I’m having trouble making sense of this world

So… the chap with material depicting cartoon genitalia was convicted on the grounds that the Simpsons are real people; but the Lord Mayor just unveiled a realistic sculpture of a naked nine-year-old girl in Perth – legs apart, labia depicted.

The Worst of Perth has photos.


Categories: Culture, law & order, technology

Tags: , ,

23 replies

  1. … so what do you think about the sculpture? Aside from the hypocrisy of the public response to the issue (whaddayaknow, we don’t know how to deal with sex & sexuality as a culture! I wonder where that comes from.)

  2. Since the hypocrisy is the whole point of the post, I’ll withhold the art critique for the moment.

  3. Okay… I guess what I meant/was interested in was weather you think this is appropriate (public) art or not, which does seem related to your original post to me.

  4. Given the Henson controversy I’m surprised that they went ahead with this sculpture. I feel like I’m invading her privacy every time I look at it.
    I find the whole cartoon pron thing astounding. Surely we can tell the difference between a cartoon and real life? Sure it may not be savoury, but it a cartoon satisfies desires and stops a real child being harmed then I still won’t like it but I will accept it.

  5. I’m with Mindy–it feels like an invasion of privacy.
    I suppose this goes back to the good ol’ American legal definition of porn ‘I know it when I see it’. Right.

  6. I didn’t get a sense of privacy being invaded at all– certainly, the sculpture depicts an introspective moment, but, the way I see it, that’s conveyed far more through her stance than her nudity. Also, unlike the Henson pictures, the model for this artwork is now an adult herself, and actually donated the scuplture to the city (see the second link that Lauredhel provided).
    Personally, I have a hard time comparing this to the Simpsons pictures case at all, as it’s quite clear to me that the girl in this scuplture is not sexualised at all, while the Simpsons pictures clearly were (not that I agree with the ruling in that case). I mean, I get that to a lot of people, nudity=sex, which is where the cognitive dissonance comes into play, but insofar as I don’t see this sculpture as sexualised myself, it feels like comparing apples and oranges.

  7. Just to be clear, Lauredhel– I’m not suggesting that you’re arguing that nudity=sex yourself– I know that this is contextualised by a culture that frequently makes that assumption, and you are simply recognising that context. Meanwhile, my “apples and oranges” statement is more about my personal reaction.

  8. For me, the apples-and-oranges absurdity rests primarily in the fact that the Simpsons are not actually people (though the judge on the case ruled that they were).
    [edited to add lots]
    As to whether or not this is “appropriate” public art? I don’t know. I think the most important side of things when dealing with representations is in the production, not in the consumption. I’m happy to problematise consumption – we do it here all the time – but not without recognising the humanity of the people involved as the key issue, not while treating the subjects as inanimate things. We know that this girl, now a woman, now seems to think that this is fine; whether she was in a position to truly consent _at the time_ is, in my opinion, open to question. (We did this to death back in the Henson conversations, so I’m not really interested in re-debating that in the same ways.) I am, however, sick of people wittering on as though the most important thing in the world is whether or not something makes dicks twitch. If it doesn’t, it’s aaaaart, and anything goes. If it does, PR0N! The binary can never be that simple, and it’s not the key issue for me, not when talking about exploitation, and not when problematising the content of the representation either. It is a handy hook to sell newspapers, though.
    This particular statue is ambiguous, to me. An introspective moment? A scared child? I don’t know. I don’t know that we’re supposed to know. It does seem that a lot more female people, especially nude female people, are depicted in sculpture and in art with faces down or tilted, in submissive postures. Which doesn’t necessarily say anything about this particular piece.

  9. Well, insofar as that’s concerned, this sculpture is not actually a person either– it’s merely a representation of a person. Ceci n’est pas une pipe, and all that.

  10. Also, I’m not quite sure how to take the ‘worst of perth’ post about the sculpture. Why the up-close photo of her labia? It’s as if they seem to find that an amusing thing to depict – but there’s a long tradition of sculptures of boys that show their penises, and (grownups) don’t usually laugh about that?
    (I gather, Lauredhel, you were trying to make a point about the craziness with the Simpsons thing, which is clearly true. But the sculpture intrigues me, and I got the impression you were suggesting, perhaps, that you didn’t like it, because it was sexualising a young girl? But I can’t tell what you think?)

  11. daismeliadorn: if you read the comments thread as well as the post itself, the sculpture isn’t being held up as a “Worst” by the blogger.

  12. oh, sorry Lauredhel, posted before reading your last comment.

  13. gah and I have now re-read the comments thread at ‘worst’ and still found it hard to understand what was going on over there. I did read them before, but there weren’t many there, and those early comments really don’t make sense, so I didn’t try to understand. I’m sorry, I feel like I’m spamming over here, or like I must sound like I’m willfully not getting… something – but I’ve been genuinely confused, I promise! 😦
    okay. sorry. I’m stopping my stream-of-consciousness-ish comments now. Should be working anyway 🙂

  14. daiskmeliadorn : Is cool, I spent ages in the editing.
    About the Worst threads, yes, it’s a complete mishmash of commenters over there, many of them sexist/racist/abusive in various ways – don’t expect feminism or anything vaguely resembling it from them. I should have been clearer that what I meant to point to was the blogger’s post and clarification:
    “In any case, this sculpture is not worst in TWOP books.”
    “I quite like it in comparison to all those awful Smith bronzes in the city.”

  15. I am, however, sick of people wittering on as though the most important thing in the world is whether or not something makes dicks twitch. If it doesn’t, it’s aaaaart, and anything goes. If it does, PR0N!
    I see what you’re saying here, but I do think that the assumption that nudity=sex plays a role in whether or not people perceive exploitation, rightly or wrongly. If this sculpture depicted a clothed child, and had been modelled on a child who had not consented to being the subject of an artwork, then we wouldn’t even be hearing about this in the context of child exploitation, yet I would consider that hypothetical situation far more exploitative than the one that seems to have occured here.
    (I have some more thoughts on this, but I’m struggling to articulate them without veering into the territory already covered in the Henson debate, so I’ll just leave it here.)

  16. Beppie: I suspect that we’re mostly in agreement, and I’m not going down that Henson road either, so hopefully we’re reasonably safe on that one!
    I think what I’m trying to express is that the nudity vs sex binary is no more real and no more simple, and not necessarily any more illuminating, than the art vs porn binary. I’m not sure that a reductionist “It’s just nudity, and nudity has nothing to do with sex!” contributes a lot of light to the conversation I’d like to have (and realise is possibly not possible, at least in a public space right now). (I’m not accusing you of reductionism, here – I know you don’t think of these things in that way.) It seems to me that most times the conversation bogs down in nudity vs sex, the next step from the next interlocutor to happen along is “And if you connect nudity with sex, obviously YOU’RE the pervert!” which is where these conversations go completely off the rails.
    I’m trying to come up with all sorts of analogies here, and they all fall apart. Maybe because the situation just isn’t very amenable to analogies – it’s so highly contextual and nuanced. I don’t equate nudity and sex. I don’t think they’re the same thing. I don’t think that all nudity in all times and in all places must be sexual. I do, however, think that in our culture the two are often connected – otherwise no one would be having this conversation. There must be some way of exploring that without it devolving into people accusing each other of denialism or perversion. But maybe not here, not now.

  17. Ah, okay, I see what you’re saying. 🙂 And it is further complicated by the fact that both of those false binaries operate on two different levels– the level of whether or not an actual person is being exploited, and on the level of if an artwork is exploitative by its nature, regardless of how it is produced– again, these are two issues that can’t be reduced to some sort of oppositional or hierarchical binary, although there are instances in which one might not be in play (as you point out, the production of the Simpsons pictures did not involve the exploitation of a real person).

  18. I had an interesting discussion with hubby this morning about this – he hasn’t seen the sculpture, I’ve only described it to him. He felt that he wouldn’t be comfortable viewing it and wondered aloud about all the other people who also might not be comfortable viewing it, but have no choice because it’s in a public place. He wouldn’t have an issue with it in an art gallery where people could choose to see it, but felt that being forced to walk past it on your way to work, lunch whatever could cause some people a lot of discomfort. I feel terribly prudish writing this, but my question is – should this be public art? Which brings us back to a question posted earlier by daiskmeliadorn – If we are accustomed to seeing penises on statues, is it wrong to have a vagina on a statue/sculpture?

  19. FWIW I immediately thought of this Tom Bass sculpture in the grounds of Sydney Uni: in stone the pose is clearly designed to get the most representation into the least space.
    I’m interested, Lauredhel, in the way you hinge your apples-oranges comparison on personhood in #8. Of course Beppie makes the obvious representational point one comment later, but there’s a deeper question.
    It’s not immediately clear that this sculpture was made from a real model who ran the risk of harm and dealt with (or did not deal with) the question of consent—and obviously those two issues must be the bedrock of opposition to sexualised representations of children.
    I’d argue that to most viewers, the Simpsons have many more of the characteristics of real persons than this sculpture of a nameless any-girl. The Simpsons have names, personalities, friends, pasts, and relationships. They are old enough (despite being ageless) that living adults know them as fixtures of their own lives. I don’t agree with Mindy when she says it’s easy to tell the difference between cartoons and “real life”, especially if “real life” in this case is represented by a bronze statue.
    (coda: I agree that however ugly, Simpsons-filth shouldn’t attract the kind of criminal sanction as in Queensland).

  20. @ Liam, I was trying to say that no matter what is depicted in the cartoons, there still isn’t a real live person being hurt. I know that there are all sorts of implications about what graphic illustrations can encourage some people to do, but I think that the criminal sanctions , just for viewing the cartoons, are OTT. I wasn’t thinking about real life as being the bronze statue when I wrote that part of the comment, but that may not have been clear. I’m still trying to work through all my feelings on the statue.

  21. Quite, Mindy, but my point is that to the casual viewer, any potential harm done by the production of this statue is unknowable. You have to ask the model herself, and even then as Lauredhel says at #8, you can’t take consent given after-the-fact at face value.
    It’s easy to make the distinction between production and consumption in the case of the Simpsons cartoons—because we know that there is no real Bart and no real Lisa—but with statues like this brass one it’s a lot more difficult.
    Not even being able to know whether issues of consent and harm enter into the question make it very difficult for anyone to sort out their position, I agree.
    On a different topic: I went Christmas shopping for a graphic novel yesterday for my cousin, a fourteen-year old boy. Some of the stuff imported from Japan as “clean” manga is… eye opening. If a dirty Simpsons cartoon is enough to get you a sentence north of the Tweed, there’s enough for a mini-police state on the shelves at the Kinokinuya bookshop in Sydney.

  22. Agreed Liam. That case in QLD is going to have some interesting consequences I suspect. I also expect that it will be overturned on appeal.

  23. Lauredhel, I agree. I’m having trouble making sense of all this too.

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