Polanski and the Bounty of Childhood Sex
Despite all his very good films (and I believe they are very good but not exceptional) Polanski may perhaps be and certainly deserves to be best remembered for a passing moment, a few hours of sex with young what’s her name, some hot Lolita. That moment should be memorialized because Polanski’s persecution is as important in cultural history as the persecution of Jean Calas. My only concern is: Will Polanski find his Voltaire?
However, the argument that Polanski should be given a pass because he is a great artist is obviously fallacious. If he had perpetrated a real crime, such as murder, there would not be the least doubt that he should be punished. We deplore Gesualdo’s good fortune. We are offended at preferential treatment for celebrities even when it comes to minor infractions because that seems to elevate them to the status of a kind of nobility.
No: One’s standing as an artist is no reason to escape punishment. There may, of course, be a motive behind this argument, however tenuous either the argument itself or the reasoning behind the motive may be. The hidden thought may be that certain artists, as legislators for our mores, should be considered as special cases not because their persons are somehow elevated above the rest of us, but because their actions have a revelatory or pedagogic value that is beneficial to mankind. This thought is not to be dismissed without reflection, but I won’t take it up here. But, and this is the defensible point, Polanski’s defenders probably believe that his actions did not in fact constitute a crime, or at the very least no crime more serious than jaywalking. To come right out and say so, however, would be politically unwise and would probably not help Polanski in his actual predicament. This, I believe, is valid. Furthermore, I think it needs to be stated bluntly, so I’ll rush in where Hollywood fears to tread. On balance, I don’t think what I say will have an effect of Polanski’s case one way or the other. And, in a wider perspective, being honest and aggressive about the fraud that has been perpetrated on the world in the name of child abuse will have better effects than continued dithering. Others may be worried about remaining eligible for an Oscar, but I, like Eminem, don’t give a fuck.
So-called child molestation, which is actually just an abusive term for childhood sex is not a crime. The reason is simple. The act can be divided into two parts potentially. One is the sex, the other is physical (or excessive psychological – a vague and dubious concept) coercion. It is true that physical coercion can be criminal especially if it involves inflicting physical pain. However, coercion by itself is indifferent to the age of the victim. Coercing anyone to do anything against their will is at the very least immoral. Doing so at the point of a gun is often criminal (Coercing the perpetrator of a holdup to desist at the point of a gun is not considered criminal, but coercing a soldier into battle at the point of a gun may be considered criminal). However, proponents of so-called child molestation make clear that coercion is irrelevant to the supposed criminality of the act since even consensual sex with children is criminalized.
It is true, however, that there is an age younger than which children are not capable of making rational choices about their actions. Obviously children below a certain age are not in a position to sign contracts because, even if the child knew what a contract is, he or she might still not be able to grasp its long term implications. However, the proper criterion for relevant long term complications should be limited to legally enforceable financial commitments or behavioral commitments. A child is perfectly capable of deciding for himself whether he wants to mow the neighbor’s lawn. And even in contract situations, parents are allowed to countersign for the child in cases like performing or acting where children are hired partly because of their age. (The mother’s consent in the Polanski case is not completely relevant since current law would criminalize the mother also, and also, more importantly, the sex act is not significant enough to call for parental consent.) The long term consequence of later social disapproval is also an irrelevant reason and largely unenforceable as part of any law. If a parent or other “perpetrator” could be punished for asking a child to do something whose later social disapproval remained beyond the child’s comprehension, much of what children do would be a matter of criminal abuse. Encouraging a child to have a black friend would by that reasoning be a criminal offense in many American suburbs, as would putting a political sticker on a child’s lunch box.
If coercion and age are irrelevant in the spurious criminalization of childhood sex, that leaves the sex. The reason childhood sex is a criminal act must be the sex. But, if sex were the critical element, if sex were in itself damaging or evil, then all sex should be illegal. Apart from a few hysterics and other illiterates, no one would find this to be an acceptable conclusion. Sex is a pleasurable act and an enjoyable experience that, absent external and irrelevant disapproval, need have no deleterious consequences. This principle is as true for children as it is for adults. There is nothing identifiably specific in the child’s mental make-up that accounts for any special harm caused by this pleasurable experience. Of course, any physical activity runs some risk of physical harm, however small. Sexual activity in particular could result in vaginal or anal tearing, especially in a smaller body. But, if that were an applicable principle, the prohibition of sex should apply to dwarves but not to children above a certain physical stature. Indeed the potential for physical damage is an argument not to ban the activity, but to ensure its safe pursuit. Pee wee football is susceptible to far greater damage than mere fucking. But the potential for damage is no reason to ban the sport but rather to make sure the players wear safety equipment.
An interesting dialogue between an actress and a journalist throws a bit of light on the harmlessness of childhood sex and the true damage inflicted by its persecution. The fact that Hillary Swank shows her fully nude body in front of a child without perceivable harm is but one of many examples where children are exposed to sex and react with either indifference or pleasure. That her comments were published with little or no editorial comment shows some inclination to push back against the absurd criminalization of such behavior. Truly sad, however, is the extent to which the journalist has manifestly internalized the prohibition of sexual behavior around children. The journalist really has nothing to “be conscious” about except maintaining her body so it remains as attractive as possible.
The case for psychological damage is even weaker because there is a good argument that only a very small portion of psychologically damaging activity (such as torture) merits criminalization. Otherwise every nag would end up in the Big House. (The idea that judges could be counted on in their wisdom to apply a bad law such that Polanski would be sent up but nags given a pass is not relevant here, partly because there are untrustworthy judges just as there are bad laws, but primarily because our focus is to determine the moral grounds which could be used by a “wise” judge to make an exception in some unhappy situation. But if that is the case, why not just determine the moral grounds for good law and leave out the arbitrariness of the judiciary?) There is in fact abundant lack of reliable statistical evidence (pp. 24 ff.) that shows any psychological damage from childhood sex, even granting a highly prejudicial definition of psychological well-being. The anecdotal evidence compiled from interviews with children has been found to have been manipulated and in some cases invented (a genuine criminal act). Moreover, thanks to Melanie Griffith and the admirable Richard Dawkins (and indeed Samantha Geimer, Polanski’s own “victim”), we do have dependable anecdotal evidence that childhood sex has no effect whatsoever. Although Dawkins does deplore the fact of his own “victimization,” he quite simply states that the experience itself was “embarrassing but otherwise harmless (p. 316).” He obviously seems to have suffered no ill effects in later life, unless one perhaps plausibly maintains that an Oxford professorship is a sure sign of a mental trauma. Indeed some of those baby beauty contests strike me as a lot more creepy than a passing blow job. Most tellingly, the legal age for marriage in many states and countries before the child abuse fad hit should have resulted in a long history of psychotic brides. Which it didn’t.
One psychological phenomenon that can be associated with the sex act but does not respect age is, to use Freud’s felicitous term, object choice (Some still call this “love”) and the often tumultuous passions that attend the associated disposition. It may be that, because of a still untried nervous system, the passions of object choice are particularly acute in children. Flaubert’s Louise certainly did not lead a happy life (at least the last time we met her; who knows what happened in her life with her singer) and certainly made an unwise marriage decision largely based on her childhood infatuation. But I daresay, that is precisely my point, since Mlle. Roque‘s infatuation did not involve sex but little more than companionship. Object choice and violent infatuation is related to but independent of sex. In fact, if the anecdotal evidence of many unhappy Victorian marriages is reliable, unsuccessful sex can nullify the passion of the initial object choice. Sex with multiple partners may lessen the tendency to exclusivity, which is the real motor behind much of the unhappiness of object choice. It may be best to avoid the violent storms of object choice by teaching children (and adults) to dissociate the physical pleasures of sex from the emotions of object choice. The sexual act, it should be taught, has as little do with whom we choose to fixate as does Little League baseball. Perhaps if little Janey learns that the earth will move with any number of different companions, she won’t be so heartbroken over a single rejection (An interesting illustration is in the film L’Ennui where the adult becomes obsessive and infatuated and the child happily poly-partnerish). Indeed Flaubert's Frédéric fixated on the one woman with whom he could not have sex and his was not the only story in the novel about having to settle for the possible in life for want of the desired. Would it have been better for Flaubert’s bittersweet “Et ce fut tout” to have been pronounced at a younger age? Perhaps, but a novel about ruminant satisfaction may not have been as good. And sentimental education is often a lifelong process.
Lacking any real evidence to support the thesis that childhood sex is harmful, aside from a few “confessions” coerced from children brainwashed by quack psychiatrists, the erotophobes resort to rhetoric, borrowing a technique from their goddist allies whereby a lie is repeated loud and often. Fortunately for them a rhetorical tool kit comes ready made in the form of the 19th century cliché of the honest girl seduced by the heartless cad. The sex, you see, was so traumatic for the poor thing that in despair and self loathing at the violation of her precious pussy she turned to a life of degradation and hookerdom. (Eventually someone noticed that despair over the consequences would be avoided if she just didn’t have to suffer the more egregious consequences.) Consider this unsubstantiated psycho-babble currently posted on Wikipedia: “The effects of child sexual abuse include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, propensity to re-victimization in adulthood, and physical injury to the child, among other problems.” Compare this passage from a history of 19th century English mores. The internal quotes are from Gentleman’s Magazine:
The plausible young man professes ‘the most solemn vow of constancy’ and lures the girl from her parents; the couple flee to London where the man accomplishes his ‘infernal purpose of pollution’; he then abandons the poor girl, who can’t return to her parents because of ‘the recollection of that dagger which she has plunged into their hearts by the disappointment of all their fond hopes.’ The girl, with no chance of success in the world now, has no choice but ‘to solicit the embraces of any coarse sensualist, of any foul debauchee, that will pay for the enjoyment of her person’; the process of degeneracy continues and as she grows older and more desperate, she takes to the bottle and spends time in Bridewell, the prison for prostitutes. (p. 162)
(If the old folks at home had simply said, “Make sure to get an abortion, dearie, and I’ll have supper waitin’ for ye when ye get back,” perhaps Bridewell would have had one less inmate.) The other and in this instance current analogy is the lurid imaginings on the part of goddists regarding recruitment into “the gay lifestyle.” Byron’s memorable “Some die, some fly, some languish on the Continent,” no longer applicable to the fair sex has been transferred to the “underage” and the “naturally heterosexual” with not a flicker of moral qualm.
Incidentally, stripped of its punishments, the “degraded” lifestyle conjured up by Gentleman’s Magazine isn’t really so bad. I daresay the life of a porn star or a hooker is both more personally fulfilling and more culturally beneficial than the tedium, desiccation and venality of the lives of most lawyers and politicians or the soul deadening tedium of an aspidistra watering PTA mom. Wouldn’t the perfect life be that of a child hooker who saves her money and retires at the age of twenty to perhaps pursue philosophy, art or science in the bosom of economic security?
So the elements of so-called child molestation – coercion, age and sex - are in themselves not criminal. Perhaps it is some lethal combination of the three that provides a basis for criminalization. Yet it is hard to see what combination would work. Coercion, except in cases where the coercion is directed against a potential criminal act, should stand alone as an immoral and possibly criminal act. If coercion is involved, it makes no difference what the victim was coerced to do. And, as we saw, coercion is not even a necessary element in sexual criminalization. Arguments for the supposed harmfulness of sex turn out to be arguments for instruction in practicing sex properly. Arguments for the harmful combination of sex and age turn out to imply the prohibition of any number of activities that children are now allowed to do or to restrict procreation to artificial insemination.
Counter-arguments, by the way, for the inevitability of childhood sex (just as the more often used arguments for the inevitability of drug use or abortion) are not persuasive on their face because assessments of right and wrong do not yield to inevitability. However, correctly stated, the argument from inevitability is very strong indeed. If an activity has occurred despite its criminalization, and if that activity by itself resulted in no harm to those who practiced it and no physical harm to others or theft of property from others, then that in itself is a proof that the activity should be not be criminalized. The actions took place in spite of the law and the actions caused no harm. The statistics that show the inevitability of these sorts of criminalized behaviors demonstrate the first half of the conjunctive proposition expressed by the preceding sentence. As of this writing there is no reliable disproof of the second half.
But we can go further along these lines. Childhood sex is not just inevitable, it is commendable. (Drunken orgies are also pleasurable although the actual physical consequences of drunkenness at any age diminish its practical justifiability.) It is commendable because it is pleasurable and anything that causes pleasure without physical harm or theft of property is a good thing. Polanski brought a moment of pleasure to a young girl’s life. She should thank him.
Again age difference between the partners makes no difference to the beneficence of childhood sex. Otherwise either age difference would lead to the prohibition of all sorts of activities or else sex would have to be treated as universally harmful. Either little Billy shouldn’t be allowed to go hunting with grandpa or else the law would have had to dictate that little Billy be conceived in a test tube. Indeed, considering the need to instruct children in the practice of sex to avoid minor cuts or the perils of object choice, an older partner could very well function as a valuable mentor.
Included among the reactions to Polanski’s arrest are the by now tedious chest thumping of outraged fathers to the effect that, “If they catch any slime even looking sideways at my daughter, I’ll (Insert your preferred violent verb).” Logically these are not arguments but emotional expressions. They are no different from the anti-Semite's assertion that he becomes violently nauseous if he even sees a Jew. Their purpose is rhetorical, namely to underline the supposedly obvious and in a self-reflexive sort of ad hominem turn (Shall we call it ad se?), give it spurious validity by the force and pathos of the parent’s misery. The problem is that such reactions were little heard of before the artificial hysteria created by the goddists as a result of the fraudulent McMartin charges (and the papist priest scandal, an opportunity the anticlerical could not let slip although it forced them into uneasy conjugality with common or garden erotophobes). Absent a real crime this primitive breast beating has all the ethical validity and emotional authenticity of a losing sports bettor’s hatred of the refs. Spontaneous personal emotional reactions are the least reliable way to support a position. Used as an argument it blackmails us into parlaying our natural sympathy at the parent’s distress into a judgment about whatever causes that distress. But the two are logically and ethically unrelated. And personal spontaneous reactions may of course be culturally conditioned. At the very least they are utterly arbitrary. I still feel disturbed when I see men kissing (The famous yechh factor), but my unease is not an argument for the immorality, much less criminality of men kissing. More justifiably I’m absolutely revolted when I see these so-called priests and ministers filling children’s heads with lies, fears and prejudices, but I shan’t use my personal reaction as an argument for getting rid of priests and ministers, however desirable an eventuality that may be. This sort of emotional blackmail tells us more about the person who expresses it than about the act against which his reaction is directed. Freud’s well known observations on the family love triangle are particularly relevant to this sort of expression. The violence (the investment of energy in Freudian terms) of fathers’ outcries leads one to expect that their motives lie far beyond any imagined harm to their children. The extra emotional energy comes from their own sexual attraction to their daughters. The language used is not so much that of the concerned guardian as of the jealous suitor. One might add that there is an element of outrage at personal segregation, a jealousy that the child can participate in pleasures from which the parent is excluded. We of course, don’t need the details of Freudian theory to see the parental love triangle at play in these exclamations. If we can’t see it here, we likewise cannot understand the comic trope of teenage daughters, junior high boyfriends and hostile fathers.
It is particularly ironic that the Church of Rome, an outdated institution that over the centuries has wrought far more than its fair share of suffering on its unfortunate victims, should have been brought to its knees by an exaggerated application of principles it fosters – indeed helped in creating. Those poor priests were condemned not for their real acts of moral turpitude – whispering lies into children's ears; applying the shackles of a superfluous moral censor that will plague them for the rest of their lives; constant warfare against some group or other, usually the Jews – but for a little harmless butt-fucking. This remarkable incident deserves fuller treatment than is appropriate in the present context. For now I suggest the reader consult Dawkins’ fascinating chapter on the subject.
Criminal, and indeed legal distinctions in general based on an arbitrary age distinction are simply foolish. There is no justification in biology, social benefit or natural law for the absurdly old age of eighteen. Children have long passed puberty by that age and are in fact largely sexually active. If a girl is hot on her eighteenth birthday, she was hot when she was seventeen and 364 days old. The situation is analogous to the equally arbitrary and largely ignored cutoff age for alcohol. Children can be punished for any real crimes they commit even while not drinking, but drinking itself is not a crime and age adds nothing to its definition as criminal.
One of the truly unpardonable side effects from the arbitrary criminalization of childhood sex comes from the hysterical reactions and excessive punishments that result when someone is caught. Not a day in prison should be spent by those who engage in childhood sex. In some cases the adults deserve the child’s gratitude. The real and perhaps permanent trauma comes from the psychological abuse that is suffered by children and the impressionable when truly wicked people try to convince them that they did something wrong. It is a form of abuse that, in addition to potential imprisonment, includes verbal harassment and techniques of behavioral modification. There is something of an epidemic going on of turning high school hijinks into felonies and threatening children with penalties better suited for mass murderers. Children who, for example, text nude photos of themselves should not only not be punished, they should be allowed to publish their photos on social networking sites.
Let me stress that my argument is not based on moral or cultural relativism (although arguments from cultural diversity serve an important critical function) nor from the misplaced belief that there is no right and wrong, that everything is permitted. I argue rather from the principle that there is such a thing as right and wrong. However, much that is currently considered a moral good is in fact a moral evil. Specifically, laws regulating mores are morally wrong and intuitively repugnant. Wicked laws may rightfully be broken; indeed it is a defensible position that breaking those laws is itself a moral good. But at the same time not every individual can choose for his or herself which laws are wicked and worth breaking. That would just be another version of the Everything is Permitted view. It is, therefore, worth the while of the moral philosopher to establish correct principles of right and wrong, principles which even laws and social conventions cannot violate. Here are a few comments in that direction:
Let’s resurrect the 18th century concept of natural law. The value of the concept of natural law today is its critical function. It is an important tool for determining not what should be actually illegal in a real society, but what should not be illegal in any society. In a word, natural law is the result of rational and not emotional, cultural or otherwise arbitrary decisions about what is right and wrong. Conclusions about natural law should hold for all people and for all cultures. Importantly natural law provides a guide as to what must not as well as to what must be illegal. In most Western systems of jurisprudence (The United States is the unhappy exception) it has been decided that criminalization of an action cannot be based on a religious or otherwise arbitrary system of morality however universally accepted it may be. Crime, rather, must be defined on the basis of a clear, explicit and non-moral concept of harm to other people. Deriving that concept of harm, however, is not easy since anything can be construed as harmful by someone. Many people, myself included, feel some measure of harm whenever they see a billboard by the highway. Liberal societies have come to agree that the concept of harm should be minimalist, that is fewer rather than more things should be ranged under the category of criminally culpable harm. For my money only theft, and physical violence, including murder constitute a basis for criminal harm to another person. There are only two crimes from the perspective of natural law: physical harm and theft. Some actions (such as jaywalking or violation of eminent domain) may be in particular limited circumstances criminalized, but only on the understanding that their criminalization is an artificial exception to natural law. These need to be considered on a case by case basis with a bias toward not criminalizing them whenever possible. Others, such as being an accessory to physical harm or theft, must be considered with great care and not be admitted based on an emotional reaction to the core crime.
Nearly all laws prohibiting behavior that is not theft or physical violence are against natural law. I am of the opinion that it is permissible and often morally laudable to contravene such laws. It is, for example, moral to disobey the child sex laws since they are in contravention to a basic civil right. Of course, any civil disobedience in an oppressive situation is attended with unpleasant consequences. My focus here, however, is on the morality of an action not on its practical advisability.
A government and its constitution are not an entity with a volition and judgment of its own. A government and its constitution are simply a tool for the exercise of the will of those who control the government. While the wording of a constitution can exercise some influence over those who control the government and interpret the constitution, it does not control their actions. If the controlling faction, even if it is a minority, wishes to do something, it will find a way, even within the prevailing constitutional framework. This is true for all governments, democratic and non-democratic, and it is true for all constitutions. So, assuming objective moral right and wrong, there are two ways a government can contravene moral right and wrong. The written or unwritten constitution of the nation can contravene moral right and wrong, and the actions of those who control the government can, independently of how the government was established, contravene moral right and wrong.
How to react when an entire nation and its government acts against what is right? In the present context this is, as I said, a moral and not a strategic question. It is a question of what is justified, not what is in the best interests of any individual. First, there must be a clear and comprehensive statement of what is morally right and wrong and an individual is justified in acting against his nation only if it is in violation of that clear and comprehensive canon. The consequence otherwise is that every individual can judge for himself what is right and wrong. In that case there would be no point in any criminal law at all. Secondly an individual who acts against a government that is morally in the wrong is also morally justified in trying to avoid the practical consequences of his actions. These actions as well as refusals to comply with morals laws in general fall under Rawls' concept of conscientious refusal (pp. 323 ff.). They are of a type with the Underground Railroad before the American Civil War and the more or less secretive practice of abortion and contraception in Victorian England and elsewhere.
These points seem obvious when we think of nations we dislike, such as fascist nations. But they are equally true of democratic and republican nations. The fact that a nation is democratic does not mean that it cannot morally be in the wrong. The correct conclusion is that the individual is morally justified in defying that government where it is in the wrong. No social contract theory or utilitarian ethics is sufficient to contest this principle.
By way of peroration:
Children, have sex with whomever you want whenever you want. It is particularly important to have sex while you are young and your senses are still acute enough to really enjoy it. Sex is enjoyable and there is no reason why it should be avoided. Learn how to make sex enjoyable for yourselves. Learn correct techniques for maximizing both safety and pleasure. Don’t let phony psychological hang ups stand in the way of your pleasure. When it comes to sex the question of whether it is right or wrong is never appropriate; the correct question is whether it is fun and safe. Practice kindness and benevolence. Most of the pain associated with sex and resulting hatred of sex comes from rejection. You will often be solicited by a partner to whom you are initially not attracted. Try as much as possible to accommodate others. You may, like many a Victorian wife, even learn to find persons sexually attractive only after intercourse with them. Avoid pregnancy. Nothing will disrupt a young life more than some sort of sordid pregnancy and an unwanted baby. Always use birth control, if you can. Condoms are good for safety, but they do reduce pleasure. The pill is difficult to get at a young age (and inadvisable below a certain age) but not impossible. Start creating fake ID’s and locate sympathetic doctors (They do exist). Doctors will be especially important in case you need an abortion. In areas where abortions are illegal you may have to rely on unlicensed practitioners. But this is dangerous and an absolutely last resort. Remember the moral fault for the dangers of unsafe abortions lies with those who made abortion illegal in the first place. Also, remember not all sex need be vaginal intercourse. There are other equally pleasurable roads to orgasm. And a near permanent state of sexual excitement without orgasm is a great good in itself. Protect against STD’s. The pill will not help here; condoms are best. Follow the example of porn stars and try to find some way to get frequent blood tests. Sex is a moral good but in the current situation it can have unwanted practical consequences. The current situation regarding many forms of personal behavior is not unlike that faced by those who fought a dictatorship, struggled against slavery or championed the emancipation of women. Unless you want to be a martyr (a possible but very serious and perhaps inadvisable moral decision and choice of action), prepare early to avoid getting caught. Learn how to practice secrecy. Do not confide in anyone except your sexual partners. Lying in general is immoral and inadvisable; however, you may lie, and from a practical standpoint you must lie, to protect your privacy. Establish a personal Underground Railroad to moral freedom. Sometimes when we are in the throes of object infatuation we want the world to know. It is best to resist such a natural impulse. Those most in danger are older partners and males of any age, but young girls are at risk also. If caught they will almost certainly suffer extreme psychological abuse, a type of brainwashing where they will be forced to assert that their actions were “wrong” and that they were unwilling victims. There may be no greater moral wrong in a situation like this than betraying your partner. Above all remember two things. First disobedience of an immoral law is a good thing. Secondly it is not your choice alone as to what constitutes a good or a bad law. However, nearly any law that prohibits or sanctions any behavior that is not physical harm to another person or theft is most likely a bad law. You may not do just anything; not everything is permitted. You must act according to sound principles rationally derived. But much of what constitutes the current moral canon merits disobedience, and the only caveats in the active and joyful pursuit of that disobedience are practical ones. In a word, Not Love Thy Neighbor. Fuck Thy Neighbor.
Adults, feel no guilt over child sex, since you are introducing the child to a great pleasure. It is those who make them feel miserable afterwards who are truly guilty of abuse.
The chances of a quick repeal of sexual blue laws as of this writing are low. We are in the darkest hour of mass hysteria not unlike when Calas’ widow was impoverished and his son forced to flee his homeland. We see nearly no one working to decriminalize child sex. The best we have is a few journalists and social scientists showing up the fallacies behind claims of the harm of childhood sex and the occasional bit of entertainment news placing childhood sex in its proper harmless context.
I rather think that, as in the case of the decriminalization of adult sex and homosexuality, the first rumblings of change will come from the arts. It is thus that some small sense might be given to the argument that an exception should be made for Polanski because he is a great artist (just as an exception was made in the public mind for poor Michael Jackson). Indeed such exceptions have already been made in the cases of works of art and artists who were originally persecuted and who are now allowed to exhibit, if not exactly operate despite the fact that their existing corpus violates child sex laws. We are familiar with the triumphant re-emergence of the photographers Sally Mann, Jock Sturges, David Hamilton and the inimitable Robert Mapplethorpe. In this drama the humanist scholar has a role, just as it was brave critics and publishers who abetted the acceptance of Baudelaire, Joyce, Henry Miller and numerous others now in our canon of classics. The humanist has, dare we say, a noble task to present, analyze and interpret works of art and literature that deal with child sex. There is abundant material. Classical literature runs riot with examples from Romeo and Juliet through Don Juan and Haidée to the high school buddies of Chbosky’s Wallflower whose sexual behavior is in flat contravention of current child sex laws. Beyond that the prose work of Apollinaire and the astounding pornographic output of Pierre Louÿs deserve serious critical consideration particularly in the English speaking world.
The cinema abounds in material that merits serious criticism. Catherine Breillat, David Hamilton’s one time collaborator, has created a substantial oeuvre of work dealing with childhood sex including Une vraie jeune fille, 36 Fillette, and (ambiguously) Brève traversée. Other films worth mentioning are L’Amant, Un Souffle au coeur, A ma soeur, Violette, Beau père (also a novel), L’Enfant démesuré, that peculiar hymn to Cartesianism gone wild L’Ennui, Little Lips, and Pretty Baby. I once saw a picture (on Showtime?) that I can’t relocate about a pathos filled love affair between an upper middle class French adolescent and a middle-aged garage mechanic she seduces. What is interesting about that film was that it involved sex and focused on the emotional relations between the two principal characters. Another interesting picture is Voyous voyelles, that appears to subscribe to the myth of child abuse and yet shows how the child abuse laws can be misused to entrap the innocent and abused in the pursuit of true crime, in this case theft and blackmail.
I suspect the mere consciousness and understanding of works of art and literature that deal with childhood sex will help to transform its perception to something innocent and beneficial.
Whatever the current problems they do represent something of an advance. It was not so long ago that all pornography and anything except legally sanctioned breeding was illegal for adults as well. Ironically at the same time minimum marriage ages were reasonably low and childhood sex was not considered particularly upsetting. Faced with the inevitability of the legalization of pleasurable sex and most types of pornography, the Xtians and their allies on the lesbo left found an opening in the supposed harmfulness of childhood sex. At the very least they could prohibit that. The irony was that activity that had never been particularly illegal was suddenly transformed into the violently offensive, as if the energy that could no longer be employed to punish adult sex could be funneled into “protecting” the newly created innocents.