Children, Photos, and Nudity

Recently, I have noticed stories popping up about nudity in reference to children. One of which was about Brooke Shields and an artistic photo that was taken of her when she was ten years old, nude from the waist up. It has recently been placed in a London art museum, but, due to public outcry and a police visit, it was actually taken down. The reason being is that people claim it is a “magnet for pedophiles”. The article uses words such as exploitation and disturbing to describe the photo. Interestingly, Prince, the sexualized pop icon, owns the negatives for the photo. This article can be read at: http://www.popeater.com/2009/09/29/controversial-image-of-brooke-shields-then-10-displayed-in-lon/

This article is clearly a victim of Gayle Rubin’s misplaced scale. Rubin says this is when society gives much more importance to things that are sexual than other acts. This photo was taken with artistic intentions, but because of the nudity that it entails, it is automatically deemed sexual. And once that title is given, public outrage ensues. This photo of a future famous person as a half naked child suddenly takes on all this weight of the misplaced scale and gets blown up onto national news.

Another article I read was about a family who took photos of their children taking baths. When getting their photos developed at Walmart, the clerk called the cops claiming the discovery of child pornography. The result: the children were removed from the home for a month, the mother lost her job, and both parents were added to a list of sex offenders. Basically, it resulted in the complete disruption of their lives. This article can be read at: http://www.parentdish.com/2009/09/21/innocent-bath-time-photos-get-kids-taken-away-from-parents/

Here again, we see the misplaced scale, for this photo clerk at Walmart launched a series of events including lawsuits and family separation. This happened simply because he saw these pictures and deemed them as child pornography, which is WAY out of Rubin’s charmed circle, the heteronormative, not stigmatized sexual acts of society. However, what was different about this article is the way in which it was written. It leans towards condemning Walmart and sympathizing with the family. Furthermore, the end of the article is seeped with comments from readers claiming that this situation is ridiculous and everyone has bath time photos.  The uproar actually went in the opposite direction from the Brooke Shields article. Whatever side of the issue you may fall on, you cannot ignore society’s obsession with the discourse of sexuality that Michel Foucault talks about. According to Foucault, sexuality is an organizing institution due to society’s fixation with talking about sex constantly. Here the argument is whether or not the photos are sexual. Still, the conversation orbits around the question of sexuality, particularly the discourse of children’s sexuality and innocence. The issue of child nudity has been considered a “sensitive one”, but that is irrelevant to the fact that it is a debate in general. These articles are simply another symptom of the sexual discourse of society.

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