Sunday, 4 October 2009

Inter-generational Sex: Brooke Shields and Roman Polanski

Two stories have been peculating away during the last week that both explore the issue of inter-generational sex and our apparently confused response to this controversial subject. The Tate Modern has started a new show called Pop Life but the police turned up ("yet again" I hear you say) and following their appearance one of the exhibits was removed. The exhibit in question was a picture of Brooke Shields taken in 1983 (the top part is pictured right). The Telegraph art critic, Richard Dorment described the picture as: 'it takes the form of a ready-made or found object – a publicity photograph showing the prepubescent actress Brooke Shields naked, her body wet from the bath. What's more, her hair has been elaborately done and she is wearing so much lipstick, mascara and eye shadow that it looks as though the head of a 25-year-old Playmate had been spliced on the body of a child. The original photo was commissioned with the approval of the child's mother who, as her manager, allowed it to be published in the soft porn magazine Sugar n' Spice as a tactic to get her daughter noticed and so further her career'. Read the full review here.

It takes literally seconds to find the full picture online and you are left wondering why the Police felt the need to take this action, whilst recognising that the picture does have a powerful affect. The idea that hoards of paedophiles are going to gather at the Tate Modern for a quick wank is absurd (although that does sound like an intriguing piece of performance art). Given this is also a piece of art that was made in 1983 and has hung quite happily without incident in New York's Guggenheim for years, creates even greater confusion. Are law officials more cultured in New York? Are they more immoral? It's bonkers.

At the same time, the film-maker Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland. Something even the Nazis managed to avoid. The offence, having un-lawful sex with a 13 year old back in 1977. Whoopi-Goldberg's quote "it wasn't rape rape" has been seen as totemic of a Hollywood that rapidly came to his defence but as Paul Harris notes in The Observer today, opinion now seems to be shifting against him, even in Hollywood. Had Roman Polanski been a cleaner or an office worker, you wonder if it would have taken over 30years to catch up with him? He wasn't exactly hiding away.

Both stories, stretching over the decades, reveal shifting attitudes and shifting truths. For Postmodernists, these provide excellent examples of the flawed nature of 'truth' and the difficulties in debating, analysing and resolving issues such as inter-generation sex. Maureen Freely write an excellent thoughtful piece in The Guardian yesterday in which she wrote '[Children's essential rights to express themselves sexually] is an argument I recall hearing from the more radical sectors in pre-AIDS San Francisco in the late 70s. Why should children be left out of the fun? Why was it always left to their uptight parents to set the rules? Couldn't the age of consent be brought down to reflect the actual state of play?'. For me, Freely's most interesting observation was:

'For the past 20 years, we have had child abuse scandals every day for breakfast. That is why the Polanski story looks so much different now. That is why the photograph of Shields nude aged 10 can cause such discomfort, 34 years after the fact. When we look back, what we see first is what we didn't know then.'

The full article can be read here.

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Anonymous said...

While I agree that children should have the right to freedom of sexual expression, it is also the duty of the parent or responsible adult in that childs life to *protect them* and make sure that as they age to a point of being able to dip their toes into the large ocean of decision making they will eventually be navigating on their own, that they don't get pulled into the undertow, then spend the rest of their lives trying to resurface.

I personally am a bit confused at how the nude, underage Brook Shields image *still exisits*, let alone that it was allowed to hang anywhere in the US given the recent (and not only) accusation of child abuse when parents took bath time photos of their children, or the fact that most of Traci Lords work has been distroyed. Yes, there is a lot of distance between bathtime child photos, the Shield's image and Lord's early work as a minor, but it does show an inconsistancy in ideas of acceptability in our child porn, doesn't it?? Brook did not come up with the idea to do that photo to market herself...her mother did...and that image is a clear sexualization of that child (which bathtime/baby photos don't necessarily...although could depending on the context). An adult manipulated that child specifically for the purpose of sexualizing her to adults, and therein lies the issue that is the slippery slope of allowing freedom of childhood sexual expression: consent. Children will consent to things they would normally never engage in for the approval and love from addults. Children don't usually have the education to understand fully what they might be engaging in, or have the power and/or self esteem to stop things when they no longer like the choice they made. This is why children still need protective measures in place to make sure they do not venture too far, too fast. No responsible adult allows a child to step out into a busy street to navigate oncoming cars with the rationale that they should be allowed to make their own choices in life...why should this be any different??

I do think that age of consent laws have many holes, as not all *legal adults* necessarily do much better at making their personal choices sometimes... But considering how difficult it is to overcome the imprinting of trauma that happens in childhood, what else can we do?? We must err on the side of attempting to protect our children.

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