World's Francis Hooper told the Sunday Star Times that, "as a fashion designer I'm being humorous and irreverent" in creating a toddler t-shirt with the legend "Future Porn Star". No he wasn't: he was being tacky and unoriginal. And a child's body is not a billboard for adult irony.
But Hooper acknowledges that the shirt was a dud: World only ever sold three of them, which does rather raise the question of whether it deserved a front-page story under the banner 'Toddler T-shirt outrage'. The story anchored the Star-Times' feature on the rise of "raunch culture", which tended to magnify a lot of small things for dramatic effect (as grotesque an idea as the teeny pole dancing kit was, I suspect it generated more agonised opinion pieces than it actually sold units) and to rope in elements in such a way as to depict a terrible and growing momentum towards the pornification of culture.
Auckland university's Rick Starr is quoted saying that "Things that would virtually have resulted in an honour killing a decade ago, now just result in increasing people's celebrity," citing, among other things, the Pamela Anderson sex tape. Dude, that was 10 years ago.
I'm certainly not comfortable with the dry-humping that passes for many a pop video: I don't think girl children in particular should be immersed in an aggressive culture of sexual display. I'd rather that there was daylight between marketing and actual porn. But I'm not sure the whole thing answers to a classic feminist critique either. Perhaps we shouldn't be looking for political meaning in scantily-clad promo girls because perhaps there isn't much of it to speak of.
The parental advice reproduced from the website of the American Psychological Association seems sound, and the APA's new report on the sexualization of girls certainly reaches some troubling conclusions. But there are social indicators that run the other way: young women attain and achieve as they never have before; the incidence of sexual offending continues its long decline - in New Zealand, anyway.
And even porn itself - more available than ever before - doesn't all fit the tight, alarming characterisation offered in Australian writer Anne Manne's essay (NB: the version in the Star-Times is edited so as to give the impression that Manne is making the claim below herself, where in the originally published version, she is clearly quoting Rae Langton):
One of the most important elements in the debate over pornography is the possible effects of favourable depictions of rape, the endorsement of the idea that ‘no’ really means ‘yes’. Rae Langton, a philosopher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has developed a nuanced argument in a series of articles about the influence of porn on what she calls “sexual language games”. Those language games carry powerful presumptions about what women are like. They may be very difficult to contest in a highly charged sexual situation. Power is involved in determining whether our utterances are taken seriously. And porn, Langton argues, casts women in a certain light, enabling assumptions about women’s nature – that they all like rape, or forced or rough sex, or that ‘no’ means ‘yes’ – to be seamlessly embedded in interactions.
But where does that leave Suicide Girls, I Shot Myself or the portly couple who share their amateur videos with anyone who cares to look? Not all of this answers to a single, linear critique.
The SST's editorial on the matter (not online yet) is sincere, but it might have been courageous if the editor had looked a little closer to home. How many weeks a year does the front page of About Town feature post-adolescent popsies in tiny tops? How many scantily-clad promo girls get their pictures inside? Could Bridget Saunder's diary dwell any more than it already does on salacious detail and faithless sexual behaviour?
Moving on, Richard Easther kindly alerted me to Sean Carroll's blog post on Conservapedia, the new free encyclopaedia launched to provide an alternative to the "increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American" Wikipedia. Or, as Carroll puts it, "to ensure that future generations of conservatives grow up really dumb."
Richard found the entry on Albert Einstein particularly amusing, but everyone seems to have their favourites. The entry for New Zealand is somewhat reality-challenged (the history page is entertaining also). Then there's the Talk page on The Theory of Evolution. The site was created and is run by two members of the family of prominent US conservative Phyllis Schlafly, who have quite a track record on Usenet and some the articles appear to be written by Andrew Schlafly's own students. Feel free to have a poke around and tell us your favourites.
No Right Turn finds the herald on Sunday apparently having trouble with numbers on carbon emissions.
Anyway: work to do. Hopefully I'll have time to write up the weekend in Christchurch for tomorrow.