Monday, October 6, 2008

On the Henson controversy

So Mr. Bill Henson is in the news again, with a book on the controversy surrounding his ‘artworks’ in May to be published today. Extracts from the book (written by homosexual activist Mr. David Marr) appeared in The Sydney Morning Herod’s Good Weekend magazine on Saturday. Now no-one can suggest that Mr. Henson intended to produce child pornography i.e. that he intended to produce photographs for titillation, but child pornography was what he produced nonetheless, and so these creepy pictures should be consigned to the Bonfire of the Vanities.

But the bigger issue here is not the ‘pornography vs. art’ debate that dominated the mainstream media, but whether it is moral to make children pose naked for photographs, regardless of the end for which the photographs were intended. It is perhaps an indictment of how deeply utilitarianism pervades mainstream discourse that no commentators that I am aware of picked up on this. The only person I know of to have noted this in the media was a letter writer to the Herod; her Christian name was Lucy, though I cannot recall the surname. She pointed out that it was not primarily a question of whether the photographs should have been displayed, but whether they should have been taken in the first place. That is: suppose that Mr. Henson’s photographs were art, even great art; does this justify the means to this end? Of course it doesn’t.

Mr. Marr alludes to this, presumably unwittingly, when he writes that

Kids may be resilient and able to pick a phoney at 40 paces, but can they assess the impact of being his model? Won’t their naked images haunt them all their lives? Henson offers no clear-cut answer to this. He doesn’t claim that growing into adults will give these kids the complete disguise of age. He acknowledges they may be recognised, but argues that the “strangeness” and strong abstraction of his work makes it unlikely.
So Mr. Henson has no ‘clear-cut answer’, even with hindsight, but he did it anyway?! What moral bankruptcy. I suppose this is what to expect from those who fancy themselves as having ‘outgrown bourgeois morality’ or whatever pompous slogans they affect. As far as I can tell the only situation in which nude child photos might (and I stress might) be justified is when it involves capturing events as they unfold. The only three examples that I can imagine satisfying this criterion would be family ‘happy-snaps’, photography during a medical examination or surgery, or journalistic photography e.g. the famous photo of a young Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack. But even in these cases I am open to being persuaded that it is still unjustified.

Episodes like this, as well as the utter rubbish that one sees every week in the broadsheets’ art pages, make me wonder whether it is time to reclaim a term from the Nazis. That term is ‘degenerate art’. But I suspect that that has about as much of a prospect for success as reclaiming ‘gay’ from the sodomites.

Reginaldvs Cantvar


Anonymous said...

Does Mr H. or those like him ever stop to think that someone else could claim to have "outgrown bourgeois morality" and use that as an excuse to, say, in an extreme case, to cut of his/their heads, for no better reason than that such a course of action appealed to the killer's judgement at the time?

Or does this dispensation from "bourgeois morality" not apply to those who would use that dispensation to the disadvantage of H. & Co.?

+ Thomas Wolsey

Archieps. Eborac.

Cardinalis Presbyter Sae Caeciliae trans Tiberim

Legatus a latere

Cardinal Pole said...

Mr. Henson and those of his ilk are Nietzschean Supermen (oops, sexist, that should be Superpersons) who enjoy complete immunity from 'bourgeois morality'. But us poor proletarians are still bound by it.