Thursday, November 5, 2009

Manit Sriwanichpoom on Child Pornography Apr.2000

Manit Sriwanichpoom, ‘Child Pornography,’ in Silpa Wattanatham column of Siam Rath Weekly News magazine, Yr. 46, Vol. 45, 9 – 15 Apr. 2000.

The cover of the magazine แม่และเด็ก [Mother and Child](Vol. 336, Feb.2000) floated up off the magazine rack and smacked me in the eye with its use of a photo of a little boy with a slightly Caucasian face, standing naked, his little body slightly off kilter. He has wings of white bird feathers on his shoulders and holds a bow and a golden arrow. The eyes of the child gaze toward the right side of the cover. There is some white writing penciled into three hearts which seem to stream from his lips. The hearts become a larger form, inside of which are the words (supposedly the child’s), ‘I will make everyone love each other.’

I don’t know why this cover made me feel so uneasy and uncomfortable. Not that I am so morally scrupulous, old-fashioned or archaic, or someone who likes to censor people for showing a child’s penis – not at all. I don’t like such people myself and I always worry that some day I might be like that.

In a world full of magazines overflowing with nudity, bare breasts and even corpses in horrifying states of decay, and books about monks and amulets, I shouldn’t be uneasy about a picture of a little kid with no clothes on, with bird’s wings, carrying a golden bow and arrow, wearing a silly ‘cupid’ costume. (Cupid is a little angel who goes around shooting love arrows into people’s chests.) It should be cute and lovable: the team on the magazine tried so hard!

When I saw it I was supposed to say cute, lovable. So why do I say it’s sad? Because it immediately made me think of children in this new age – the UHT – BTS – PCT age, including e-infinitum – e-commerce and e(cstacy). Kids are the prey, the targets, the ‘target group’ for markets, companies and industries which live by producing goods for children, even in the education business.

Kids are not just victimized by the consumerist system outside the home. Even at home, children still become the tools of parents who like to show off or boast of their success and status, class and lifestyle. Children stand in for the dreams of the parents. They represent all the lost fantasies of the parents who gave birth to them. (If you don’t believe me, look at magazines about families. Just read them and you will see the truth.)

Some folks will say I’m too pessimistic, but I think I am calling a spade a spade. Look, for example, at the advertising for the Riverine Place condominium. The ad uses pictures of white kids in diapers – a boy and a girl – sitting and pitching condos for sale to adults. Why?

Why do they have to use children? Why white children? Why undressed?
When selling to adults, why don’t the adults take off their clothes? Or is it because they don’t strike the audience as being ‘cute’ or ‘touching’? To sell to adults, must they seduce with the ‘innocence’ of children? (Make some clients dream that if they stay in this condo, they might have cute children like this pair of white toddlers.)

The strange thing is that no one considers picture like the one on the cover of Mother and Child magazine, or like the Riverine Place advertisement as ‘child porn’. No one protests and accuses them of being unsuitable. I pose this because I am wondering what ‘pornography’ is, and what is ‘child pornography’? It’s a headache, I tell you, if we try to uncover the answer and find the defining boundaries.

I tried to define it at one level. (It was not in a textbook.) “Child pornography,’ in my view, should mean more than just measuring what the eye sees. It is not just seeing children’s genitals and calling that pornographic, shameful and disgraceful – this is too narrow. I think you have to look at the intention: is it an attempt to take advantage of the child sexually, for business, politics or society, etc.?

And the process should be considered as well – were force, threats or trickery used to deceive the child into doing things he or she wouldn’t want, either by parents, guardians or anyone else?
For example, undressing a child and putting him naked on the cover of a magazine. The child doesn’t like it, even if the adults do. Look at the child in this picture: he looks sad. His teary eyes reflect in the flash. It means there were tears during the photo session.

Sometimes they take children to compete in fashion shows at shopping malls for prize money and to satisfy the parents’ vanity.

The latest was an event sponsored by Toyota, the GOA Baby Contest. Male and female models competed, a search for children not yet three years old to use in Toyota advertising. The prize was one million baht per winner. What happened was that parents came in hoards bringing their children and creating a massive traffic jam on Rama III Road stretching as far as Sirikit Center. Why isn’t this pornographic?

Why do parents have such rights, just because the person involved is their child. The child is defenseless. Even if a child refuses by crying , the adults don’t listen because the parents or guardians have already made the decision.

At one level it is true that children aren’t of an age or experience to make their own decisions. That is why adults have the duty to protect minors from exploitation of every kind. But sometimes the parents themselves exploit children by taking them to compete, they say they are promoting and developing their kids. Things like this should be carefully reconsidered. It is typical of people to try to gain advantage from children: they cite all kinds of things – gaining money for school, for example – to legitimize what they do.

Exploiting the weak, especially children, is all too common. Everybody does it. They even make an industry of it. I think that is why no one protests the use of children in advertising or competitions involving children which are generally pornographic.

The Bangkok Post newspaper on Sunday, 12 March (2000) had some very interesting news about some pornographic photos of a child. The story happened in the US, in the state of Ohio. A woman took pictures of her own daughter every day for about 4 years until she was about 8 years old. About 40,000 of these pictures accumulated in the house.

Things finally came to a head when she sent a set of pictures to be developed which included a picture of her daughter bathing in a tub and spraying water on her vagina as she was washing herself. The young person who worked in the photo lab called the police who came and arrested the woman for taking pornographic pictures of her daughter.

American society comes down hard on such cases. The woman, age 47, was immediately put on leave from her job as a school bus driver of young children until the case could be adjudicated. At the same time, the American Civil Liberties Union, a privately funded organization, began seeking funding to help the woman fight the case. If found guilty, she faces up to 16 years in prison.

Buffered societies get weird like this. What the woman did – taking pictures of her daughter for herself in the context of the family – that’s very common. But this lady liked to snap photos from every possible angle, even when her daughter was cleaning her own vagina. Why don’t we regard this as a normal activity? Why label it as pornography?

I put forward this example from the US to show that we generally make decisions based on very superficial reasons. And we look at the matter of child porn in a very narrow view, thinking only of sex.

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