All in all, this appears to have been a good week for paedophiles. As long, that is, as they can call themselves artists.

First we have the case of Roman Polanski who apparently should be forgiven for drugging and raping a teenage girl because he’s had a really tough life and makes really nice movies. My facebook wall has been covered with reposts of this article from Salon.com, which reminds us that, yes, he might make great movies, but he’s still a rapist.

But hot on its heels we have another hang-over case from the 70s, that of the photographs of pre-pubescent Brooke Shields. In case you haven’t heard about this one yet, it goes something like this:

Back in 1975, Brooke Shields’s mother gave the aptly named photographer Garry Gross permission to take pictures of her ten year old daughter naked in a bath, in full make-up and with her tiny child’s body covered in oil. The photos were used in many different contexts since then, some more obviously straight off kiddy-porn than others, because Shield’s mother had signed away all rights to the photos in exchange for $450.

In 1981, when Shields was 16, she tried to sue Gross to get control of the images, and stop them being distributed – but was unsuccessful. (Why she also didn’t sue her own pimp of a mother I have no idea…) Gross later sold the rights to the photos to American artist Richard Prince, who re-contextualised them as ‘Art’ under the title Spiritual America.

As Art, they are now part of a new exhibit opening at the Tate this week called Pop Life. But in the latest twist, the police have just ordered the image of Brooke Shields to be removed because it counts as obscenity under laws against child pornography.

Now I know at this point its expected that we all throw our hands up in the air and start spouting something clichéd about censorship and freedom and blah blah blah. But I’m finding it very difficult to not support someone, anyone, taking a stand to say that no, these images should not be displayed.

First on the general principle that child porn is wrong. The judge in Shield’s court case who ruled that the photos are not sexualised, and just show “a prepubescent girl posing innocently in her bath”, must have been either incredibly naive or on the receiving end of a good bribe.

But secondly on the fact that a particular individual, no matter what her subsequent choice of career, has been and continues to be exploited through the these images. That Richard Prince knew her objection to their distribution, and decided that this warranted him publicising them further, demonstrates a rather revolting misogyny on his part. Yeah, it makes a good story and its really, like, edgy, y’know? But some cynical wank repeating half hearted clichés about America’s obsession with sex and fame (and I realise that with that sentence I’ve probably granting his $151,000 art work more depth than it deserves – maybe he really did just want to show a naked child) isn’t a good enough reason to hurt the victims of child porn.

The photos should not have been taken in the first place. They should not have continued to be distributed after the 16 year old was old enough to made it very clear she didn’t want them to be. That she’s no longer a child doesn’t make it any different – just as it makes no difference that Roman Polanski’s 13 year old victim has managed to survive her rape and make a life for herself, and no longer wants him to be prosecuted because it would cause her and her family further harm.

I’m disappointed that it took a bunch of Met officers walking into the Tate to point out that taking photos of naked ten year old girls is wrong, and am preparing to be drowned out by the cynical, condescending cry that “Its art!” and therefore all ok. Just us its sad that it was considered all ok to allow Roman Polanski to carry on having a successful and rich life making art after he admitted drugging and raping a 13 year old child.

But its funny how these things get taken up and turned around. Last week as Polanski was making headlines across Europe and the US, Chile was gripped by quiet another story. That of a 14 year old girl who was kidnapped while walking home from the cinema with her boyfriend, violently raped and beaten, then dumped by a canal. When her father went the next morning to try and collect a prescription for the morning-after-pill that the doctor had given him, he went from pharmacy to pharmacy across Santiago only to discover that none of them actually stocked it. As time ran out for him to get it before it was too late (abortion is illegal in Chile under all circumstances), he eventually had to take his traumatised daughter to the emergency room in the hospital.

The case has caused outrage in Chile, with all the major newspapers and the candidates for the upcoming presidential election condemning the pharmacies for not stocking the pill (which has been legally available for women aged 14 and over without their parents permission since 2006). Many have pointed out that its useless it being legal, if its not available.

In the context of other news, its refreshing to know that rape of children can still cause outrage and a compassionate debate about its consequences.

Advertisements

Never having been a big fan of racist and misogynist humour, I’m cheered by the rumours that Top Gear may finally be axed. And about time too. Of course, this won’t change the fact that it was a very popular show. Stopping the show won’t suddenly mean that the huge numbers of people who enjoyed being thrilled by bigotry on the telly undergo a revelation, and decide to stop being wankers. No doubt they will find plenty of ways to continue shocking each other with admissions of pretty minded bullying and hatred. Because its so, like, daring to see a white guy making jokes about foreigners and women! What a rebel!!

So it goes. But it would be nice to not have it supported by the BBC.

Jodie Matthews has a brave opinion piece in the Guardian today on the move to drop the show. I say brave because, as the hundreds of comments the article has attracted show, when you point out that “humour” is racist you open yourself up to the braying crowds who try to shout you down by telling you you’re just not funny/intelligent/cool enough to ‘get it’. Pitching yourself into a battle, especially as a woman, with the kind of people who enjoy slapping their bellies and wiping away the tears of laughter while Jeremy Clarkson undermines a century of social progress: well, its not exactly going to be an intelligent debate, now, is it.

Moreover, she’s chosen to use the example of racism against Roma, Gypsies and Travellers – people its considered perfectly acceptable to be racist towards these days. They are the great big blind spot in the country’s multi-cultural dream. (I’ve talked about this before over here.) Ask your average British “liberal” friend about Travellers, and they start frothing at the mouth about dirty gypsies who, everyone knows, are all thieves and violent. All of them. Even the children. No doubt your anti-war, pro-life, organic-food, Obama supporting friend will have known someone who knows someone who once got robbed by someone they knew was a gypsy. Probably because of their beady little eyes or evil gypsy nose or something equally rational. Trying to point out the incredible double standards that permeate this kind of common-placed attitude is surprisingly hard work.

So it was refreshing to read her article. But depressing at the same time, that still – yes still, even though the US has a black president – we have to spell out in such explicit, point-by-point, arguments exactly why laughing at minorities is racist.

(And for those who want to squeal “oh its all about cars, not making bigoted jokes”, I give you: Car Talk. Less venom, more cars. Should suit you fine.)

Exchange between my 5 year old Asterix-obsessed niece and her godmother:

“So when you grow up do you want to be a teacher like me and Daddy?”

“No (appropriate level of scorn) of course not. When I grow up I want to be a Roman.”

When asked by a judge at the beauty contest to name the person she would most like to meet, Camille replies, “I would meet Einstein because he never washed his hair, and nobody ever listened to him when he talked about a lot of important things that the military could have used in the United States.”

From a review in the NY Times of the otherwise uninspiring sounding “Queen Bees” reality TV show

From a discussion of sexism in Australia…

Then there was the men’s magazine Zoo Weekly, which ran a competition inviting men to send in pictures of their girlfriend’s cleavage, to win them a $10,000 (£4,500) boob job. Following an outcry, the magazine’s editor announced that they were running a new competition, this time to find “Australia’s sexiest feminist”, a contest that was also known as the search “for the hottest girl in sensible shoes”. “If you hate men, we want to see photos of you in sexy lingerie,” read the competition ad.

I have to catch a bus, so don’t have time to rant about this piece of ‘research’ as much as I want to. So here’s the short sarcastic version.

Because the only reason women exist is to have babies.

I’m interested in the debate going on about Katy Perry, the new trying-to-be-Lily-Allen popsicle. Her first two singles are both accused of being anti-gay. The first was called “UR so Gay” and is all about an ex who was too metrosexual for his own good, while the second is called “I Kissed a Girl” and, well, its about her kissing a girl. The musical value of the songs aside, she’s pissed a lot of people off. But the daughter of two Christian Pastors and the latest product of Capitol Records seems herself to be blithely ignorant of the offence she has caused.

This fantastic interview with her and its subsequent discussion in The New Gay magazine is wonderful. As one of the commentators points out

“The interviewer just keeps asking, over and over, “Why are you such a homophobic cunt?”

The subject keeps responding, “The songs are personal, the themes are open to interpretation, I don’t have a government-mandated obligation to be politically correct.”

The songs each play on tropes of homophobia that are common in daily life but considered to be ‘harmless’. The first being the use of ‘gay’ as an insult akin to ‘stupid’ or ‘sucky’, the second being the idea that (pretty) straight girls kissing is hot as long as its aimed at turning on men. The first is one of my own personal rant buttons, and I have on several occasions got into huge blazing rows over it (most recently with my little sister – the one who also thinks that Muslims are evil). “But I don’t really mean gay as an insult, its just a word. It doesn’t mean gay like that“: the excuse of the fucking ignorant. The second idea that lesbians are hot seems to have a whole lot to do with porn. I always wondered why it was that lesbians were so popular in porn for men, given that you’d assume there would be nothing there for them. But I figured eventually that its probably because most straight men are so homophobic that they aren’t even comfortable seeing another guy naked in porn, so if you just eliminate the guy and put in two women it solves the problem. Which is of course reinforced by the fact that you would never see a butch lesbian, or in fact a lesbian, in ‘lesbian’ porn aimed at straight men. So Katy Perry’s funny little jokes reinforce the idea that lesbians only exist as male sex objects, and that men (gay or straight) who don’t fit in with established sex/gender roles should be punished for it. Catchy!

I was thinking about writing this post last night while in a gay bar in La Paz, and talking to my friend who took me there. My friend, Diana, was pretty uncomfortable but trying really hard not to show it. She had been nervous about whether she ought to mention the fact she was going to the bar, and had kind of ‘sounded me out’ on how I would react before inviting me. She is straight but was going because an old friend of hers who is gay was organising the event. Diana’s reaction was really interesting – although she was obviously very uncomfortable and probably quiet unhappy about her friend being, as she called it, ‘abnormal’, she was really trying hard to understand and to open her mind to the idea. She wanted to go to the bar to support her friend in an event she was organising, and I think in general to show her friend that she still supported her altogether. We had a good night out (till the curfew interrupted us) and made plans to see the Miss Gay Bolivia candidate through to the competition next weekend. Diana talked about how dangerous it is to be openly gay in Bolivia – at the gay pride event earlier in the year people attacked and sprayed gas on the people marching. We talked in the taxi home about the Katy Perry song “UR So Gay” and she was far more shocked than I had been.

In a way its a bit like the racist comments I was talking about before. Ed, for example, considers himself to be progressive and would probably describe Diana as homophobic because she is uncomfortable with the idea of her friend being gay. But Ed regularly makes the kind of locker room jokes with his male friends about being ‘so gay’, and I can only imagine the look of fear that would cross his face if we had offered to bring him along last night to the drag show in a gay bar. Diana lives in a country where being gay really is considered to be ‘abnormal’ so her opinion is understandable – I think its a bit much to assume that individual people can throw off their habitus overnight after one contact with the ‘liberal west’. In fact it’s this idea that we are more liberal in the west that makes us able to become comfortable with our own prejudice. What makes Diana more tolerant that Ed is that she is actively trying to change her opinion and broaden her mind, and that she understands that such ‘causal jokes’ are part of the day-to-day reinforcement of oppression that keep her friends underground and, at times, in fear of their lives.