Tag Archives: Nina Funnell

Bill Henson revisited

11 Apr

I’m putting this upfront again because a new discussion has opened up as a result of my piece in the Drum yesterday on Robert Crumb and Hetty Johnson.

Bill Henson by publik 16 via flickr

Bill Henson has a new photographic exhibition at the Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne.

The usual suspects, who art critic John McDonald calls the “despisers of the body” (Spectrum, April 9-10, 2011) have taken up cudgels against Henson’s images.

Interestingly, two prominent objectors, journalist and media researcher Nina Funnell, and Christian conservative Melinda Tankard Reist, both admit they haven’t seen the exhibition, however Reist says she has seen previous works and she knows what Henson is up to.

I haven’t seen this exhibition either, so am in no position to comment. What I do object to, however, is the conservative attitude that any depiction of adolescent nudity is pornographic, and the implication that everyone who views the images of adolescents is doing so from the perspective of a paedophile. That is, the danger they perceive is that all viewers will be sexually aroused in an inappropriate manner, and will want to sexually engage with the young people depicted in the photographs.

Therefore, the photographs  are “a catalyst for forbidden desires” to quote McDonald again, and  as such, should be censored.

Objectors such as Funnell and Reist have as their basic assumption that the young person’s body can only ever be viewed as a sexual object when portrayed in Henson’s photographs, even when they haven’t actually seen them.  They do not allow for any other understanding or interpretation, such as those Henson himself has advanced that are to do with his interest in capturing the liminality of adolescence, and revealing the young person on the threshold of immense change, in the throes of  all the uncertainties and ambiguities that accompany this state.

In the world view of the protestors, there is no room for any interpretation other than the sexual, and they urge all of us to view the images through the eyes and with the imagined desires of the paedophile.

There is something very alarming about their perspective, and something even more alarming about their urgent need to thrust that perspective on everyone else. Funnell tells us breathlessly that Henson’s images are known to be collected by paedophiles. Well, so are Target catalogues picturing little kids in their undies. Does this mean we must order and censor the world around us according to the base desires of the perverted? Does this mean that anything likely to appeal to the paedophile’s gaze must be obliterated from our cultural landscape?

Or are they arguing that any gaze directed towards photographs such as Henson’s is inherently paedophiliac, simply because the owner of the gaze directed it there in the first place?

This attitude turns everyone who visits the exhibition into a vicarious paedophile. It defines all visitors as abusers. It suggests that all those who view the images are compelled to adopt the perverted gaze to the exclusion of any possible other.

And this is what makes people like Funnell and Reist dangerous. They see a world comprised of sexual predation and abuse, and are unable to allow the legitimacy of any other vision. For this reason alone, they should not be trusted in the matter of Henson’s work, anymore than one would trust a paedophile’s limited and distorted perspective.

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Do as we say, not as we do: the moral code of the censors

27 Feb

Talk about hypocrisy!

In the above link to a post titled ‘Surrounded by a culture in which girls are all body and only body’ Melinda Tankard Reist objects to Lea Michele, star of hit television show Glee, appearing on the cover of Cosmo showing cleavage. Michele is in her twenties, BTW, and the dress is unremarkable.

Such appearances, claims MTR, teach girls that the only thing that matters is what they look like, and that it’s of prime importance that they look “sexy.” Who they are and what they do is subjugated to the imperative to cultivate and flaunt their sexual power.

All well and good.

So how  does MTR feel about her fellow campaigner, (who also trains those recalcitrant footballers in how to respect women)and frequent contributor to her website Nina Funnell, appearing in Cosmo October 2010, wearing a sexy mask, and stilletos  with slave girl ankle bands? (About as “offensive” as the cleavage shot.)

The occasion was a competition to find the year’s most influential woman. But before Cosmo selected contestants for their career and personal achievements, they first had to pass the Cosmo “look” test.

Every woman in the competition is styled within an inch of her life. There are no mature aged women. Odd, if we’re looking for influential role models. They are all slim, have good hair, teeth, and legs, and some of them show a great deal of thigh. As much if not more than we see of Lea Michele’s breasts.

by Clee Villasor via flickr

The women’s faces are partially covered in glamorous masks, I really don’t know why. The glamourous mask usually implies the possibility of anonymous sexual encounter. So what does that sexual implication have to do with being influential, and a mentor to young women?

‘Surrounded by a culture in which girls are all body and only body’, you might say, seeing as how they look is the most important consideration in this competition, and if they don’t have the look, they don’t get to enter, no matter how much they’ve achieved in their lives.

Not a peep from the Tank about this travesty. Maybe because her fellow campaigner is one of the stars?

Bottom line, the Cosmo competition is way more destructive than the Michele cleavage shot. The competition pretends to be about a woman’s achievements. But it’s really only about the achievements of a handful of women who have the right look. If you don’t have the look, forget it. No matter what you achieve you’ll never be a Cosmo influential woman of the year.

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