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Nudity, People. Nudity.

Bill Henson's latest showing of naked teenagers has gotten a lot of air time lately, though for all the wrong reasons, it would seem. Still, what do you expect after an over zealous child protection officer calls the cops on your art show, though?

The above image is not taken from this show, incidentally. It comes from an earlier show, around 2001, and doesn't at all suggest that Henson has been exploring representations of youth, and has received international acclaim for such things, no. Instead, the response has been along the lines of this quote: "I find them absolutely revolting, and whatever the artistic view of the merits of that sort of stuff — frankly I don't think there are any — just allow kids to be kids." That's from our popular Prime Minister of the moment, playing to the benches, right there, and ignoring art critics and other people involved in art establishments. Wouldn't want to be seen saying anything like, "Yeah, what's the big deal? Don't you think the witch hunt for child pornography has gotten a little out of hand these days?"

No, wouldn't want to say that.

The problem with the response here is that it chooses to believe in the idea that individuals below the age of eighteen do not have a sexuality. It then, in Henson's case, makes the leap that he is sexualising the young boys and girls represented within his work (it is telling, in fact, that all the shots of his show on the television and in the news show that of a willowy blonde girl, naked and with her face blurred). The sexualising of the images will depend on the individual, of course, though personally I find the images show on TV rather static and a touch boring, but that's just me--I haven't seen the full show, and some of the more interesting pieces I found in a google image search from Henson's work do show a sexuality.

This, for example, is from Henson's Luminous project:

There's a fragility to this image, I find, an awkwardness to it, as if the boy and girl are just pushing through to those first moments of sex, where the touch is either too much of a grope, or too hesitant, and is done somewhere in the dark, away from the parents, while the city lays before you, lit up in all, an audience that just needs to turn its head to see you.

I through the last line in just to draw attention to the fact that 'child' sexuality is just something that a lot of society needs to turn its head round to see, glaring at you.

It's there just in the behaviour of teenagers, though to make any gross sweeping statement such as 'it's in all teenagers, or kids should be kids, or no child has ever touched himself/herself sexually' misses the point of individuality. Still, I ask you, anyone reading this, if they can honestly say that they never ever thought about sex before the legal age of consent? In year ten, I had the biggest crush on my young, Goth English teacher, and had she even hinted at some inappropriate, I would have thanked Jesus, Buddha, and Allah, all in one before running towards her. But you can track back further: my mother loves telling the story of a year six camp scandal, in which all the Christian mothers and fathers were horrified to hear that their sons had engaged in a competition to see whose dick was biggest. I mentioned this to Djae, once, since the pair of us were shacked up in some beach side Christian hostel thing with holes in the wall where the only scandalous event was that a girl flashed us--I was good with it--and he was horrified because he wasn't there. "To see all those Christian dicks!" He reckons he would have come out earlier. According to Mum, though, all those kids had to go to the Principal and get a stern talking to about the evils of showing your penis to another boy and she laughs and laughs when she tells this, because I don't think she ever thought much of those Christian parents. Incidentally, she works at DOCS, the child protection agency, just as an aside.

Returning to Henson's show, however, what it illustrates is the further trend in our society to render adolescent behaviour as perfect, vanilla innocence. Marbles in recess, comic books at lunch, writing in diaries about dreamy boys... oh, wait, that last one is connected to sexuality as well. But I suppose, really, part of the issue here is the 'adult' that is Henson showing them, and since he is apparently the more knowing, more intelligent, and can be argued to be taking advantage of them. Never mind, of course, that he's dealing with models, never mind that they're being paid, never mind indeed. But that fantasy of the older man and younger girl is no more worth tarring with the one single brush of inappropriate than anything else in the world, especially given that the older woman and younger boy relationship is not met with as much disapproval. One might even wonder, in fact, with Henson had been a middle aged female showing the similar images--perhaps with a slant on males--if such an issue would have been raised, even? Such a question is rather silly, of course, but then the reaction to the whole thing, and society's increasingly conservative and blinkered attitude to sexuality is.


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May. 26th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
Here's what shits me -- Henson's photos are apparently bad news but corporate paedophaelia is fine. Eight year old girls being marketed bras and undies with words like 'Juicy!' stenciled across the butt... no one seems to be raiding k-mart stores and locking up that stuff. Never mind that eight yr old girls don't have boobs yet, get in early & establish a tween market to ensure you don't miss a buck. And did I really hear somewhere on the weekend that someone wants to ban images of naked babies in advertising? Cos, you know, naked babies encourages paedophiles...
May. 26th, 2008 02:26 am (UTC)
really, juicy?
May. 26th, 2008 02:29 am (UTC)
oh yeah. There's a lot of "cute" little girl tween fashion out there that seems to be sending the message that little girls should be dressing themselves like sluts. I'm producing a book on body image at the moment. Some horrible stuff in there.
May. 26th, 2008 02:54 am (UTC)
yeah, i seen a bit of that stuff round. my personal dislike is for the things with the playboy bunny on them, and how young girls love the clothes, but are down on the mag. for some reason it just bugs me.
May. 26th, 2008 02:42 am (UTC)
One might even wonder, in fact, with Henson had been a middle aged female showing the similar images--perhaps with a slant on males--if such an issue would have been raised, even?

Germaine Greer had a book out a few years ago called The Beautiful Boy which was a "celebration" of the pre-adult male body from a hetero female perspective. I seem to recall a certain level of media fuss (this is Germaine Greer, after all) but the book wasn't banned or anything. That said, I don't know if the book includes photos of nude, underage males or just "boyish" adult models.

Tim Sterne
May. 26th, 2008 02:55 am (UTC)
yeah, i remember the greer book now. i don't know if there were pics in it, but the fuss kinda came and went, like all the fusses from greer do, really.
May. 26th, 2008 05:08 am (UTC)
As I recall, it was a big, glossy photo book of teenage boys. Probably 16+, though.
May. 26th, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
Still, I ask you, anyone reading this, if they can honestly say that they never ever thought about sex before the legal age of consent?

I can pretty much say that, not counting the compulsory sex education at school (about which I thought as little as possible) or sex scenes in the science fiction I was reading, which I thought were icky. I was 21 before I started thinking about boys. But I was probably at one end of the bell curve and no more representative than those at the other end who are active at 12.

I think naked art images of kids is a grey area, and I'd have to see the images in question to decide whether they were acceptable or not.
May. 26th, 2008 05:04 am (UTC)
that was kinda one point though--not everyone grows the same way. it seems kind've wrong to me to make these blanket judgements, you know?
May. 26th, 2008 09:00 am (UTC)
Good Foucauldians all, it often feels that those who want to claim children have no sexuality end up seeing it everywhere.
May. 27th, 2008 01:40 am (UTC)
heh. i like that.
May. 26th, 2008 12:33 pm (UTC)
The art itself may be a grey area but I haven't seen the images, so I don't know. The most interesting take on it that I've seen is Crikey's, which essentially said: "Sometimes art pushes the boundaries and sometimes society pushes back."

Well, society is pushing back.

I don't believe this is an argument people are making because they want to believe kids do not have a sexuality. I haven't encountered that argument, or even a suggestion of it, anywhere. But it's an interesting take.

Cat, you've got a fair point about corporate paedophaelia but it's not being ignored. Quite the opposite. An Australian Senate inquiry into "the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment" began last month.

But can we please not disassociate the art and the artist from the society they live in - like it's holy scriptures.

While you're happy to suggest that maybe it's okay because they're models (who are 12) who are being paid, Ben, why confine that to the kids?

Henson - like K Mart - makes a pretty good living. A quick search shows a signed print of one of his (other) photos sells for $8500. And then there's the 192 page book of his photos selling for $725. I'll wager prints of these photos weren't going to be given away for free.

If you just wanted to take the photos to print and display on your wall, that's one thing. But when you put them on the internet to promote them and offer them for sale then you're agreeing to enter a transaction with the market and with society.

With that transaction and the profits it generates come the concerns, considerations, expectations and, yes, sometimes rules that an artist implicitly buys into and ignore at their own peril.

I don't think there are easy or simple answers to any of this but I think the truth lies at the intersection of the issues - not at any of the outer limits.
May. 27th, 2008 01:44 am (UTC)
I don't believe this is an argument people are making because they want to believe kids do not have a sexuality. I haven't encountered that argument, or even a suggestion of it, anywhere. But it's an interesting take.

to me, all these pedo witch hunts come back to that. it's not that i don't believe there are men and women wo rape children--they do, and it's awful, and i wouldn't want it to happen to any kid.

but the whole mass hysteria? to me it just feeds into this thing in society that sees it wanting to render sexuality as a taboo subject, a hidden one, one we can't see. i'd put money that a lot of the 'kids should just be kids' statements contain within them a belief that kids don't have a sexuality at all, but that's just my take.

as for the money thing, true. henson's not starving out there.
Nov. 29th, 2008 11:40 pm (UTC)
Who Seid its ok .Is it ok to have a naked 9 year old boy and girl the beach?
It is a shame that we can not put our photos of our kids on line just becoues
some one out there (might) wack of to it. this might get you thinking! its about what happend
in london a man was cort wacking off to a peice of gum .its true
no one removed the gum after that.
And why is it ok for that vetnam girl to be shown on tv .And native chrilden in Bali I think its all to do with your own history.shore a 9 year old can look sweet .I cant see anything sexual
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Mar. 6th, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
Don’t Tell the Kids
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