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Perverts in the shrubbery

Paul Walter is a longtime Webdiarist, self-described as middle-aged, who completed a Bachelor of Arts degree a couple of years ago as a mature age student. He has been masquerading here for the last two days as “Paul Walker” because of some email and password problems, which have now been resolved. However, his style was inimitable, so we knew who he was … Anyway, earlier today Paul made some comments about the brouhaha over Bill Henson’s allegedly pornographic photographs. I invited him to contribute a thread starter, and to my amazed delight he responded very promptly thus:

Don't know about a "small piece", but here are a few thoughts issuing forth at random concerning the time travellers’ return to the dark ages, also inspired by a visit to the Friends of SBS website an hour ago.

So, here it is. I think it's your debut piece for Webdiary, Paul - but whether or not it is, thank you. 

Perverts in the shrubbery
by Paul Walter

We shall dedicate the following to the now-sleeping Roland Barthes of "Mythologies" fame, as his famous tract continues its fifty-ish-ith anniversary.

At SBS, the writer discovered more concerning the perplexing stubborn ongoing refusal of the government to abide by election promises and remove deliberately intrusive advertising from SBS (has any one else been taken aback by the absolute lack of comment concerning ABC and SBS financing and independence over the last few months ... or the severity and rapidity of the decline of Fairfax and Murdoch?). So the theory that Rudd has spoken out of induced ignorance and resulting priggishness is strengthened, although the alternative theory relating to the damping down of a new front just opened by Devine in the Culture Wars on behalf of political allies encircled Stalingrad style still has much appeal. Now, I will add following thoughts.

The ALP is happy to inherit a dumbed down media surviving on prurience as factuality and where real issues are excluded, same as it is happy to inherit Howard's ASIO and weakened corporate law or IR provisions, for example.

For instance, the nerve shattering silence, except in terms of neo liberal boosterism concerning what the privatisation of NSW electricity is really about (Carr, "Vanuatu" Keating consultancies only mentioned in passing, etc ) – just one example. Thank heaven for Ian MacDougall’s exploration of this elsewhere. Richard Tonkin’s posts also constitute a long-term example posts of the forgotten art of broad sheet journalism, dealing with hard issues of equity, power and reality-shaping, ignored like the plague by mainstream press and media controlled by the likes of Ron Walker and Shaun Brown.

One sees Fairfax online following Murdoch subterranean of the gutter, now expending much space to urgent problems like the colour scheme of Myf Warhurst's knickers or the rampaging behaviours of female state school teachers vis à vis their male students.

In this sort of fevered environment, where "morals" are defined in terms of sexual behaviour exclusively, rather than through, say, financial corruption or moral sanctimoniousness, the Mirandas become rails runners for opinion dominance. And faux outrage over dubious artworks is just another obvious mode for distraction from real world issues.

Wait.

I hear someone claiming that this writer is thus downgrading pedophilia as an issue?

No, just the opposite.

Of course it is not a minor issue. Therefore, it should not be cynically exploited as a culture wars stalking horse for other hidden agendas of political control through its (ab)use in the manipulating of the emotions and the offending the sensibilities of those with genuine concerns or who have been the real victims of abuse.

Look, this antic has provoked some intelligent comment in the op ed pages of the Age and SMH in response; for more involved investigation a visit is commended.

Back here, the Mirandas will have problems of contradiction as to their targets in what otherwise could have been a righteous war against commodification/reification of youth, as well as the separate problem of child sexual exploitation. But Dahvine painstakingly avoided mention of the lucrative field of endeavour in prurience worked intensely and daily throughout the media and press that also employs her, with her focus on a typical isolated soft "out sider" rightist target; the abstracted/abstract artist intellectual who is offside to "our" society by being more interested in examining its values than unthinkingly upholding them. Such an individual likely has intellectual concerns against prurience and such an attack is therefore likely libellous as well as misleading.

The one exception was Devine's helpful attack on Dolly magazine for its unconditional promoting of anal intercourse as a desired (de rigueur, if you like) behaviour option for thirteen year old girls, regardless of the health and pain/discomfort factors for participating fashionistas.

But even here, we ask are we examining an unexamined system and its underlying imperatives, or indulging in de facto legitimisation of that system by creating an impression that Dolly is just an isolated atypical example of component failure rather than the system exemplar?

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Henson

Fiona: The author of this comment is a longtime Webdiarist who has asked to remain anonymous on this topic for reasons that I find completely acceptable.

I am a woman. I don't think Bill Henson's photographs are pornographic.

I'm going to talk about the two I have seen – I think they were in Age or SMH articles, or linked off one of the blogs – Barista or New Matilda or Larvatus Prodeo, I can't remember which.

The first is the face and neck of the girl surrounded by darkness. Her mouth is the shape of the mouth in a Greek tragic mask. She looks anguished and terrified.

When I saw that photo I suddenly remembered having dreams like that when I was a teenager – there was no one to talk to in my family, my aunt was dead, we had no first cousins; all our relatives were distant and we saw them rarely. Had we seen them they would have offered me no help, information, humour, reassurance, wisdom – it was a strict Catholic family. Sex and the female form were suspect, sinful, shameful, dirty. I remember waking up from dreams that looked like that and suppressing them. I had to get to school, learn Latin, be told not to wear patent leather shoes.

This is an oft-told tale. Nonetheless it is important. It is context. The context you bring to Henson's pictures can, unexamined, utterly control your reaction to them.

The second photo is the one of the girl asleep, or almost. She’s wearing a singlet with a smudge; her legs are angled by the edges, almost sexually.

I suddenly remembered lying like that once myself.

Partly in wonder, seeing in myself the same possibilities that were presented in magazines or on telly – I can be like that – I can become one of those. A thought I took no further, a sensation I took no further. I wasn't ready. I wanted nothing to do with this seemingly-obligatory complexity in which I could never be anything but wrong or powerless or preyed on, which could betray me out of any profession I might want to take up because, as I sensed even then, desire could be that powerful, make you give up everything else in pursuit of "love".

The other aspect of the photo I immediately recognized was the confusion about how to get there from here, how to make the journey, negotiate the passage from early teenhood to adulthood. There was no one to talk to … My mother I can only describe as hysterically silent on that subject, and then, within the next year or so, the whole family became a raging, ever-tightening vortex of displacement anxiety, guilt, anger, bafflement, and rage. My brother was clearly gay, but that couldn't be conceived, let alone thought, let alone said, let alone tolerated, let alone forgiven. We were a strict Catholic family of the 1950s. Because nothing ill could be ascribed to the conflict between my brother's sexuality and the doctrines of the Church – that would lead to questions that couldn't ultimately be avoided – I became the scapegoat, the designated cause of everything that was or went wrong. At the time I didn’t understand the cause of our increasing misery. I just wanted to get away.

So both these photos immediately remind me of my first genuine impressions of the sheer difficulty of being female in a society where, essentially, being female was wrong.

The second photo has other aspects.

The girl's singlet.

I take this as a class-marker. She's not sleeping in pyjamas. She's from the class that in the US, where I've lived for the last 25 years, woud be called "poor white". Her singlet says her prospects are limited – and so her body becomes even more important. It is the only thing she unequivocally has, and it is fragile.

The smudge on the singlet.

This is a complex bit of imagery. Firstly, as dirt not washed off, it reinforces the suggestion of "poor white". Secondly, it can suggest an impulse in the viewer to lean forward and brush it off, an impulse either housekeeperly, protective, intrusive, pornographically or physically abusive, depending on the viewer.

This is the point where, to understand it, to see the image in as close an approximation to the way Henson saw it, we need to see it in its original, gallery, form.

The size of an image is part of its content. The proportions of an image are part of its content.

A sound-bite can reduce a reasonable comment to demographic insult (e.g. Obama and the white working class of Pennsylvania).

Pan-and-scan (this movie has been re-formatted to fit your television set) destroys any movie that is carefully photographed. For example, pan-and-scan reduces the various evils in Lord of the Rings to floppy rubber and plastic and makes idiots of the characters, because they're afraid of stuff not much more substantial than bubble gum.

If you are looking at an 11" x 14" print, especially one with the subtle and complex colour contrasts of this image, it takes time for your eye to take it all in, integrate it. The size prevents you downing it in one gulp, as it were. The longer you take to explore and integrate the image the less you are able to dismiss it. In this case you have to take in the vulnerability, fragility, confusion, the class-marker, the implicit future – you cannot dismiss the humanity of this girl, her multifaceted existence, or what her defencelessness reveals about the you and the world you both live in. Being in power can generate its own desires. Lack of opportunity is not integrity. Know thyself.

Context

An image like this – the girl with the dirty singlet – cane reduced to pornography by being flattened in tone, scaled down, and recontextualized. Putting it on the net makes this reduction an easy consequence.

An art gallery is a specific context.

It is not a question of rich people having their own private porn-stores called art galleries. The rich have always had their own private porn-stores, and they were never open to the public.

When you go to the pictures/a film/the movies, you go to a special place. That alone cuts the movie out of the mundane flow of micro-events called time. The theatre is darkened – a second way of cutting this experience out of time. The screen tells you to turn off your cell-phone so the mundane, real-time world won’t intrude on this alternate time and space, this ritual space.

An art gallery is essentially the same kind of context. It is where you see and think, where you are allowed to only see and think, or not think, experience, reach or postpone conclusion. You don’t have to hurry, you don’t have to perform. Here. Look at this. It is worth stepping out of the regular world to look at.

I think Bill Henson is a great artist. I wish I had his talent and perseverance. I wish I had his courage.

Further complications

It's already an Australian federal crime to possess stories that contain tales of child sex – a bizarre type of thought crime no matter how abhorrent one may find the idea.

Now the UK government – and I have no doubt the idea will soon be adopted here – is to introduce a law that provides a 3 year jail sentence for possessing drawings or computer generated pictures of children in sexual poses or engaged in sex.

This is bordering on the bizarre. Again, persons have every right to find the idea of someone desiring such material to be of questionable character but what is the logic behind this? How can it be shown than any person has been harmed by either producing or owning such material? This basically means a person could be arrested for their sexual doodles if they contained characters deemed to be young children. I've seen department store adverts that contain fully clothed 12 year old boys and girls in the most provocative poses that I've found offensive.

The Bill Henson matter truly is the opening of a Pandora's Box in society and where it will lead I doubt anyone has the slightest clue no matter which side they fall upon.

The arts community, Malcolm Turnbull, Cate Blanchett and a myriad of regional gallery directors country-wide have already opened themselves up to be called as possible witnesses in future cases when a person is charged with the possession of child pornography should they choose to take the "art" defence.

The Hetty Johnsons of the world – though well meaning but representing just a small proportion of abuse survivors (and she does no in-depth investigation into a person's life to discover all that ails them) – have dug their heels in and are determined that Henson will burn at the stake.

The NSW Police who have boldly declared there will be charges are unlikely to back down, no matter how many learned gentleman from the law society are paraded to claim it is a lost cause. My reading of the law – written so badly as it is, is that it will come down to a decision firstly of a magistrate, never the best at deterring the niceties of the law and more liable to side with the view of the police either out of cowardice or because of tabloid pressure. Unlike judges.

Should it then go to a jury trial, it's anyone's guess what the verdict could be. But it will a trial to book seats for early. Expect a line-up of star witnesses from Hollywood actresses to politicians to a myriad of eccentric art types along with Hetty and the Fred Niles of the world.

Angela Ryan, it's already become a major issue with parents being banned from photographing their children at school sporting events – especially swimming carnivals. The major complaint made by most parents is that local councils have turned the idea that having one commissioned photographer has become another money spinner for the council.

The problem becomes even more complicated though. Waverley Council recently attempted to introduce a ban on taking photographs on Bondi Beach until it was politely pointed out to them that they have no legal power to do so. There is no law that can stop any person from photographing anything or person they like in public areas (non porno of course).

Understandably this hysteria has now reached the proportions of parents being on the grilling end of taking snaps of their children competing in Nippers events at various beaches.

A Herald photographer Jon Reid writes on the SMH photographers blog of being attacked by parents whilst in a national park and taking pictures of a large group of children jumping from rocks into a pool. Set upon by two irate mothers, they wouldn't listen to his protests that it was actually his own two children he was snapping.

Now a story reaches me just this week from a Herald photographer who was photographing a group of bronzed Bondi lifesavers last weekend – the very large kind, to accompany a story, having pre-arranged to meet the local lads at the surf club. Her companion, a budding photographer, decided to try his hand at taking snaps as well and was suddenly told in no uncertain terms he had no permission to photograph the men at work – this is on a public beach.

Of course, whoever heavied him had no legal right to do so but stories continue to reach me that Bondi has security personnel who harass would be photographers they deem to be verging on the "pervert" side of the craft. They are of course acting entirely illegally and some day Waverley Council will end up in court defending itself on a harassment charge.

So badly informed are the police on these matters – hence the extraordinary delay in their decision on what to actually do about Bill Henson, I should think the police are also scratching their heads at how to actually tackle the whole matter.

People may remember there was an annual nude surfing carnival at Bondi Beach a few years ago. It was part of a festival but had no official permission – a sort of spontaneous event that involved the organisers one afternoon roping off a large section of the beach, some 30 surfers disrobing and riding surf boards in view of the general public who were held back by the organiser's own crowd controllers who became more and more like nightclub bouncers over the five years of the event.

Eventually a 70 year old Bondi couple – not prudish (although parading nude on the beach would have led to arrest at any other time) complained to a watching group of policeman – not about the nudity , but about the roped off section that prevented them from their 30 year habit of walking the entire beach each afternoon. They were told by the police to basically buzz off.

It was a mistake – the gentleman being a local solicitor immediately contacted the council, demanding to know what permission had been given for the event etc etc and the result was the nude surfing vanished forever and the couple received an ever so polite apology form the Bondi Police Commander after a threat of a lawsuit.

Richard: Michael, how long before a camera at a nudist beach is a capital offence, we have to wonder. Taking down the porn sites might be the simplest solution, but as Fiona has pointed out in the new thread, maybe not.

Oases in a desert

Onya Michael, your and "Veeona's" posts stand out like oases in a desert in the latest tranche of this bogged-down humbuggery.

And yes, if it only was only a "Pandora’s box".

People (sometimes well-meaning) just don't realise what's at stake here, given homogenising heterogenist globalist tendencies and the tendencies of politicians. Discourse is throttled in the interests of Britney Spears consumer-commodifying pop culture and symbiotic dark ages sexual guilt and loathing.

The era's new heroine, Kate "Am I the new Hanson- I hope so" McCulloch is the fear and ignorance based exemplar of the new tabloid age, whilst privatisation rip-offs, petrol/climate problems and other real issues that determine how the masses will really live in the future continue undetected

From "Tempest".

Miranda:

"Oh brave new world

With people such as these in' t"

Prospero:

"Thou art new to 't"

Abhorrent belief?

"would find my belief abhorrent"...I'm actually not sure what belief you are talking about here, Fiona, fool that I am.

If your belief is that children "have an amorphous sexuality from the time that they are born", I would think that most people  not only agree, but take it for granted.

But, they don't like that babyishness translated into adult sexual terms.

Or maybe they do,  How would I know?

I do know that I find it regrettable:  but, I only speak for myself.

Fiona: In my present dark mood, F Kendall, I fear that (1) many people would find my thoughts about infants' and young children's amorphous sexuality abhorrent, and (2) many people would also have problems with translating babyishness into "adult" sexual terms. Also I'm not quite sure which "it" you find regrettable - but one thing that I am certain about: I'm off to bed right now. Sweet dreams, everyone.

tongue-french kissing,

Tongue-french kissing, Fiona. What's the difference? You will have to tell me.

I accept all that you said were your feelings about your daughter's actions.  I just speculate why you chose to encapsulate that in words with a sexual overlay.  No, not overlay - essence.

Fiona: Again - because it was the term that had been used on this thread. If you want it in what I hope are unvarnished terms - my daughter gave me a kiss and stuck her tongue into my mouth while she was doing it. Yes, to describe it as a tongue-kiss is giving it a sexual connotation. On the other hand, given my belief that children have an amorphous sexuality from the time they are born (else how would we respond to them as we do?), I don't think it's entirely inappropriate to call her action a tongue-kiss.

At the same time, I understand that many adults would find my belief abhorrent. Their problem, not mine.

french kissing

Babes explore the world sensually: how else can they do it? They explore, examine, enjoy and rejoice in their sensuality.

To translate that exploration into adult sexuality is ..... (fill your own words in here).

Mine might be "disgusting", but the truth is more likely to be "obedient to the media of your choice".

The many judgements against small female victims of sexual predators, used to take into account the fact that 5 yr old girls were, in their essence, goddamed provoking to those 50 year old men: therefore, the babes were complicit.

And that sexy little bint was french kissing at 2 1/2 years old, Fiona? Who taught you to encapsulate her joyous and spontaneous exploration of the world and its people, into that seedy little phrase?

Fiona: Hold on now, F Kendall – the phrase that has been used this thread is tongue kissing, not french kissing. Not that I have any problems with either phrase (or the activity - au contraire), but that’s my take on the matter. Nor did I see her exploration as anything other than “joyous and spontaneous”, which is why I didn’t even dream of chastising her, or telling her that it was "nasty" (or pick the adjective of your choice) and that she shouldn't do it. My surprise was – quite simply – that I couldn’t remember doing anything similar at her age; it had nothing to do with shock or horror.

Was Archibald an animal rooter?

Fiona; kids like to explore. I remember a particular occassion watching my son and daughter in the bath together; my son ended up on all fours with his bum about a foot away from my daughter's face. She noticed his rear end and looked at it in a curious manner.  She obviously noticed something she had not seen before and with an inquisitive look poked her finger in his bum hole. Boy did he jump and boy did I laugh.

Some may consider this disgusting but it wasn't.

Costs and benefits.

This letter published today in the Sydney Morning Herald:

The most sickening aspect of this whole sorry affair is the police pursuing a 12-year-old girl "for questioning". If the arbiters of morality were worried about her before, consider what this trauma will do to her innocence.

Sue Milliken Queens Park

It would appear Scott in not on his own regarding that one. If the 12 year old or her parents are picked up by the cops what good will it do now and how will it protect the child?

Act as deterent some may say, but I would agrue the publicity this matter has already received has achieved that anyway, and should make any parent considering doing likewise think again.

On another note I walked past the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park today and saw all sorts of ugly bits including some naked guy doing things with animals. Some call this art but I think it was inspired by someone who had an unnatural attraction to animals.

Although I can't prove that Archibald was a practising animal rooter it is bloody obvoius  as far as I'm concerned.

I was quite offended looking at this disgusting display of nudity and beastiality and will be contacting the police to remove the fountain forthwith.

For those who don't get the SMH

The inimitable Mike Carlton.

John Pratt is correct

The controversy over the Henson photographs pales into insignificance when one considers that up to 36000 children die every day through malnutrition. Or when you consider that the cost to the USA of the Iraq invasion for one year could have solved hunger in Africa for all time. In fact, it's far more obscene than any photograph could ever be.

This is the crux of the whole problem and why the title of the thread is apt: Perverts in the Shrubbery. We have been subjected to two themes relentlessly particularly for the past ten years – either pedophiles or terrorists are on every corner ready to steal our children or destroy our way of life.

The phoney threat of terrorism needs no explanation here, but the great pedophile exaggerated myth has been an education in itself.

We are so bombarded these days with phoney "news" or celebrity tittle-tattle passing as news we have a collective memory loss of the continued so-called scandals that are presented to us on a continuing basis to bolster the "pedophile" fear.

Two recent cases in the UK are perfect examples, and they are not unique to that country but could easily be transplanted to Australia; in the USA they are even worse at exaggerating the so-called "threat".

The "House of Horrors" on Jersey was one – a scandal that swept the world's media after a child's skull was found and sniffer dogs were brought in to find the supposed bodies of numerous murdered children – with six graves already identified. So far the skull has turned out to be a coconut shell and the graves part of the set from the old BBC Bergerac series. Still, the police continue to send out sensational press releases-a tooth found here-some blood there. Things that would be found in just about every schoolyard if one looked hard enough.

Then, following the great Madeleine McCann kidnap mystery, a working-class similar kidnap of Shannon Mathews drew huge media attention in the UK with police solemnly announcing that 2000 registered sex offenders lived within a few miles of the Mathews family home, which had hordes of fiery crowds out on the streets baying for their blood. In the end, the Mathews kidnap appeared to be some bizarre family affair and not a kidnap.

But the seeds are constantly planted – just as they have been in the past few days with a bogus video (compiled by some university students) claiming that al Qaeda is calling for the nuclear bombing of Washington with footage (cribbed off Fox's Discovery channel) showing a destroyed Capitol building. Again duly reported world-wide as genuine "news" (Australia too).

Where this leaves 12 year old models in a Bill Henson photograph is something I cannot yet comprehend. But I would feel better if we had politicians whose motives were genuine rather than solely based on the promotion of fear – and fear as long as it led to re-election.

Stop Anne Geddes - survivors launch website

'Her hands. Large, cold, touching my skin. A large petal pressed against my pubis. All I can see is FLASH FLASH -- I call out to mum, but she isn't there. FLASH. The only face I see is Anne's.'

The above is an edited extract from the forthcoming book Just Stop It Anne: A Survivor Speaks Back, by Bronwyn Jean.

More follows...

"Bronwyn* was only 6 months old when she first encountered Anne Geddes. Her mother remembers Geddes as a fresh faced photographer who approached the mother and child at a local bus stop in the Sydney suburb of Glebe over twenty years ago. A photo shoot ensued.

"I don't think Mum knew what she was doing." Bronwyn says. "But I certainly didn't give consent."

Little did she know that 23 years later she would be forced to confront the experience, when the police action and community backlash against photographer Bill Henson was splashed across the nation's newspapers."...

* Names have been changed to protect identities.

Fiona: Your 9th for today, Eliot.

Art under totalitarian societies

Anthony Nolan: "Berger's Ways of Seeing is one of the best entry points to this discussion. He always insisted that the audience needs to avoid buying into the point of view of the artist and to simply see what is there."

As if  "what is there" is some un-ambiguous, non-negotiable, concrete "meaning" neither open to interpretation nor dependent on cultural perspective or personal point of view.

Berger might have been able to get away with this line of argument 36 years ago when he did his TV programme on which the book is based, but these days cultural theorists are more aware that "meaning" in cultural form is negotiable, and not just "there".

Though, of course, censors will always insist that their understanding of an artwork is "real" while everyone else's is mistaken. There's no point in being a cultural authoritarian, after all, if you grant people the right to choose for themselves.

Anthony Nolan says: "Adults who, like Henson, cannot appreciate the difference between childhood and adulthood."

Actually, understanding the transition from childhood to adulthood is at the core of Henson's pictures and artistic agenda. And as Philip Aries and other cultural historians have shown repeatedly, there is no simple definition of childhood at the cultural level, and certainly any notion of childhood you have will be recent and culturally determined, not absolute or "just there".

other people's children...

Hi y'all,

Thank you Ian MacDougall for your support and let me say in return that the experiences of which you and Jenny Hume write are far more commonplace than most people realise. I think the most recent North American data is 4 out of 5 girls and 4 out of 11 boys experience at the least what is called an unwanted sexual approach by adults. Adults who, like Henson, cannot appreciate the difference between childhood and adulthood.

Thank you Ian as well for hypertext linking the 2005 review of Henson's show published by the Age. Informed critical appraisal is pretty much what we need now. I think that review will become one of the most well read in Australian art history and know for a fact that it is very popular reading right now among child protection service workers.

One of the things I want to emphasise is the legitimising authority of art. Hanging an image on a gallery wall legitimises the social relations and especially the power relations embedded and symbolically represented in the image. Who represents whom in art and how they are represented has long been a matter of critical appraisal in art theory and history. It is more of a case of who has the power to represent. Given that power, which Henson has as a male artist, the question we should ask is why does he present us with sexualised images of children? What is at stake here? Is it merely a personal obsession or is it a more generalised masculine gaze that sees other people's children as sexual prey?

Berger's Ways of Seeing is one of the best entry points to this discussion. He always insisted that the audience needs to avoid buying into the point of view of the artist and to simply see what is there.

What I see in Henson's works is that men can fuck kids with their dicks or their lenses. I believe that the ambiguity of his representation of adolescent and child sexuality symbolically mirrors precisely the way that sex abusers operate: they insinuate themselves into the trust of the family and vulnerable women and children and then violate that trust in the most insidious ways.

Commonly, post disclosure of abuse, the initial response of the non-abusing parents or other family members is disbelief and denial. I think in time that Henson's art will come to be seen symbolically in terms of a massive betrayal of public and private trust.

Let's use our energy on the real obscenities.

We need to get a grip of ourselves, if we claim to be really worried about children.

The amount of time and effort spent on discussion of a few photos of a teenager while millions of kids are dying is ridiculous.

How's this for obscene?

Six million children in Ethiopia are at risk of acute malnutrition following the failure of rains, the UN children's agency, Unicef, has warned.
And this?

Amid warnings of a major meningitis outbreak in Africa this year, epidemic levels of the bacterial infection have broken out in parts of Burkina Faso.

“Despite the efforts of the government and its partners in 2008, the vaccination campaign did not reach all the districts currently facing the outbreak,” Alain Yoda, Burkina Faso’s Minister of health said in a press conference in early January.

Overall 774 cases have been reported, with Mandogara district close to the Cote d’Ivoire border at epidemic levels and three other health districts on high alert.

Souleymane Sanou, director general at the Ministry of Health, estimated five million people are now at risk in 20 health districts across the country.

Or this?

THOUSANDS of children in Burma could starve within days unless food is rushed to them, aid agencies have warned.

And then you have this report recently released by the UNHCR.

No One to Turn To: The under-reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers and peacekeepers.

“There is a girl who sleeps in the street, and there were a group of people in the streets who decided to make money off of her. They took her to a man who works for an NGO. He gave her one American dollar and the little girl was happy to see the money. It was two in the morning. The man took her and raped her. In the morning the little girl could not walk.

I think we need to get our priorities right. Let's tackle the real obscenities, that are taking place while we have this nice debate.

What the child thinks is irrelevant

Jenny Hume: "What the child thinks is irrelevant."

Along with what her parents think, too, it seems. Or anyone else, for that matter, unless they subscribe with your "standards".

Jenny Hume: "As to your question of potential harm I would simply ask what evidence you have that children used in this way are not harmed by it."

I must admit, that's a pretty difficult line of argument to overturn. It's never easy to prove things that haven't happened.

Bring it on

Angela Ryan: "The parents? Now I understand perhaps the lawyers concern as if the act occurred in Victoria then such local laws apply and as already discussed are clearer in their criminalisation of various acts against children."

Oh, terrific. A "crime" in which neither the "victim" nor the "perpetrator" feel they've done anything wrong, prosecuted according to laws of a State where the "crime" didn't actually take place. Bring it on.

My tip? The artist and parents will be ultimately absolved - and their persecutors will become a by-word for narrow-minded , ill-informed hysterics.

Maybe the models will sue Hetty Johnston for damages? Here's hoping.

But let's imagine for a moment Henson goes to gaol...

NEW YORK , Friday. Supporters of gaoled Australian art photographer Bill Henson today kept up pressure on the South pacific nation's embattled Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as final appeals against the controversial artist's 12 year prison sentence for child pornography were overturned in the State of Victoria's supreme court yesterday.

Hollywood actress Cate Blanchett joined fellow ex-patriot Australian arts, literary and film identities including author Thomas Kennealy, film-maker George Miller and actress Nicole Kidman to present separate statements of protest to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director General of Koïchiro Matsuura and Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang calling for the artist's immediate release.

Ms Blanchett described the gaoling of Henson as "Yet another appalling set-back for freedom of cultural expression and measured judgement in Australia."

"The recent imprisoning of Bill Henson's young model's mother for refusing to disclose to Victorian Police and state child welfare authorities the whereabouts of her daughter distressed me both as an artist and as a parent of young children."

Prime Minister Rudd insists that his government's drive to re-establish in Australia what he calls "appropriate moral boundaries" and "respect for decent family values" will not be deflected by growing international calls for a moratorium on police scrutiny of the nation's art galleries, libraries, art colleges, film-makers and publishers.

"Do you want to know something? The moral majority of this nation have been a forgotten voice in determining cultural standards which have for too long been under the control of perverts and deviants," said the Prime Minister.

Art students from several of the nation's leading universities and art colleges kept up a vigil outside Prime Minister Rudd's Sydney and Brisbane residences over the weekend, applauding speeches by several of Bill Henson's models who called for his release and cheering loudly the 14-year-old model daughter of a gaoled Melbourne woman arrested for refusing to cooperate with police child pornography investigations.

A draft bill outlining minimum acceptable standards for content and decency in art galleries will be presented to the Australian parliament on Thursday."

It's going to be something we can all be proud of as a nation, isn’t it?

A friend of the arts community

Michael de Angelos: "So far we have had the PM use fairly harsh language (in my opinion – but only because I believe using the word "revolting" concerning a pic of child was unwise) about the Henson photos."

He has subsequently reiterated his statement on the matter, and that standpoint has been echoed by the Deputy Prime Minister and other Ministers.

I think we can fairly assume that it reflects their actual opinions.

Perhaps it's all connected with this...

"National Gallery of Australia (NGA) director Ron Radford says he hopes to reduce staff through attrition.

But he says some of the NGA's activities will have to be wound back to save money including publications.

"Instead of doing several a year, we'll be doing one or two a year, publications on the collections," he said.

Mr Radford says the NGA's travelling exhibitions will also be halved from the current 10 a year to only five or six."?

I cannot wait till the 2020 Report comes out in November. Now, that's going to be funny.

Boundary maintenance

Jenny Hume: "It is time to try and re-establish some boundaries in western society."

The discussion about the Henson images concerns the extent to which people not directly connected with the artist or his models should be entitled to impose cultural and ethical boundaries on them.

The models, their parents and the artist think their own existing boundaries are fine, thank you.

Jenny Hume: "And none of this could harm her daughter? "

Apparently not. Do you have any evidence to suggest otherwise?

And a hell of a lot don't Eliot

The models, their parents and the artist think their own existing boundaries are fine, thank you.

Oh yes, I am sure they do Eliot. But a hell of a lot of other people, including those in child protection, don't and rightly so. What the child thinks is irrelevant. She is not old enough to have an informed opinion. It would be interesting to know if the artist pays for the modeling services of the children he photographs.

As to your question of potential harm I would simply ask what evidence you have that children used in this way are not harmed by it. Oh I see, one two interviews with a couple of former models. Well that proves nothing.

You might like to read Angela's last excerpt. A pity the concerned in the art community did not speak up a bit earlier.

Nothing helps move moral and ethical boundaries more than moral cowardice.

The politicising of children

Although I tend to rant on this subject, this is a day I knew would come but I never expected it to be here so soon.

So far we have had the PM use fairly harsh language (in my opinion – but only because I believe using the word "revolting" concerning a pic of child was unwise) about the Henson photos. He was entitled to that belief.

The would-be PM Malcolm Turnbull has taken the opposite view and declared that art galleries should be above suspicion , that he owns two Henson photos ( although he qualifies his beliefs to point out they are not of children). His statement that art galleries shouldn't be raided is just plain ridiculous but in defending Henson he has unwisely shown in a political way that he is totally out of touch with what the majority of Aussies would think on this matter. He may lead the Opposition but he will never be PM.

But what happens in Australia reflects the US in many ways and never more so than how Howard has welded us to the US over the past 11 years.

The US Supreme Court made similar laws to the flawed NSW laws that are so open to interpretation that they are a dog's breakfast. At the time the US claimed the laws they were enacting were to defeat hardened and illicit child pornographers , those who would acquire it or download it and those who profit from it.

They also went to great pains to point out that no reasonable person in the pursuit of art or films using older actors as younger etc would ever be prosecuted under these laws and the idea was ridiculous.

Within 2 years they attempted to prosecute the makers of the film Tin Drum as producers of "child pornography." There were hundreds of cases in the US of photo lab technicians contacting authorities when parents sent rolls of film for processing of innocent family pictures – naked kids in the bath with their dads, running on lawn nude etc.

Digital cameras have probably now replaced the problem of families coming to grief (although would be no compensation for those who went through the soul-destroying trauma of being labelled a child pornographer by authorities-much as Henson is today).

We have a combination of extremely badly written law – not for the real protection of children but more for window dressing, an out of control merchandising industry that "sexualises" children to flog them a myriad of items they don't need, and a hypocritical media that is feeding on a case like Bill Hensons – the sort of sensation it needs for it's very survival but condemning the man at the same time.

As for the girl's mother defending the photos and claiming the girl has an interest in art – we all know that a 12/13 year old's mind can rapidly change interests in the coming years. Her daughter's body also did not belong to her to loan put to a photographer.

a bit from the Melbourne scene - Vic law is clearer

Ah, Eliot, thanks for keeping us updated, and here is a bit more in the Age:

"Artist Bill Henson's controversial photographs would be considered "in the realm of pornography" if they were displayed in Victoria, according to a leading criminal lawyer.......

.....

Stella Stuthridge, who has defended people accused of child pornography, said she was unaware of any defence on the basis of artistic merit in Victoria, nor any way in which a child or parent could consent to being part of making pornography.

It was a crime in Victoria to make any depiction of a minor "in an indecent sexual manner or context", Ms Stuthridge said.

"If you were under 16, it would be unusual if parent or child was able to consent to child pornography, for obvious reasons … in my experience, Victorian child porn laws have been very strict.

"My advice to clients would be that it's simply an age issue … Everyone takes happy snaps of their naked babies, but teenage girls taken between 10 and 16, it would be in the realm of pornography, especially if it was open for public display."..."

Further:

"Bernadette McMenamin, chief executive of child protection lobby group Childwise, said that the Henson images seized in Sydney were probably already being circulated on pedophile internet sites.

"They are very sexualised images — the children are naked and submissive," Ms McMenamin said. "I am pleased the police have taken a stance."

She said art should not mask illegal or immoral sexual behaviour with minors. She cited the acclaimed artist Donald Friend, whom she described as a pedophile. "He wrote diaries describing his sexual abuse of children and yet Australia still looks the other way because he produced beautiful art." "

Well well, Donald Friend accused.....but ,but ,but he is an artist of renown . I wonder at the fairness of this as he never got his time in court but one presumes a careful paper like the Age would not publish such without being immune to defamation, what defence for paedophile actions/images one doesn't know, maybe in the name of art .... Seems to work in NSW.

If he had been convicted would he still be a respected artist? What personal crimes, if any, affect the ability to acknowledge and acclaim artistic work? Hmmm. Is it because the mere thought of the person becomes so distasteful that their work becomes so tainted or does art work stand by itself regardless of the artist, and his/her deeds?

Seems like if the Henson photos were taken in Victoria then it is their jurisdiction as far as the performing predator pornographic photography goes.

I think those who claim there are no sexual connotations to these naked posed children with naked adults and dark surroundings and moody etc photos are being disingenuous, a term Eliot introduced to this topic. And really, disingenuous and obfuscation with political censorship seem to be the agenda of the defence. Naked 12 year old girl erotica is indefensible.

Michael is right. If these people escape conviction then the porn laws will have to be rewritten or child pornography will be set in dark moody scenes with adults holding the naked moody pouty child , renamed art, and hanging in offices and dark corners. The big business side of pornography is eagerly awaiting this result.

I wonder how the monetary value of his work will be affected by this controversy. Openly saleable or not? Increased value or not? And all those prominent people perhaps should declare their pecuniary and personal interests in this person's "work" before defending him. Turnbull, we know, has purchased his work. And has come out supporting it. Although it is his electorate and the art dandies are politically and media savvy. Looks like another purchaser for the School Monty calendar, twelve months of twelve year olds without school uniforms.

And Michael, you can relax, the 15 year old – 17 year old love match is not illegal, but if he was older it would be.

Of course pederasts/paedophiles have long been pushing for the earlier sexualisation of boys and girls and they are recognisable when they use key terms like refer to them as "young adults", interestingly as one art critic did when describing the 13 year old naked work after his delight at staring and studying her ... skin tones.

I cannot even imagine a scene where a 12 year old or even a 15 year old ,should be exposed naked to a photographer, in darkened room or bright light, to be put in any pose and zoomed in upon. The mere thought of this process is nauseating. The process itself is child abuse, I have no doubt about that. In Cambodia it would be , wouldn't it?

The question here is whether art and celebrities are above the law?

Well done old chap

Oh I see after posting that Eliot also noted the article, well done chap. Have been interrupted by three advice seekers since putting that pen to paper – er, fingers to keys?

protect our privacy

At last the parent(s) involved ... who wish to preserve their privacy, ahem ... but not their naked daughter's privacy it seems...how sweet.

The girl, who is still 13, posed for Henson over the past year. Her parents met him through family and friends and were aware of the nature of his work before their daughter posed nude, sources said.

Since the controversy flared, the family have been anxious to protect their privacy.

Must be nice to have your privacy protected.

Disgust

"Must be nice to have your privacy protected"

Would you seriously have it any other way Angela or perhaps a media scrum which combined with a police interview (make the little slut feel guilty!) would ensure that if in later years she will have no regrets about her involvement without this witch hunt, she sure as hell will now.

which part of their daughter is still private Scott?

Hey, Scott, a pity they didn't think of the personal privacy of their daughter who has been photographed ,apparently, naked by Henson and displayed as such .

There is certainly a lot in the art world about this here is a bit from a site seeming to attempt balance:

"Meanwhile, Anna spoke for many more:

I am glad that someone has finally stopped Bill Henson. Just because he is an artist it doesn't place him above common principles of decency. Commentary after commentary of his work over the years by prominent art critics have noted the sexualized nature of his work, even praised him for it but now the same community is now disingenuously trying to claim to the rest of us that his art works are not of a sexualized nature. Artists like him shouldn't get a free pass just because he can do porn in a masterful subtle way. Porn that is artful is still porn and as must as artists might believe otherwise just because they are artists it shouldn't mean that they should be placed outside the bounds of propriety and common decency. Often scientists especially social scientists have the same arrogance that believes that as long as its in their case for science then they should be allowed to do anything and treat subjects of their work any way they like even abusive...."

Damn, I've been spelling that disingen... word wrongly. [Fiona: That’s one reason for having helpful little moderators, Angela.]

The child, by the way, Scott, has been compromised enough. There is no way she should be interviewed.

I suspect legally , she cannot even be identified – an interesting point.

The parents ? Now I understand perhaps the lawyers concern as if the act occurred in Victoria then such local laws apply and as already discussed are clearer in their criminalisation of various acts against children.

Let us hope Iemma has learnt from this too.

Fiona: I’m looking at the Victorian Crimes Act at the moment and will get back to everyone on that soon.

The rights of the child

Angela, if I had the skills I might write a book about the use of language. I've read the material you provided and kept tripping over words and phrases, most of them pejorative or designed to pre-establish a case without providing evidence. (Incidentally, your last choice of supportive documentation was unfortunate. Balanced on the whole but in the end " Come on, Miranda, you were clapping your little hands with glee." was telling.)

If I see "childhood innocence" again in print I might vomit. Seven year olds aren't innocent in this regard and corporate porn has ensured that if it was ever different. Think back to your own childhood. In agrarian societies sex education started before pre-school age.

Your "compromised" is a case in point. Not in my eyes, just a girl with artistic interests, refreshingly comfortable with her nudity, (which is what this is really about), happy to oblige an artist friend of the family.

Her privacy was hitherto guaranteed by her anonymity which by now has probably been blown to hell. You can just imagine grubby minded boys all over Victoria scanning the net to see if they can identify her and use it as a weapon against her.

Just when do the rights of this child kick in? Do you think that by pursuing her parents as accomplices in a "crime" will not have an effect a loving daughter? This finishes it for me. If in a miniscule way I am contributing to the girl's discomfort by prolonging this debate, I now show my concern.

No more, besides I'm getting angry, really angry.

Yeah, and I'm getting angry

Yeah, and I'm getting angry too! Very very angry, Scott. I have a  nearly 12 year old daughter, who is not into tongue kissing. Doesn't even know what it is.

Does she even need to know at this age?

This all depends on a child's upbringing. If parents expose their kids to certain practices then they will of course accept these as the norm. The seven year old child you spoke of obviously learnt that technique (tongue kissing)from someone, it was not inherent.

My daughter is innocent. She knows the facts of life. I made sure of that, just as my mother before me did with me!

 By your own admission you yourself are inhibited. Not so  me. Sex is a wonderful  natural and beautiful thing between husband and wife.There is much to be said for monogomy. I find it is usually the people that have had many sex partners that are the most inhibited.

True lve has no inhibitions! 

Btw,  where are all the portraits of near nubile 12 and 13 year old  naked  girls? How many Webdiarists have these portraits hanging in their homes?

Would you have them in your homes?

If not why not?

Kudos to Angela , Jen, Ian, Anthony, and Marilyn!

Fiona: My daughter tongue-kissed me when she was two and a half, Kathy. I certainly didn't teach her, nor did my husband or my parents - the only adults with whom she'd ever been alone. Hadn't been showing her any French films, either. I must admit, though, that I was surprised ...

Now contempt

Kathy, you seek to goad me after what I have said?

I don't mind since it is off topic.

"By your own admission you yourself are inhibited. Not so  me. Sex is a wonderful  natural and beautiful thing between husband and wife"

There's that use of language again, am I supposed to feel ashamed?

So your sex life is great, bully for you there should be more of it I say. Do you by any chance write for a church publication? I can see it now; "Sex: God's gift to Christian couples."

What I didn't mention about the incident with the seven year old was that she had her legs wrapped around my waist and there was definite passion. Do you think I'm making it up? There was another incident with a different child but there's no point in me going into detail.

When it comes down to obscenity I can't help but think of a photograph I saw years ago, it's become iconic.

Full frontal nudity, a once beautiful child and there it was, the oh so sweet point of bifurcation, that delicious little cleft, should have been a sight for an old perve's sore eyes, (getting angrier Kathy?) skin tone spoilt it for me though. You see the real obscenity was the agony on the child's face and what you didn't see. The posterior view of a back that had the skin burnt off.

Getting the message Kathy?

No further correspondence entered into.

'S'pose a knee trembler's out of the question then?

Not seeking to goad you at all Scott! Just telling you what I think .Belittling me just  because I do not share your  views will not change MY views.I have a 12 year old daughter and feel very strongly about  the subject.

You said you were inhibited, I said I wasn't. Nothing for anyone to be ashamed of.

"Do you by any chance write for a  church publication?"

Not for a church publication, Scott. Actually for an adult magazine. My latest contribution being:

"Sex! Can't get enough of it baby!" 

And where did I insinuate that you were "making it up"? I distinctly recall saying that I believed that this behaviour was not inherent in a seven year old and that she would have learned that technique from someone  else.

And if you are trying to shock me by using the the example of Kim Phuc, then you are wasting your time. Apart from having nothing in common with a child who posed nude, I find your analogy in poor taste. 

Oops!

Yeah, I did rough you up a bit Kathy but don't take it personally, it was only deliberate.

Another day, another mood and I'm feeling far more mellow.

That which I wrote and the way I wrote was as I felt at the time but it wasn't about you not sharing my views.

With the subject matter as emotive as it is it would be a wonder if people didn't have differing views. In this case I was annoyed because you chose to disregard my stated intention not to contribute anymore to the controversy out of concern for the model. That still stands so while I don't mind talking about the debate I will no longer be engaged in it, and no, I'm not going to say where I draw Ian's line.

"And where did I insinuate that you were "making it up"?"

I didn't say you did Kathy, put it down as rhetoric in response to what I see as a denial of juvenile sexuallity and my "anger" was directed at what I saw as dishonesty, not necessarily yours but that of your camp. Any association of Henson's work with paedophilia is arrant nonsense and a Furphy and if anyone thinks differently they haven't got the first clue about it.

I didn't expect to shock you, just annoy.

I'm sorry but as to the "knee trembler", that's a definite knock back. Far too inhibited to indulge in that kind of shenanigans and beside, at my age it would probably result in a "knee buckler".

(Don't laugh Kathy but I've, (seriously,) never had one. See how deprived I've been?)

Eliot, you mightn't agree with Carlton's politics but you've got to admire his style. (Your missionaries, my "religionistas".)

Paul complains that this has b(l)ogged down. It was ever going to be thus, hence my initial reluctance to become involved. We are never going to change each others' minds nor do I wish to. I've had to question myself and that's all I seek of others.

Okay Fiona

Okay, Fiona, but that was YOUR daughter, and, she was only two and a half. She would not have the capacity for understanding that a seven year old would have. Besides, the seven year old in question tongue kissed  someone to whom she was unrelated. She also bore a child at the age of fifteen.

Fiona: Last line deleted, Kathy, because it contained (to my filthy mind) an unfortunate insinuation. What I was trying to demonstrate (as others have suggested on this thread) that children - even very young children -  are explorative of their own and others' bodies (did you ever play "doctors and nurses" or "mummies and daddies" when you were kindergarten-aged?) And children do kiss people to whom they are unrelated. Did you ever have the experience of being told to "go and kiss everyone goodnight" and having to give that smelly old "Uncle" Joe - not a blood relation - a peck on the cheek? Many children did, and probably still do. 

Great minds... Ah, forget it!

Yep ,doctors and nurses with the BOY (not man) next door. No tongue kissing though! Gosh Fiona, twas only a harmless questioning   xxxxxxxxx!

Boy, you really do have a filthy mind!

Fiona: One of the charming things about proverbs is that so many of them come in (opposing) pairs. Great minds think alike; fools never differ ... ;)

Shocked to discover that their values are not universal

Ian MacDougall: "Trouble is, even if using a long telephoto lens, a photographer whose subject is the sexual initiation or explorations of youth cannot escape the role of voyeur, and the wrath such voyeurism provokes in those (generally adults) who are informed of it; particularly if they have to deal as well with its negative consequences."

There are a number of assumed connections between phenomena made in that statement which are of doubtful validity.

Firstly, you've equated all photographers (and presumably related artists such as painters, sculptors, etc) with "voyeurs" if the human subject matter of their art includes "young people".

Also, you take it as given, perhaps as "natural" or even "right", that the parents of the subjects of the artists' work should or would "react" against the "voyeurism" of the artist. But as today's Herald item (below) shows, not even the parents of the girl at the centre of the current row about Henson's photography are in a "wrath" about it.

And you have equated the art with "its negative consequences".

Over and over throughout this and related debates, the opponents of artists make such empirical statements asserting the "negative consequences" of whichever cultural products are the focus of their criticism.

But they can never, it seems, point to specific, related outcomes which can be attributed to the cultural practice they're criticising.

So, "pornography causes rape" - but not, it seems, gay pornography or "erotica" held in the private collections of connoisseurs. And in fact, I'm not even aware of any research showing any specific connection between rape and pornography of any kind.

Then, "video nasties cause violence in young people", though, despite intense scrutiny by media and youth workers and educators and cultural critics, no actual link is found between "video nasties" and youth violence at all. So, the matter is quietly dropped.

Before that, "horror comics" caused, according to everyone from Left wing teachers' unions in the UK to the religious right in the USA, everything from adolescent sexual promiscuity to bank robberies to McCarthyism to anti-Americanism to the decline in popular literacy to juvenile delinquency to disrespect for elders, but as the great cultural history classic, A haunt of fears: The Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign, here available online, showed, none of that was true.  None of it.

And fifty years later, the worthies and fanatics whipping up the hysteria over comics back then look more than just faintly ridiculous. In fact, they look absurd.

How does this sort of bizarre gulf between artists and the broader public arise?

I've been reading Bryan Magee's book Wagner and Philosophy , in which he amongst many other things discusses the enormous gulf between the popular perception of Richard Wagner as some sort of proto-Nazi and the perhaps surprising fact that Wagner was actually an anarcho-communist devotee of Pierre Joseph Proudhon and personal friend of Bakunin at the time his greatest, most popular and enduring works were written. This, despite him being an ardent racist and German nationalist.

Magee points out;

"Only people who have no understanding of what it is that such artists give us could suppose that considerations of this kind detract from their greatness. They seem usually to be people who imagine that art is exhaustively a social product, and that its primary significance lies in its social influence. Seldom does it occur to them, apparently, that its social influence is actually very small, although this should be obvious."

- Wagner and Philosophy,  The Penguin Press, London, 2000, p79

The hysteria about Henson is a panic not over the "effects" of his art. It's a "moral panic" amonsgt people shocked to discover that their values are not universal.

Histrionics and hoo-ha over Henson

Eliot: "Firstly, you've equated all photographers (and presumably related artists such as painters, sculptors, etc) with 'voyeurs' if the human subject matter of their art includes 'young people'."

Firstly, I haven't.

What I said (and you quoted) was

"Trouble is, even if using a long telephoto lens, a photographer whose subject is the sexual initiation or explorations of youth cannot escape the role of voyeur, and the wrath such voyeurism provokes in those (generally adults) who are informed of it; particularly if they have to deal as well with its negative consequences."

As far as I am aware, the law applies the age of consent concept to not just any sex act involving a legal minor but also photography thereof and of the foreplay leading to it, simulated or otherwise. A photographer who takes a photo which simply includes young people as such cannot be breaking the law, no matter what histrionic behaviour the present hoo-ha over Henson might have detonated in certain sections of the community, including Waverley Council, Sydney.

The issue is not pornography, to which I have no particular objection. It is rather juvenile pornography, and Henson's work arguably falls into that category, particularly as posted on the web.

What I find most interesting about the situation is that while our Webdiary community, reflecting the wider Australian one, is split down the middle on the issue, the Australian 'arts community', however identified, has closed ranks on it, and whatever their individual private opinions, is speaking with one voice in public. There are no dissenting artists. So either the pro-Henson case is overwhelming in their view, or peer pressure and fear of censure is enforcing a conformity of which Zhdanov would have been proud. I suspect the latter.

Needless to add, commentators like Mike Carlton, whatever their private views, are not going to buy into a fight with the 'arts community'.

So I would ask you Eliot, and those of a stance supporting yours, where you would draw the line. Clearly, the existing law is too draconian for you. If a photo of a naked, say, 14 year old female locked in amorous forepleasure with an 18 year old male is OK, at what point down the conceivable female age line would you say 'this far and no further.' 10 years old? 5 years old? 2 years old? Or would you have no limit, and say with Cole Porter: 'anything goes'? (Not to be sexist on the matter, how about a 7 year old boy with a 25 year old woman?)

Where do you suppose Cate Blanchett and Mike Carlton might draw the line?

Michael de Angelos, while I acknowledge the farcical and hysterical element in the examples you give, where would you draw it?

Model's parents defend artist's portrayal

Angela Ryan: "Hey, where did that 12 year old model come from eh???"

Just an update on this...

"The mother of the 13-year-old girl at the centre of the Bill Henson controversy has broken the family's week-long silence to defend the artist's portrayal of her daughter.

The parents of the teenager - whose nude image on the invitation to Henson's exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, in Paddington, sparked a complaint to police that led to pictures being seized - have known the artist for more than a decade. The exhibition also included pictures of a naked boy.

The girl lives with her parents in Melbourne. In a statement yesterday her mother said: "There is a police investigation under way and we cannot say anything other than [that] we are very strong supporters of Bill Henson and his work."

The girl is said to have a keen interest in the arts. Her identity is known to police but her family have so far refused to answer any police questions via their lawyer."

Where the model came from

Apparently Eliot I was right about the circumstances which resulted in that particular girl fulfilling the role. Also in the article it appears the police are upping the frenzy ante and I noted the SMH used the word "seized" rather than "removed".

Do we equate their activities in this regard to a drug bust or illegal arms operations?

Yes Justin, (belatedly), I had already commented on the coincidence but Farrelly didn't tell the joke as well as me.

Well of course she would Eliot

The mother supports the artist? Well of course she would, Eliot. She could hardly have been in ignorance of the whole business when the photos are put in public places. And since the advent of the net, no work is confined any longer just to a gallery.  I wonder if the mother thinks having her young daughter's naked body on the net for every pervert in the world to gawk at is quite OK. I note the child's face clearly visible in one image. So her anonimity will not stand for long.

And none of this could harm her daughter?  

The boundaries have been pushed far too far for far too long, including by the corporate predators out to profit from little girls' developing bodies.

It is time to try and re-establish some boundaries in western society. What is allowed on TV these days and on the net is appalling. And I am not just talking about sexually explicit material. Violence and obscenity is at an all time high. And online bullying is already causing a lot of harm to some children, even resulting in suicide.

And anyone who thinks that kids are not going to be affected and influeced by all this is wrong. If young minds cannot be affected by what they see on the TV and computer screens, then why would the corporate world waste so much money on all that advertising directed at kids? Kids are influenced all right. and just look at the messages they are being given.

So from Henson they can learn that it is OK if a person sets himself up as a photographer and asks them to strip and pose for erotic photos. Well we know where that can lead don't we? Allow this in the name of art and you open the floodgates.

Whether you like his style or not, from what I have seen of Henson's other works he is clearly a very good photographer. He does not need to use naked kids. His other works are quite capable of building him a good reputation and bank balance.

Blame Bob Carr

The law that Fiona Reynolds has demonstrated to us is so badly written that it shows why this case is going to be a monumental stuff-up and what follows should be placed firmly at the feet of the pseudo intellectual Bob Carr, who was never one to exploit the fear of "law and order" for political purposes.

It relates back to a giant bust about five years ago of some 200 people in Australia for child porn – which the AFP took credit for but who merely acted upon information passed to them by the FBI.

The respected British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell has been picking apart the FBI's case ever since and has assisted numerous similar arrested persons in the UK escape the same charges in what was a world-wide bust of massive over-exaggeration with many blatant flaws in the FBI's original case.

However, at the time in NSW the law required each photo to be sent to Canberra to be assessed as to whether it was pornographic or not and at a cost of around $5000 a time.

The following media outcry over this had Carr – never one at respecting a person's centuries of traditional legal right to the concept of "innocent unless proven guilty", and always playing to the lowest of gutter press – appearing on television and proclaiming "why is everyone giving the pedophiles a free kick". In other words, they were already guilty in his mind.

Furthermore, when six had committed suicide within two weeks Carr also went on TV with a police spokesman and falsely proclaimed that as the arrested persons – not career criminals and likely to be highly disturbed by the charges – had all been offered psychiatric help at the time of their arrest. Despite numerous solicitors for those charged demanding copies of recorded police taped interviews showing this offer, they were not forthcoming.

Carr and the NSW government quickly changed the law to its present state as shown by Fiona Reynolds which shows how difficult this case is going to be to prove in court. Carr proclaimed at the time it was his intention that he wanted the law to be left in the hands of any senior police officer to decide if material is pornographic or not.

I believe what will result from the Henson case is the NSW law will have to be rewritten. As it is, it’s open to too many interpretations and is hopelessly biased for and against certain persons.

Whether this will happen under an Attorney General like John Hatzistergos, who has publicly stated "all sex offenders are grubs" – something you may agree with but certainly a statement beneath the dignity of his ministerial position and an embarrassment for a man who is a barrister and when "sex offender" status covers a variety of people from a man who inadvertently relieves himself against a tree and is arrested for exposure, a 17 year old boy who has sex with his 15 year old girlfriend, or a mass rapist who brutally bashes his victims (although not of course a person who may murder two people and be released on parole after a number of years).

So there we have it – badly written law and it was bound to stumble at some stage. A Bill Henson was bound to come along and expose the failings of irresponsible politicians like the Bob Carrs of the world who play to the front pages of tabloids and have no courage to do the right thing.

What one retired police superintendant thinks...

With a foot in both camps, I have watched with interest as this sorry Bill Henson episode has unfolded. I am in a position, perhaps unique in this farce, of having been a member of the NSW Police Force for 34 years and, for the most part concurrently, proprietor of a commercial exhibiting gallery for more than 25 years.

I am gobsmacked and bitterly disappointed that a police force, which is far better than the one I joined all those years ago and far better educated, still fails to see when it has been ambushed by the pursed-lipped paragons of public morality; those zealots who can't separate nudity from sexuality and who rely on an obsequious police to do their bidding in glorious ignorance. Let's face it; most police would not know their Ansel Adams from their elbow.

Debate is one thing, criminal sanctions are another. Debate should be welcomed - criminal sanctions stifle any opportunity for debate.

Henson's art has nothing to do with exploitation or pedophilia, but enough has been said about that by those more qualified than I.

Not one of the pedophiles I arrested and prosecuted advertised their vile workings. They operated under the coward's cloak of darkness and familiarity. Not for them the arc lights of a legitimate gallery - more the deeper crevices of the internet or the well-thumbed pages of their sordid juvenilia and other paraphernalia.

That senior police fail to utilise their discretion to uphold the independence of a profession I still hold dear, setting themselves up again to be pilloried for ill-informed actions that must surely fail, is a bitter pill for me.

Having worked with scarce resources, I shake my head at the waste portrayed by television images of police seizing crates of artworks, and wonder to what better use their expertise might be applied. Child protection, perhaps?

Ill-informed comment and motherhood statements from political leaders that further cast the burden on police are regrettable.

To ensure that public disquiet is addressed in the future and that the police do not continue to undo their normally laudable work, perhaps those same political leaders might consider a mechanism where pious complaints can be referred to censorship arbiters.

In the meantime, I commend Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, for standing tall when others have lacked the backbone to do the same.

In my various command positions, I would not have sanctioned the actions being taken by police. I would also have no hesitation in exhibiting Henson's work.

In time, this whole inane episode will appear pretty dumb, but the damage to Henson and his subjects and lost opportunities for professional policing are inestimable.

Alan Leek (retired superintendent of police)

Morality cops go into cyber-space looking for rude pictures

Why stop with art galleries, I say... 

"Online photographs used by media websites to report on the investigation into Bill Henson have been referred to the Classification Board, the Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, said."

"ACT Police are also assessing at least 79 Henson photographs held in Canberra galleries as the investigation into the artist widens."

Make an example of her

Angela Ryan: "Hey, where did that 12year old model come from eh???"

Her mother and father. But why do you need to know where she is?

A calendar edition coming

Great news for the defenders of Mr Henson: the "Our" Cate (known for "art for art sake children forgotten song") and Eliot-suppressing child pornography is censorship-team are touring the Eastern suburbs primary schools auditioning for models for the fund raiser for the photographer.

The lucky 12 year olds will naturally, in a la nature, for art's sake, pose naked in true Henson style with naked adults holding them down and entwined with dark looks and beautiful skin tones.

If too many fussy troublesome mums insist upon clothes then it's off to the red centre or maybe a S.E.A. trip where there is less fuss about insisting upon such artistic compromise and previous models easily source for other child pornography/artistic photos of kids are so often sourced and downloaded.

The photos will be used for a 12 month calendar and already forward orders from art critics, the Newcastle Art gallery (no-one complained, but we didn't tell their age did we, not silly , us!) Administration office, Michelle Gratti-no censorship of anything-n, certain unnamed local groups and plenty of overseas orders for the internet edition. The local Polis club and Panel Beaters have declined as "preferring DD to AA and … " and "finding it made them uncomfortable as they had children" and "some police chap had been arrested for having pics like those just on his computer ..." and weren't sure that art made one immune from the law" ...

Business is booming and a clothing-less line is coming along too for Kelly with Ken.

What shall we call the Calendar?

We shall call it the School Monty.

Cheers

Hey, where did that 12year old model come from eh??? We are still awaiting this revelation, and may I suggest it will enlighten those upon this topic.

Wait for the boom in child porn ... I mean naked child art if this doesn't get prosecuted.

Fiona: Should Anne Geddes’ work also be banned, Angela? If not, why not?

Child protection versus freedom of artistic expression

Here we go again...

When the choice is between child protection or freedom of artistic expression then it is a no contest in my view.  Child protection wins out. 

As for freedom of expression...well, we all operate under constraints of one form or another.  There is legislation prohibiting hate speech, for example and, in NSW at least, the libel and slander laws are such that most people cannot afford to express an honest opinion about some others. 

Artists are no exception.  They must operate within existing laws.

What keeps coming up in discussions of the issue is "why now?"  Well, as I said in another post on this thread - there is a considerable change in public perception about the need for child protection and this change is reflected in public reactions to Henson's work, new interpretations and clauses in the Crimes Act and certainly in police attitudes.

These changes have been largely driven by what is loosely termed "the early childhood movement" which is a development within scientific/psychological research in which very close attention has been paid to brain development in the 0-5 years range. 

The results of this research have spilled over to inform trauma research especially in relation to the impact of trauma on brain development and function in both adults and children.  What has been discovered is this: trauma at any age produces similar results.  These results generally are permanent brain changes.  Permanent changes to neurochemistry and neurological pathways regardless of whether you are traumatised as a combat soldier or a child subject to sexual abuse.  Mental illness, personality disorder, self medicating drug and alcohol use and almost incomprehensible behavioural shifts to often imperceptible environmental stimuli are the result. 

PTSD in combat veterans is notoriously resistant to treatment.  Now imagine lifelong PTSD acquired as a child as a consequence of sexual abuse.

Henson and his "free speech" supporters are profoundly uninformed on these developments.  I suggest that they are unaware of the consequences of child sex abuse on children and on victims as they go through life.  

Let me clear here - nobody even glancingly acquainted with minimal knowledge of the terrible, lifelong damage done to people through sexual predation on children  would accept that there is any room at all for ambiguity around the subject of childhood or adolescent sexuality. 

If there is scope for representation of adolescent sexuality then that is the business of adolescents.  It is a private matter until you are an adult.  This is the message we need to be giving to children and adolescents rather than exposing their tenderness to the salaciously prying eyes of a jaded middle class art market. This market and the attitudes that underpin it, if left unchallenged, will legitimise through asthetics the ongoing barbarity of child pornography and the sexual exploitation of children. 

By the way: Google "The Age", Henson and "Robert Nelson", 2005 to read an excellent review of a major Henson show.  He says it is rubbish but in more elegant terms than I can be bothered trying to formulate.

Thanks to the men and women here who have boldly stepped up to protect children and accepted that to do so means that they will be abused as philistines, fascists and dupes of a Police state by an absolutely irrelevant arts community.

A well written review

Anthony Nolan, thanks very much for the link to the Robert Nelson review of that Henson exhibition. We have a highly skilled photographer staying with us at the moment, and she read it and thought it excellent stuff.

PTSD in combat veterans is notoriously resistant to treatment.  Now imagine lifelong PTSD acquired as a child as a consequence of sexual abuse."

You are knocking on open doors there. Though he never spoke about it, I have good reason to believe that my late father was sexually abused as a child. Whatever it was that happened in his own childhood, he finished up with a massive phobia and consequential behaviour that manifested as bouts of irrationality, triggered by certain types of stimuli. His psychological situation had a rather profound effect in turn on my own life. Sexual abuse of children can set off a boxcar effect that passes on to successive generations.

The passage from childhood to adulthood is a bit like the emergence of an adult cicada from its nymph stage, which I watched many times in total fascination as a child. The process puts the organism concerned into a most vulnerable situation, because before its wings have filled out and dried and its exoskeleton has hardened it has no defence at all - fight or flight - against attack by ants, birds, or other predators that happen along.

The problems that young people face in making that crossing need no restatement here, as they have been dealt with extensively in novels, poetry, plays and films, as well as in the scientific literature. Adults who have been through the process, commonly a generation before, can be a valuable source of advice to young people, but those who seek to become more actively involved as sexual partners and/or voyeurs, rightly face social taboos and legal sanctions. The power relationship is inevitably loaded in favour of the adult/s involved.

Trouble is, even if using a long telephoto lens, a photographer whose subject is the sexual initiation or explorations of youth cannot escape the role of voyeur, and the wrath such voyeurism provokes in those (generally adults) who are informed of it; particularly if they have to deal as well with its negative consequences.

I well and truly agree with your post.

Thank you Anthony

Thank you Anthony Nolan for sticking your neck out as one of the hysterical, the philistines, fascists and dupes etc..... 

You write with such balance and common sense.

Now imagine lifelong PTSD acquired as a child as a consequence of sexual abuse.

I don't have to imagine it. I live with the consequences of it every day of my life, seeing a boy I love completely destroyed by it. The arresting effect on the emotional development of a child subjected in early adolescence to sexual abuse and bullying is very well known. It causes in many cases complex PTSD which is almost, if not completely impossible to reverse.

I have known many adults in my life who have never recovered from sexual abuse in their childhood. Steal a child's childhood in that way and you steal their whole life.

We have to try and reverse this terrible trend both corporate and individual that seeks to portray children as little more than sex objects.  I am with Scott on the former issue.

I admire Miranda Devine for her stance on this issue. She is absolutely right in my opinion.  The image she describes from the 2002 documentary is utterly disgusting and degrading to every female child.

As for the conforming arts community. If they were genuinely objective then one would expect that community to be just as divided on the issue as the society as a whole. Conformity can be very dangerous.

Henson may get off on a technicality. That does not make what he did right. The law in this area clearly needs revision.

Technicality?

Only in the estimation of those so predisposed. The law is the law and will be determined in due course.

Anthony will receive no thanks from me. Anyone who nods their head in approval at a "change in police attitudes" seriously needs to take a hard look at their stance.

It is not the job of the police to bring their personal attitudes into their professional lives. Therein lies anarchy and we have seen the results of false convictions and the impact that has had on the victims' lives.

Eliot, you have revealed a side of yourself I have hithereto not known. Little doubt that we will continue to disagree about many things but in this, to my mind, you have been, (what word shall I use? bugger it), magnificent.

Yeah, Rudd has not lived up to even my minimalist expectations. Alan Ramsey's "precious, prissy, prick"  is ever more so true a description; however, the impending economical readjustment will have nothing to do with his administration.

We have been predicting it for a long time.

Common ground

If there is a positive to come out of this most divisive of debates where cyber friendships might have been irrevocably broken, it is that we appear to be unanimous about corporate porn.

Anyone who wishes, with me, to make an assault on it can step up now; all I ask is that you bring with you no other agenda.

It will not be easy, laws against it will be hard to formulate, the messages too subtle and the authors very very powerful. It will take strategy, tactics and will require asymmetrical warfare.

I'm here for all the world to see: my ugly boozy mug is easily located.

It pisses me off big time that the message being given to girls is that their primary, if not only, worth is as sexual objects.

It might come as a surprise but I have been a feminist for as long as I could think for myself, especially in the area of sexual equality. The double standard that still applies, especially to female politicians, a prime example. It's OK for blokes to screw around but not for women? Gimme a break.

(Mark you, women are just as guilty in this regard; how often have you heard women say "It's alright for men, they can screw around but we can't."

Just exactly who are the men screwing? There's either a very small proportion of women who are extremely promiscious (lucky tarts), or as many women are involved in extra-marital sex as men.

(DNA stats are somewhat disturbing in this regard.)

Sorry, I got sidetracked but then I'm always running off at a tangent.

Thanks also from me Fiona; you will be sorely missed.

James Davis' experience is poingant and his comment on juvenile sexuality,

"in relegating young lives to a "purity" and innocence far removed from reality."

struck a chord in me.

I copped more than a few floggings in my childhood but the only one that I can recall by the pain, the circumstance and the accompanying message was when I was sprung by my grandmother at a very early age (who subsequentlly told my father,) with the girl next door. We were exploring each other genitally. (What pissed me off was that she was two years older than I and initiated it.)

The message, however, sank home. Sex was wrong.

To this day I consider myself to be inhibited; yes I can be ribald at times but in my personal life it's a different story.

In adult life I've had experience of it; I got a tongue kiss from a seven year old, (quick, put her down you might get to like it!). I did, gently, ruffled her head and sent her off to play with the other kids. The life force ran very strongly in that moppet, she had her first kid at fifteen.

It cannot be denied.

The Polynesians amongst other cultures before they were crippled by the control freaking "religionistas" would have laughed at the brouhaha happening in this country and decided we were complete nutters.

I would agree.

Devine retribution

In a bizarre, addled piece in today's Herald, Miranda Devine, takes the "declining standards" line, managing to mix into the discussion the suggestion that police states become an appropriate and necessary expediency when moral standards are not adequately maintained; the Northern Territory intervention in Aboriginal communities; Sesame Street; paedophiles Philip Bell and Robert "Dolly" Dunn; speed cameras and draconian parking enforcement and various other shibboleths.

"Police are a blunt instrument, a last resort sometimes made necessary by the abdication of responsibility by too many adults, either too cowardly to speak out, addled by alcohol or drugs, or too unsure of right and wrong to be judgmental. This is how social norms break down, and when the community fails to enforce its own standards, when traditional moral guardians have been demonised and marginalised, the threat of police action looms."

I'm beginning to feel I've gone to Mars with the Phoenix surface lander.

Fiona: I wish Ms Devine had.

Measured judgement and moral anxiety

Ian MacDougall: "That description would also no doubt be debatable. As I see it, the social and political consequences would then be straightforward."

Yes, it's almost as if we need some political leadership on this issue - but then we'd need a political leader. Perhaps someone capable of exercising what the great Arthur Marwick called "measured judgement"?

The recurring bouts of moral panic around paedophilia in this country are a fascinating cultural phenomenon.One astute suggestion I've heard concerning this is that it's driven by widespread underlying anxiety and guilt stemming from more of us placing children in institutionalised care during the day while we all go off to earn money for the extra car, the bigger house, the overseas holidays, and so on. We become totally dependent of the rectitude of strangers to look after our kids so we can have more material things, and that this generates a lot of guilt and anxiety about children falling into the hands of perverts.

There's nothing more powerful than libidinised anxiety. That's definitely the button to push when fear mongering.

Hello! Revolting!

Jenny Hume:  "The more you accept indecent and degrading material aimed at our children the more standards are lowered."

Jenny, see my comment below on May 26, 2008 - 12:41pm.

  • The morals police, having nothing by way of evidence, will take a step back, claiming instead that Henson and the art community are contributing to an overall  "decline in standards" or that Henson's work is conducive to "a climate which encourages perverts" or "indirectly influences the welfare of children though these particular children, we are sure, are in good care"

Paul Walter: "The smut that emanates from tabloid media is far more blatant than Henson's stuff and that's every hour of every day of every week."

And of course, smut can only work as smut in a climate of sexual repression.

Also, I'm wondering. What do Kevin and his crew think of the Gay Mardi Gras? Revolting?

Like watching a train wreck... in HeaVin

Fiona Reynolds: "Yes, we must protect our children. We can best do that by making them proud of their bodies, and teaching them that no-one, not even their closest relatives, has the right to touch them in unacceptable ways."

Yes, but you probably want to empower your kids, when as we all know the morally and politically responsible thing to do is to repress them emotionally.

A thought that occurs to me (and I'm not suggesting this is original in any way) is that Hetty and Kevin and their admirers (lets call them by the collective title HeaVin) are all trying to make them (HeaVin) into national figures, and so they're appealing to as broad a demographic as possible.

  • Hetty, by stalking high profile men and accusing them of being rock-spiders (always a winner in trailer parks), and
  • Kevin by pretending to be Prime Minister.

Well, as Donald Sassoon has pointed out, the status of a cultural product is entirely dependent on the status of the audience using it.

To HeaVin's demographic, when they are looking at pictures of naked people, they are looking at "pornography".

To Malcolm Turnbull's demographic (and he owns two Henson works), the very same pictures are "art).

This audience based definition of "art" versus "pornography" is reflected in the editorial stance of different media covering the witch-hunt, too.

So, the Sydney Morning Herald has been giving editorial and commentary space to people defending Henson. Whereas the tabloid press have been saying things like this:

If any of The Daily Telegraph's photographers shot and presented images even half as incendiary and vile as those planned for display at the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery, they would be out of work - and probably inside a police station.

Ironically, that may now be true.

So, it's not just a classic witch-hunt, it's deliberate rabble rousing and scaremongering. Which button to push for the target demographic?

Burn the rockspider! Burn the rockspider! Burn the rockspider!

Norman Cohn's classic study of witch-hunts, Europe's Inner Demons, greatly impresses in many ways, not least in how he discloses the social origin of the witch-hunters themselves, often defrocked or itinerant priests or other minor officials taking advantage of the witch hysteria to usurp higher authorities, either ecclesiastic or political, and typically carving out for themselves their own special zones of "expertise" and "authority" in which they, and they alone decide who is a witch and who is not.

Basically, they were semi-educated adventurers and opportunists, and self styled experts. Hetty to a tee.

Anyway, the real fun will get underway if charges are laid against the artist.

If Henson gets convicted, Kevin will go down in history as a reactionary philistine arsehole.

If Henson is acquitted, as he should be, Kevin will go down in history as a reactionary philistine arsehole.

Amazing.

Less than six months into his term of office, we can already see looming the train wreck of Kevin's administration.

This is how it will end for Kevin;

  • Detested by the cultural establishment
  • The economy mired in stagflation
  • The Indigenous population angry at being "betrayed" and seeking "compensation"
  • Plagued by leaks, factional in-fighting and shock resignations.
  • Technical and administrative failures everywhere
  • Conflicts with the public service and armed forces
  • Pitied by our allies, and
  • Derided by our enemies in the region.

And it will be sooner, rather than later.

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