Picturing Innocence: Art or Exploitation of Children

Child pornography is not a very popular subject these days. For example, you would not be sitting at dinner with a couple friends, lean back in your chair and say, “”I rather like child pornography.”” And one of your friends isn’t going to reply, “”Yeah, I picked up some of that the other day. It was quite enjoyable.””

Everybody seems to be against it, and who wouldn’t be? Who would try to defend child pornography? Who could defend child pornography without looking like a damn fool and possibly a pervert? The American Civil Liberties Union? But the ACLU let the Ku Klux Klan march in Washington. We can’t necessarily agree with everything the ACLU does, nor can we use it as a deciding factor on what we should defend.

I think the real problem here is the definition of child pornography. Many people have different views on what child pornography is, but what really matters in the end is how the courts view it. And unfortunately, their interpretation is a bit broad. The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 outlaws images that appear to be of minors, even if they are not, or if they “”convey the impression … of a minor engaged in sexually explicit activity.””

Now this is going a bit too far. The reason we have laws against child pornography is to prevent the sexual exploitation of minors. But here critics are just banning the idea of child pornography, even if minors are not used to create it or there isn’t actually any sex going on. This would mean that everything from renditions of “”Romeo and Juliet”” to Vladimir Nabakov’s “”Lolita”” could be construed as illegal.

The court is basically forcing film processing centers, bookstores, museums, video stores and anybody that comes across visual media to determine what child pornography is, or else they are subject to fines and liabilities. This is ridiculous.

There is no litmus test for determining whether pictures of naked children deserve a call to the local police department. They’re asking clerks — normal people like you and me (or maybe just me) — whether they can fathom someone getting off on these pictures. Next they’ll ask the cops that come down to check it out the same question.

If you ask me, in this society, there’s always someone out there who can get off on anything. There is no happy median of getting-off-ness. There are people that think sneezing is erotic.

Another thing I don’t like about the current laws on child pornography is that they have no explicit exceptions. There is nothing to be said about historical or artistic pieces, so you can find pictures on http://www.whitehouse.gov in violation of the law. For example, I found several sexually explicit pictures of statues of young boys urinating. Really, I think if pedophiles can get off on stuff like that, all the more power to them. Think of how much money you would save on porn if you got off on history books. The library should install beat-it stalls like at F-Street.

Here’s another idea I’ve been throwing around – you know how the Library of Congress is supposed to keep a copy of everything that’s ever been printed, and you’re allowed to look at it but not actually check it out? Doesn’t that mean that in Washington there’s a room in the Library of Congress with more porn than in your wildest dreams? Well, maybe not your wildest dreams, but definitely mine. If so, I’m taking collections for a plane ticket.

But the biggest point is that these laws are directed against a lot of pictures and movies because they encourage pedophilia. When was the last time you heard of a law that banned stuff entirely — not just restricted access — because it encouraged anything? That’s right, you probably haven’t because of silly little restrictions like the First Amendment. For example, I personally believe that the new state quarters encourage underage drinking, but every time I write to my congressman, he always gets back to me with this First Amendment crap.

What I find particularly disturbing is that I’ve read reports of right-wing activists storming into various Barnes & Noble and ripping pages out of Jock Sturges’ photography books, which include (in my opinion) tasteful photographs of underage models. There’s really nothing sexual about any of it — I suggest a trip down to the bookstore to judge for yourself.

If we’re allowed to rip pages out of books, why stop at photographs? To be really efficient, we should just have a big bonfire in the middle of Barnes & Noble and burn everything anybody ever found offensive. Then all you’d have left on the shelves are a few select Dr. Seuss books, “”Watership Down,”” and the script to “”Shawshank Redemption,”” because hey, everybody likes “”Shawshank Redemption.””