Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Welcome to the art/children moral panic

Having utterly failed in their witch-hunt against Bill Henson, the self-appointed "moral guardians" of children believe they've found a more readily exploitable target in the form of Art Monthly Magazine. Art Monthly decided to put a photo of an unclothed six-year old on its cover for the most recent issue, and the Sunday Telegraph yesterday ran a front-page article fulminating about how "sick" the imagery was. The rest of the Australian media has since taken off in their reporting about this allegedly evil act.

I deliberately say "unclothed" rather than "nude", because, unlike everyone so far who has piously denounced it as horrific, I've actually seen the image in question, and "unclothed" is a more accurate description. The, according to some ignorant commentators, "illegal" photo is at the time of writing still readily available at the Art Gallery Monthly Website. Funny - the way the papers described it, you'd think the child in question was posing like a Playboy centre-fold or something. The actual reality I see here hardly seems like it warrants all this hand-wringing.

And how interesting that in this currently oppressive media environment, the very act of verifying for myself what the media is trying to dictate to me as the truth about this photo actually feels like a dangerous enterprise. Will I now be accused of trying to access "child pornography" merely for daring to try and make up my own mind about this issue based on my own direct observation of the photo in question?

I don't think I've ever seen something in Australia, including the various emo panics, that so readily fits the definition of a moral panic like this does. The music scene I guess has become accustomed to defending itself against the routine finger-pointing that they have to endure, and can blunt the impact. The Australian art community doesn't yet have that experience.

Take this article from the Daily Telegraph. Members of the art community complained about what Art Monthly did. Reading the actual article, it's clear that they simply didn't want to deal with another round of media-driven conflict about "the community vs the arts". But the Telegraph gives the article a highly misleading title "Art lover slam child porn pictures" which makes it look the disagreement of the art community with the decision to publish is because they agree with the accusations leveled by the Daily Telegraph that the photos are child porn. The liars.

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