Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Children

(Above) Bettina von Zwehl: Profiles III No 4 © Bettina von Zwehl

My Dearest Darlings, I have noticed a problem with your perception of childhood. This is not the same perception that I have noticed before when speaking about Britney Spears and her precocious sexuality though this most recent diagnostic has been sparked by a furore surrounding the recently opened 'Pop Life' exhibition at Tate Modern. The controversy surrounding the Richard Prince piece 'Spiritual America' may have passed some of you by, though the story has been covered world-wide both in the print media and on-line. The piece is described as a 'rephotograph' of an earlier photo by Garry Gross who for some reason best known to himself chose to depict this particular ten year old girl in a disturbingly sexual way: Naked, emerging from a bath with a face full of bordello style make-up the image is truly unsettling. Resembling a chimera of child and adult the image is seared onto my mind like a griddle to a steak. Disgust and abhorrence the only response I can muster.

Though this physical reaction to what can only be described as sanctioned paedophilia in the context of art is and should be challenged by the society that creates it and I have formed some suppositions regarding this image. Unsurprisingly the work has been removed from the exhibition to which it belonged, as it was seen to contravene decency laws. The ensuing scandal has led to outrage from most factions and as usual the easiest conclusions have been jumped to. Many right-wing commentaries are suggesting that art should not dabble and flirt with such material and should be limited to the exploration of beauty and pleasantness. The left perhaps rightly claiming that this censorship prevents exploration of complex and sensitive issues. As it is Art is potentially the last vestige able and willing to explore any issue beyond that which lies beyond the limitations of your mainstream media. Ironically the outrage expressed has possibly exposed this image to many more than would have ever seen it, thus the intended protection garnered by the removal of the actual photograph has created a new interest in this most alarming of sights.

Aside from the obvious issue of the glamorisation of paedophilia the image starkly emphasises the inability your culture has to discuss childhood without hysteria. From my position your children seem able to sit in just a few stereotypical positions, either they are gun-toting, knife-yielding yobs, precocious sexualised teenagers or at constant risk from herds of paedophiles and bogey-men. This over-exaggerated and media sensationalist 'risk' has warped your notion of childhood and has compromised the experience your children have in their journey to adulthood.

Your children are lost, when once a child lived in quiet awe around the 'grown-ups' they have become unable to comprehend the once ubiquitous respect that was once denoted to the adult world. The obvious reason for this problem is that your lily-livered liberal left and woeful and decrepit working classes have ordained your children with responsibilities far beyond the capabilities of their barely formed minds. It is impossible to avoid your tiny tots being asked to offer their opinions on the most mundane of subjects, to their preferred menu items in a restaurant to the political complexities of when best to leave a social engagement. When once a child ate when it was told, and obediently followed it's carers from here to there, now they are at the centre of their tiny universe. What's wrong with that? I hear you bellow, well the problem with that is that these children develop no respect for the mystery of how to behave in the modern world, they are not encouraged to consider the opinions of anyone other than themselves and this results in a total and complete lack of respect for society and it's adult members. You have deemed your child as master, as centre of your broken world. (Above)Hollie Steel breaks down crying half-way through her song on the final show of Britain's Got Talent

This has led to a dismantling of children's position in society. Your children perceive themselves as mini-versions of you, and expect to gain the same privileges you do. This of course leads to younger and younger 'tweenies' making demands on a culture that they do not understand and it is at this point that these vulnerable and precious youngsters are catapulted into your culture. Demanding sexual liberation and instant fame on whatever reality TV show. They are all of your ambition without any of your humanity. They are all you desire without any of your maturity. And so these once tiny bundles of joy become tight knots of confusion, desperate to please the greedy adults that are so keen to exploit their inappropriate goals.

The image of Brooke Shields is this twisted desire incarnate irrespective of the obvious sexual element the photograph reveals the cultural destruction of childhood. In contrast to this is the striking work of Bettina von Zwehl (top) currently on view at V&A's Childhood Museum, these large format photographic prints create two dimensional monuments to your babies, free of sexual allusion the one year old's are depicted as astute and sentient potential adults in the context of a museum of childhood these images seem all the more poignant in a place that attests to the preciousness of your children without sensationalist sexual or prurient connotation.

So My Darlings treat your children as children dissuade them from premature development, you may believe this is impossible in today's media saturated mire but each of you has a responsibility to protect and educate your offspring in the complexities and pitfalls of society without perpetuating the warped views of the media that constructs it.

Much Love Ms Coco LaVerne x