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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

conservatism, teenage bodies, sexuality « Previous | |Next »
June 9, 2008

The Bill Henson affair witnessed the transference of the conservative's concern over the sexualization of teenagers in consumer culture onto art, and this raises some interesting issues about conservative culture, teenage sexuality and human sexuality. In a paper entitled Teenage Sexuality, Body Politics and the Pedagogy of Display Henry A. Giroux says:

Representations of youth in popular culture have a long and complex history and habitually serve as signposts through which American society registers its own crisis of meaning, vision, and community. Youth as a complex, shifting, and contradictory category is rarely narrated in the dominant public sphere through the diverse voices of the young. Prohibited from speaking as moral and political agents, youth become an empty category inhabited by the desires, fantasies, and interests of the adult world. This is not to suggest that youth don't speak, they are simply restricted from speaking in those spheres where public conversation shapes social policy and refused the power to make knowledge consequential with respect to their own individual and collective needs

He adds that while pushed to the margins of political power within society, youth nonetheless become a central focus of adult fascination, desire, and authority. Increasingly denied opportunities for self-definition and political interaction, youth are transfigured by discourses and practices that subordinate and contain the language of individual freedom, social power, and critical agency.

When the models who have worked for Henson have spoken they have been ignored by conservatives, who proceed to go on about their fears and anxieties as if youth had not spoken. What the models had to say was deemed to be of no consequence and they were ignored.

Strangely those conservatives who rally around the sanctity of family values while attempting to enact anti-pornography legislation, rarely said anything about the way that advertising and fashion privilege market values over human value:--- in the sense that human needs are subordinated to the laws of the free market with its endless drive to accumulate profit.

They were also silent about the way that young models are presented in advertising to sell jeans and clothes in various stages of undress, poised to offer both sensual pleasure and the phantasy of sexual availability.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:43 PM | | Comments (16)


An interesting article in the light of the concern about protecting kids from sickos who prey on them. All the fuss is made over Henson's images:

not the profit-driven world of advertising and fashion, where the image and culture of youth are appropriated and exploited for the high pleasure they evoke . .... Advertisers inventively present the fragmented bodies of youth as the site where pleasure, desire, and commodification intersect in a commercial display...

I cannot help but feel that Henson was a scapegoat to attack progressive liberal values and art in a campaign that played on dominant fears about the loss of moral authority.

What disturbed me was the kids are not allowed to have control over their own bodies. They are rendered silent in the talk about teen sexuality.

"the loss of moral authority"

I've been thinking about that too. The Left, whatever that means, has been accused of hogging the moral high ground for so long that this doesn't fit properly. I wonder whether it's moral authority, or just plain authority?

Your point about kids having control over their own bodies has also been bothersome. I note when we say 'naked teens' we're actually talking about naked girls. Girls at a point of maturation where they don't fit neatly into either childhood or sexual maturity. This grey area in girls seems to bother people far more than the same phase in boys.

re Nan's point about the loss of moral authority. It's an important point re the family values conservatives.

There is widespread agreement amongst conservatives that, somewhere along the way, Western society has taken a wrong turn - that it has strayed from the values which once made it strong and informed it with purpose. We end up with nihilism of a secular liberal society.

'Somewhere along the way' refers to 1968 and the rise of the protest movement and the Left--bomemians Marxists feminists, postmodernists etc--and the sexual/cultural revolution. They all challenged authority that ensured order in society and they did so in the name of individual freedom as self-realization. So the story goes, at any rate.

Freedom as self-realization re sexuality undermines the traditional moral values (Judeo-Christian) and the moral authority of a hierarchical social order. The loss of moral constraint and the erosion of moral value invites the naked rule of power.

The genie of freedom as self-realization has to be put back in the bottle before it corrodes everything. We must return to family values.

Oh is all this STILL going on? Just face facts,he's a dirty old perv like Larry Clark. NTTIAWWT.

So Peter, they're essentially talking about a return to unquestioned patriarchy. That would be the same family setup that would see male family members freely fiddling with little girls safe in the knowledge that nobody is going to question them, yes? The one where little girls don't speak.

Neither does the mother speak even though she knows what's happening.

its odd how the family values conservatives are silent about the sexual abuse within the family as opposed to sex on the internet.

So then.
Who thinks lowering the age of consent is a good idea?

Sex on the internet or anywhere else for that matter. Better to pretend it doesn't exist and that babies and STDs come from under cabbages. In their families anyway. Apparently other people go at it like bonobos, shamelessly, with anyone, anywhere, any old how.

As Gary pointed out, the market value of sex gets ignored in the stampede to protect our right to buy child sexualising crap while defending our accessorised, surgically enhanced, waxed, moisturised, perfumed, pushed up and padded sexualised family members from the weirdos who find all of this innocent stuff somehow suggestive.


Oh puhleez! It is Henson and the Roslyn Oxley Luvvies who find this stuff - as you so blushingly fig-leaf it - "suggestive." Otherwise it would not be produced.

"Oooohhh, we're Luvvies from Woollahra and Point Piper, so WE can't be dirty old pervs. Ooooohhhh!"

you illustrate my point about conservatism and sexulity and the way attention is directed at Henson and not at corporate paeophilia or advertising. Henson is being used by conservatives to have a go at the art world and continue the culture wars against the inner city social liberals.

Chris Goddard, Director of Child Abuse Research Australia, says in relation to the Bill Henson controversy (Letters, Australian, 11/6), that:

the real issue is not about art versus pornography, nor is it about censorship. The central issues are the exploitation of children asnd their inability to consent. It is also our view that parents do not have the right to give consent to such activities[exploitation of children] on behalf of their 12 or 13-year-old children

That position is pretty much what Les has been arguing for.

Like him Goddard has trouble with the "exploitation" bit. All they--Goddard and the fellow signatories--- mention to show what they mean by 'exploitation' is a reference to forcing children to for 40 hours a week in mines and factories.

That doesn't help at all since no one has suggested that Henson 'forced' the models to pose for him.


How on earth do you conclude that I "illustrate your point...."? What do I have to do with "conservatives?"

I am mindful of the fact that Nature decides when a child becomes able to be a sexual thing and it is Society that decides on when the time is right.
Society makes rules for all things.
You seem to be stuck on this issue as it applies to the renowned Bill Henson.
You should think that society seeks to make rules that blanket society.
How would you feel if less renowned artists were going to aboriginal communities and asking 12 year old kids parents for permission and getting it to take pictures of them nude.

Lots of people having opinion on this issue are not thinking in terms of just Bill Henson.

"How would you feel if less renowned artists were going to aboriginal communities and asking 12 year old kids parents for permission and getting it to take pictures of them nude."

That's *exactly* what Henson does, is a post-modernist, setting, soccer Moms to be groomed. It is the same deal though, it is retro child porn for people who missed out on the Victorian perv tourism, for art, for science, he's as icky as the 19th century perverts.

"Lots of people having opinion on this issue are not thinking in terms of just Bill Henson. "

Henson may be the first artist to be sanctioned by the United Nations.

(Name me one bank which is in the market for that investment)

The other artists, some of whom were *very* rich, have in one or two cases, already been effectively criminalized,

They were tackled from stage-left, for example, Joe Bloggs, arrested, he just happens to have 'art', he is convicted.

In other cases,

I got a call about the Baltic, that Elton John thing I passed it over, why not? Something was going on there.

Henson, has been lucky, he has to be lucky always, I only have to be lucky once, with Henson.

The other thing is, and this wasn't reflected and we captilaized on it, is that Oz is a bit on the fringe, you have become regionalized, maybe you wanted to be,

The days of imperial conference mainstreaming are over, you are no longer a white dominion, you don't want to be, you are not a big Hawaii, which is 'white' in perspective.

So you are estranged from mainstream human rights debate as it is understood in London or New York City.

Also you don't care, that's obvious, you have that bit of 'Texas' attached to an arrogant mindset.

The other thing with the Baltic Gallery, to return to that, is that an education authority in the (police) force area, hadn't referred a single teacher to LIST 99 in living memory.

( LIST 99 is related to sexual offending by teachers)

Also, down the road, ( Durham) one was arguing for searches for the elements of the PIE/GLF archive to be found,

Then we had a gallery in Northumbra turning itself in, on stuff pre-cleared by the CPS, in 2001, before the SOA 2003, so the general view was to give it a miss.

"How would you feel if less renowned artists were going to aboriginal communities and asking 12 year old kids parents for permission and getting it to take pictures of them nude."

Maybe their Moms have done market research.

"AMY FEATHERSTONE: That was the look the client wanted for that particular shot."

'Little Women
Ninemsn, Australia - 22 Jun 2008
AMY FEATHERSTONE: That was the look the client wanted for that particular shot. PETER OVERTON: So how old was she meant to look? ...'

I'm not coming at this from a perspective different to Thailand, Pakistan or Burma, and I think the prob in Oz, is that you are.

The idea of losing, I can promise you this, with me sitting in Milan or Turin

"Did you know he thinks he is Caravaggio"

I'm not going to have a prob with this faux cine trash artist in some places,

I can assure you that Croggon and her cronies have over-sold his acceptance.

He's good at 'Silence of the Lambs' zombie stuff, he needs to keep it away from U18.

He really isn't a still version of Orson Welles, he is not a great, he was good, once, no more than that, but he blew it.

He's famous for something else now, that's all e is famous for.

Gregory Carlin