The new pornographer?

Silver gelatin print from the series Images of the Goddess: Demeter and Persephone by Michelle A Demers

Images of the Goddess: Demeter and Persephone IV: one of the images that caused all the brouhaha.

Recently I posted on the forum at Serif, the company whose software I used to design my website, a request for reviews. Among the responses one comment stood out: a suggestion that, as my site contains “mild nudity,” I should have posted a warning to minors (the forum allows members aged 13+) as otherwise I was in violation of forum rules.

The comment sucked me back to my early days in Alberta when I was accused of being a pornographer for displaying the same photos (of a nude mother and daughter). More disturbing still was that the charges originated not with some redneck raised beneath a trailer park porch but from an educated, middle-class suburbanite (raised beneath a nice, middle-class suburban porch). It was an irony that while the offended mother was lecturing the gallery owner about the potential trauma inflicted upon children by my imagery, her three-year-old was transfixed by one of the photographs, his face radiating joy and wonder.

But I digress.

I chose not to respond to the prude but others did, an inane discussion ensuing about whether the forum rules had in fact been violated by the link to my website (including one poster who made a “joke” about George Michael’s sexuality, which sums up nicely the intellectual level of the debate).

There then followed a lovely review of my website by a chap in the UK, who concluded with this: “When I read about the nudity on this forum I was a little worried that it was going to be grotesque or tawdry in a way that a lot of modern photographers and artists call ‘challenging’ and ‘contemporary’; however the imagery (as far as I saw) seemed to be tasteful (rather than tawdry) and was well placed in context on your site, i.e., within your portfolio.” I responded with thanks for his kind words, admitted that I had been taken aback by the initial comment about nudity, and added, “I guess it’s acceptable to display violence and misanthropy but god forbid should you stumble across a woman’s naked breast…”

Needless to say, that last comment sparked considerable response: some admonished me for providing a link to “adult content,” while others, writing in my “defence,” suggested I was merely unaware of the potential young viewers and, had I been aware, surely I would have posted a warning. Implied in this defence was not only an agreement that the nude photos on my site are adult in content but that I, too, must naturally see things this way.

Yeah, well, I don’t.

So I jumped into the fray:

Even keeping in mind viewers aged 13 to 18 years, the photos on my site are not offensive. I don’t think they’re offensive for any age group. That nude photos of a vibrant, loving mother and her infant daughter, or of a semi-nude female mythical creature, necessitate a “warning” is absurd and indicative of a puritanical culture that tolerates violent and/or sexist, misogynist imagery while shunning healthy sexuality. And you wonder why so many kids are bullied and/or pregnant at 14.

What do you people do when you visit a museum or art gallery — race ahead of your kids and cover the statues and paintings with your coat? Oh right, you don’t take your kids to museums and art galleries, you take them to see Terminator.

The outrage was swift. One poster suggested I had merely to admit my mistake and asked, “Why the crusade?”

Because, I replied, to have made any such admission

would be to suggest I agree that my site contains “adult” content, which it doesn’t, that the age of potential viewers was something that needed to be considered but was an oversight on my part, and that a warning was therefore appropriate. In other words, I would have pandered to prejudice and ignorance and, as Edmund Burke once put it, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Even in a seemingly innocuous software forum.

Moreover, I believe in prevention; that one should, for example, not wait for the lynch mob to show up before raising an objection to racism; and that it is an irony of creation that rats breed faster than swans.

I kept my silence at first because I didn’t think it worth the bother, but when suggestions were made that I simply didn’t realise the potential age of forum members and that, had I known this, I surely would have acted differently, I could no longer fail to speak: I wasn’t prepared to allow someone else’s morality to be imposed upon me, directly or otherwise.

Hence the “crusade.”

And that’s all I have to say on the matter.  For now.

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2 thoughts on “The new pornographer?”

  1. that’s quite a couple of days you’ve had! although, I object to your comment that knowledge and the display thereof is to be expected from educated, middle-class suburbanites, more so than from rednecks. there is a principle in horticulture that no plant can grow beyond the least amount of any of the basic requirements needed for it to grow. I believe the same holds true for people – education, awareness, social position, religion all contribute to one’s knowledge, but people’s comments often reflect the lowest common denominator of any of these experiences… thus the opinions you’ve received on your photographs. just my thought for the day!

  2. I see your point about the use of the term “redneck”; but while I understand its origins in farming (a sunburned neck arising from working long hours in the fields), when I think of a redneck I think along sociopolitical lines, as in the modern OED definition of “a working-class white person, especially a politically reactionary one.” Funnily enough, both the Canadian and American Oxford dictionaries further define a redneck as “a working-class white person from the southern US…” as if rednecks don’t exist outside of that jurisdiction. I would beg to differ.

    And I think it fair to expect more progressive attitudes from educated, middle-class suburbanites because they have fewer excuses for their ignorance. That’s not to say they automatically possess more sophistication, open-mindedness and tolerance, only that they should.

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