted in the Parramatta Local Court of possessing child pornography and of using a carriage service to access child pornography material, the latter of which has a maximum penalty of 10 years’ jail.

The male figures in the cartoons had what appeared to be human genitalia, as did the mother and the girl depicted in the cartoons.

The magistrate had said that had the images involved real children, McEwan would have been jailed.

However, he was fined $3000 and required to enter into a two-year good behaviour bond in respect to each of the charges.

McEwan appealed the decision arguing that fictional cartoon characters could not be considered people as they “plainly and deliberately” departed from the human form.

But Justice Adams agreed with the magistrate, finding that while The Simpsons characters had hands with four fingers and their faces were “markedly and deliberately different to those of any possible human being”, the mere fact that they were not realistic representations of human beings did not mean that they could not be considered people.

Justice Adams said the purpose of the legislation was to stop sexual exploitation and child abuse where images are depicted of “real” children.

However it was also to deter the production of other material, including cartoons, that could “fuel demand for material that does involve the abuse of children.”

He dismissed the appeal and ordered each party to pay its own costs as it was “the first case dealing with [this] difficult issue.”

So this poor guy has to shell out three grand plus costs and wear a good behaviour bond for four years (what, he isn’t allowed to go and see Disney movies?) and have this vile charge on his criminal record all because he had some smutty Simpsons porn on his hard drive? Fuck, I think I have some smutty Simpsons porn on my hard drive. I know I remember getting some emailed to me by someone at some stage so it’s probably still cached somewhere. Or maybe that was the old computer. The point is, in what fucked-up Salemesque world is smutty drawings of fictional cartoon characters the equivalent of kiddie porn? What fucktard was responsible for taking this guy to court in the first place? How on earth can this be considered a “difficult issue”?

Kiddies and cats, you better burn all your manga and hentai now. Especially your hentai.

On Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope last night, he interviewed Wendy Whiteley, ex-wife of the late artist Brett Whiteley. Andrew asked about when Wendy first met Brett and sat for him, nude, at the age of 15. “Oh, we can’t talk about that,” Wendy chided. “That sort of thing is illegal. Let’s just say I was 16.” She was being slightly-but-not-really flippant and slightly-but-not-really funny but the point was well taken. The grey area of sexuality, the even greyer area of artistic freedom.

A few years ago I wrote a story, called “Louisa”, which would now quite probably be considered either tantamount to child pornography or an apologia for paedophila. Naturally, I would consider it be neither.  After being bounced back by several editors (providing a couple of the most vitriolic rejections I have ever received), the very brave Trent Jamieson published it in his now defunct Redsine. It’s a good story. A nasty and horrible story, but a good one. It presses uncomfortable buttons and it’s a piece of which I’m still very proud. I have the very sad feeling, though, that if I were ever to have a collection published, “Louisa” might not be included. Certainly not if it was a mainstream publication.

I used to be rabidly anti-censorship. I still am, actually, but I no longer bore friends to the point of tears with my rants and I no longer go out of my way to acquire material which has been “refused classification” (the sanitised way we Australians have of saying “banned” so we can pretend we don’t do that sort of thing here) just to for the sake of it and I no longer hiss beneath my breath when the OFLC classification advisory comes up before movie previews. I got very sick of being angry and frustrated over this shit all the time and so I very deliberately tuned out. I stopped keeping ultra-close tabs on the Wowsers and the Fucktards. I unsubscribed to the Eros Foundation newsletters. I no longer read OFLC reports. I tried to be a grown up. It worked, for a little while.

But lately, with the Bill Henson case and other bits of fucked-upedness surfacing all over the place, the old familiar anger and frustration has started to bite again. I’m not sure what to do with it yet, but I’m not ready to pack it away this time.

Suddenly, being an Aurealis Award finalist doesn’t seem quite so important in the grand ole scheme o’ things. But it’s still very shiny.

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Bill Henson and the Paedophilic Gaze

Ben Peek has written an eloquent response to the Bill Henson controversy. I started writing a quick reply to his post but it quickly became rather long and I started to say some things I figured might not be appropriate to stick in someone else’s blog. Probably better to put it in my own instead, but read what Ben has to say first.

I’ve just heard that the police investigation might be extended to some images in the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery (purchased in the early 90’s, with not a single complaint from the viewing public). And the yellow-bellied Albury Regional Art Gallery voluntarily pulled three of their Henson works from exhibition yesterday.

It makes me seethe.

The current societal concern about paedophilia and child abuse is bordering on – some might say crossed over into – outright hysteria.

Of course children have a latent sexuality. Adolescents more than latent. And adults have a different kind – or many different kinds – of sexuality again. It’s perfectly normal and healthy for kids to muck around with kids in the sexuality arena, and for teenagers to muck around with teenagers. Serious problems arise when adults get involved and impose their own sexuality (and inherent power imbalance involved) on children and adolescents.

Ironically, sadly, while Henson is not doing this, his detractors certainly are.

The attitude that ANY nude – hell, naked, let’s dispense with the arty words and say NAKED – photograph of a child or teenager is inherently pornographic and sexualised (in the way adults perceive sexuality) is simply vile. It imposes the paedophilic mindset on all of us. Naked babies in TV commercials, children modelling underwear in KMart catalogues, works of art in galleries … we are now forced to look at such images with a paedophilic gaze. Worse: toddlerspaddling unclothed at the beach, and happy snaps of our own children (and of  our younger selves?) shrieking bare-skinned beneath summer sprinklers or splashing in bubble baths, become things we are unable to view without at least a niggle of unease.

I resent it more than words can express.

Moreover, it’s dangerous. If all images of naked children, if the naked children themselves, become imbued by default with an adult sexuality then how few small steps does it take to normalise a sexual attraction on the part of an adult for a child? Or to justify acting upon such an attraction? (Hell, it’s the guiding philosophy behind those MAMBLA cunts.)

The following image disturbs the hell out me. It’s a reproduction of one of Henson’s images from the Sydney gallery at the centre of police investigations. The pixellation and black bar have been added by the online media outlets that have published stories about the Henson case. I have seen the image several times now in various places on different days.

Bill Henson
I have not viewed the original, uncensored print but I imagine from what I have seen of Henson’s work that it would be a beautiful, powerful portrait. I imagine a complex expression on the girl’s face. I imagine adolescent uncertainty and fragility, combined with a flash of youthful pride and promise. I imagine her semi-shadowed eyes staring back at me, challenging me to regard her as a person, not as an image, not as THE image. I imagine a smile. I imagine deadpan. I imagine timidity. I imagine boldness. I imagine what her breasts might be like. They look like they would be much smaller than mine would have been at her age. I was teased because my breasts got very big, very early. I was one of the first girls to wear a bra in primary school, when I did wear it and didn’t hunch over trying to pretend my breasts weren’t there. Is she teased because her breasts are small, in an age when plastic surgery is fast becoming the norm for girls only a scant few years her senior? Is she insecure with her body, or does she rejoice in it? Does she wish she looked different, as I did (as I still do sometimes, too many times)? How does she look? Is she beautiful, boyish, bambi-esque?

I don’t know, I might never know. Twenty years apart, I might have locked gazes with this girl in a gallery at some stage or an art book, and thought such questions. Or different questions. Engaged with her, with the artist, with myself, with the society we all inhabit together, but separately.

Instead, I have this image. This censored image, an image completely the reverse of Henson’s original intention.

Girl as Victim.

Her face obscured, rendered anonymous. Expressionless. One of many. Victim. Criminal. Pixellation is indifferent and will do for both. And that black bar. So ugly, so solid. “Look,” it says. “But don’t look. Because it’s bad, what I’m covering up. You’re not supposed to look, you’re not supposed to see. It’s bad. You’re bad. But look, you mustn’t look.”

Girl as Perpetrator.

(What’s under there? Don’t you want to know what’s under there? What you’re not supposed to see? What can’t you see? What they don’t want you to see? What she doesn’t want you to see?)

Girl as Striptease.

Bill Henson didn’t do this. Hysterical, holier-than-thou fucktards did this. The Wowsers. The Police. The Media. The Politicians.

And they’re making all of us paedophiles together.