Saturday, January 20, 2007

Dakota Fanning & Child Porn

The New York Times dismisses worries about Hounddog as so much prudery: "When “Hounddog” was still shooting last summer near Wilmington, N.C., rumors about the rape scene kicked up a storm on the socially conservative end of the Web spectrum." Yes, since only conservatives would worry about an underaged girl being exploited, right? I'm sorry but even progressive parents I know would be concerned about this.

Is this child porn?

Dakota Fanning will turn 13 next month, and she has a short answer for anyone who questions her decision to play a 1950s girl who gyrates in her underwear, wakes up as her naked father climbs into her bed, demands that a prepubescent boy expose himself to her in exchange for a kiss and, finally, is raped by a teenager who lures her with tickets to an Elvis concert:
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Fred Norris

Dakota Fanning in “Hounddog,” which has stirred controversy.

She’s growing up. Get used to it.


Ann Althouse notes this about the movie Hound Dog:
Speaking of which... Dakota Fanning is 13 years old. The law is there to protect her, not to support her free choice. I think it's exploitative even to use her to voice these arguments.
Amen. Issues like these prompt the average person to ask, "Where is the line and do you have one?"

There will be people who argue for "artistic integrity" that's protect by the First Amendment. So, artistic integrity trumps all? Even a child's development?

There will be people who argue that it's "acting" it's not real. In answer to that, I'll defer to actual actors, one a gay man, who found himself more than aroused during a sex scene--with a woman:

"I say, stop. Look at me." I looked at her. "Now. Talk to me." "Talk to you?" I asked, incredulous. "Communicate," she said. "What? While we're - ". "And now… go in and out real slow." "Oh my God, now I know why I'm gay."

"Okay, let's shoot this please," shouted the director. Our faces were very close, ready to embrace. Our eyes sparkled with manufactured love.

"I can turn a gay man straight in five minutes!" "Two bells!" shouted an assistant. Our lips were nearly touching. Our groins locked.

"How long does it take you to turn a straight man gay?" I whispered. "Silence on the set," shouted another assistant.

"About ten seconds in some cases," murmured Sharon. "And . . . action!" said the director. And in and out we went. Real slow.

I'm sorry for including such a graphic exchange (and if you go to the link you'll read about tight crotch camera shots, too), but it's illustrative of the energy on the set during these scenes. Rupert Everett and Sharon Stone are consenting adults. They are not children. I don't think either of them had any delusions about the topic of their particular scene.

So, a child's (presumably) first experience with sex would be to simulate masturbation, simulate rape and simulate sleeping (or presumably) being molested by a fictional father figure. And this is okay?

The Hounddog movie isn't the first time this topic came up recently. It surfaced when the photographer Jill Greenburg made babies cry for her pictures. On this disturbing topic, Jim Lewis writes of the inherent exploitation of a photographer and his subject (any subject, any age):
Indeed, if she were doing it just for the hell of it, we would consider her cruel and culpable; but the fact that she made them cry so that she could take their pictures somehow makes it worse.

The point becomes clearer, or at any rate starker, by comparison with pornography. In most states, the age of consent is 16 or 17, but federal law stipulates that you can only be photographed having sex if you're 18 or older. Two 17-year-olds can copulate to their hearts' content, and their friends can watch: However creepy it may be, no laws would be broken. But they can't be photographed in the act, nor can anyone, of any age, so much as look at such a photo. The picture has a legal status quite different from the thing it pictures.

This is as it should be, for many reasons; but one of them is simply that photography is, in its essence, a form of predation, and its being so transforms the meaning of the scenes it shows. The power of the photographer over his or her subject is immense, and not just because one can manipulate the other, or even because one acquires and owns an image of the other. A photograph is, as the vernacular has it, something you "take," but the taking isn't simply material: It's metaphysical, and it's moral (I would say it's spiritual, if the word didn't seem vapid).

Exploitation lies at the root of every interaction between a photographer and a human subject, and every photographer worth a damn knows this. It is unavoidable, it is intrinsic to the very act taking pictures, and the most sophisticated photographers work their understanding of it into their practice, in various subtle ways. I've watched dozens of them at work, and each has a different method: Some bond with their subjects, some boss them around, some flirt and seduce, some ignore, some distract, and some just watch. But with the best of them you can see something in their eyes, and in their work, that proves their trustworthiness and creates a kind of complicity. Jill Greenberg is decidedly not one of the best, but her clumsiness inadvertently reveals a fundamental truth: Taking a picture is a deep and ethically complex thing to do, and everyone who engages in it is compromised, right from the start.

I would say that this complex human interaction is even more-so for cinematography. That is why watching a wife or husband or child being interviewed after the death of a loved one feels so dirty. It's a violation. It's exploitive.

It fascinated me to read of the moral outrage* about the hanging of the mass murdering tyrant Saddam Hussein. This death gives closure to millions of people. And yet I'll bet some of the people offended by his "exploited" image will have no problem with a twelve year old child on the receiving end of a naked penis rubbed on her body for art.

It is also fascinating to me to read of this being a "conservative" issue. Exploitation and the laws that condemn it, are an issue for citizens of all stripes. The laws are there for a reason.

I wonder, do Dakota Fanning's parents think about predators watching the movie? Jodie Foster's stalker comes to mind. It couldn't possibly have been because she played a young, teen prostitute. And then there is Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby and just the images are pretty disturbing, never mind her Jordache ad where "Nothing Comes Between Me and My Jordache". I wonder how she would feel about her child doing some of the work her mother made her submit to. I couldn't find any interviews on this topic, if you find one let me know. I know that she has had a strained relationship with her mom and worked through many mothering issues post-partum, thus the depression. There is no question, when looking at the pictures that they're exploitive and could easily be described as child pornography.

As society coarsens and gets more Romanesque, children become more adult and adults become more childlike. Women shave their pubic region and get plastic surgery to look fifteen (have you looked at Nicole Kidman's face recently?). Girls dress in clothes that are provocative. Indeed, it's difficult to find pants for my daughter that aren't "low riders" and shorts for her that aren't too short. With this blurring, the lines on sexuality get blurred, too. Children are displayed as sex objects and then the adults minding them (parents, photographers, agents, producers) proclaim innocence when people are outraged that they are displayed as sex objects.

Parents concerned about this exploitation, because they are concerned for all children (do we need reminding about the sickos that the American society produces?) being protected are portrayed as prudes. I can live with that portrayal.

I wonder how Dakota Fanning will feel as an adult when she has children. Will she view the adults in her life as enlightened or exploitive?

5 comments:

Antoinette said...

Excuse me for being blunt but pedophiles are going to watch this movie and they are going to be aroused by it. What kind of a parent lets their child turn on child molestors? What kind of a soiciety is entertained by that which stimulates child molestors? And who in their right mind believs you can entice pedophiles to such a degree and not have them act on it. This film is going to get real children, really raped. Maybe the Muslims are right about us, maybe we have so lost any real value we deserve destruction. Forgive me but this disgusts me.

Dr. Melissa said...

Antoinette,

Yes they are. I really don't know how rational people can defend this.

Anonymous said...

It gets worse. As a child sexualized early (by my mother's love affairs and my brother's attempt to molest me) I know in my heart I would have LOVED this. By 13 I was a frustrated Lolita looking for my Humbert Humbert.
Besides the fact that children do, yes, enjoy sexual pleasure, it is an easy shortcut through the pains of growing up and really accomplishins something to GAIN the attention we CRAVE.

Anonymous said...

You know, I think I am rather bothered by parents who allow their pre-pubescent daughters wear shorts with the word "juicy" or anything else for that matter, across their butt. Are we supposed to be looking? Good Lord, no, so what are these people thinking? Apparently not enough parents care to let children have a childhood.

Anonymous said...

If you think this movie is graphic, try watching "The Boys of St. Vincent" when the priest molests a young boy, or "Maladolescenza" where a 17 year old boy performs (rather graphic) oral sex on a 12 year old girl. Both of these movies were considered mainstream when they were released, and both contain child nudity - which "Hounddog" does not. Dakota Fanning in her underwear is hardly a turn-on for me, though I am sure that there are several people who clambor for more. David Morse (who plays Dakota's father in the movie) apparently climbs into bed naked with Dakota's character (as she is waking up), but more is implied than actually seen... thankfully.