When Sydney police swooped on an upmarket art gallery on the eve of an exhibition of photographs by internationally renowned artist Bill Henson, pandemonium struck. Photographs of pubescent children were removed by police. The tabloid press applauded the censorship and described the images as "child porn". The gallery owners received death threats.
Paedophilia is a motherhood issue, and the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudds' personal opinion was that he found the work "revolting" and without "artistic merit". He told the Nine Network that "kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected". Of course they do.
But why pick on an art, when trainer bras and sexy lingerie for 6 years olds are hot items, when 5 years olds go to beauty parlours and have makeovers to celebrate their birthdays, when the advertising industrys' use of very young "models" is morally questionable at so many levels, when ads for jeans are shot like pornography, when ads for lipstick are shot like pornography, when ads for cars are shot like pornography, and when 75% of the internet is pornography.
Why pick on Henson, one of the artists in the high school art syllabus for heavens sake, when our whole popular culture, what's on our telly, in our videos, our movies ,our mags and our newspapers, is shot through with exploitative and violent sexuality. Why worry about Henson when that celebration of sadism, The Passion of the Christ, was a world wide hit.
Why pick on an art photographer, when Paris Hilton's home-movie porno shot her to stardom, and matrons devouring their womens magazines at the hairdresser are tut-tutting about Britneys split-pink pole dance, when entertainers and sportstars of the ilk of the Beckhams have replaced saints as objects of veneration, and our mass media regurgitates all this vomit as though it matters. And we all gossip about it as though it matters, and meanwhile the ice caps are melting.
"Kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected" - of course they do, but... as if. Are kids protected by the commercial TV channels beaming ads into their cots from the day their eyes open. Or when "wrong body" fears induced by the aforementioned use of "models" in advertising apparently causes children to suffer obesity, anorexia,and bulimia. Or when shopaholia replaces creativity and the goal of endless economic growth is not to be questioned, which is why the icecaps are melting. Kids are not protected when the environment isn't.
Kids are not protected when subjected to U.S. air strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, or when they are blown up by old American cluster bombs in Laos and Cambodia, which happens often and is reported rarely, because most of the space in the newspaper is devoted to the the Beckhams or Paris or Britneys' public meltdowns and the latest baby-bump sightings.
Why pick on an art photographer when the substance which powers our whole society - oil - is starting to dry up. At a time of global food and water shortages, our planet is entering an era of dramatic climate change, and the only obvious way out of the mess is nuclear power which will put the means to create nuclear weapons into the hands of more nutters with grudges.
Henson's disturbing images of pale pubescent nudes in eerie end-of-the-world twilight situations may well be a comment on the scenario described above - consciously or unconsciously. Artists often apprehend the times they live in. After all, the children he depicts are the ones who'll be left to live in the mess.
Meanwhile, can't we have scandals over things that matter more than budding pubic hair, like an $80 million corporate bonus being considered "fair", or that a sole tycoon can manipulate the media on several continents and be lauded. Come on you trusty boys and girls in blue; haul away the loan sharks, the polluters and the pedophiles - leave the artworks on the wall.