What an amazing, provocative picture on your May 22 cover. I'm reluctant to write about it, but the illustration of the seductive woman-child-infant is only justified by an article that gives it meaning, yet there was none.
It wasn't exactly child porn, yet it is a stark illustration of our cultural contradictions. We do allow such images if they are technically defensible, as this one of a toddler in silk panties with a very adult visage could be. Yet there are those who would say that my seeing it as such is a character flaw, or perhaps one of the personality disorders that was considered for the new DSM-5, "hebephilia." The cover comes teasingly, frighteningly close to being construed in a way that its mere possession could result in a long prison term and permanent stigmatization as a sexual offender.
It could be an illustration of someone like the 8-year-old realty TV star Honey Boo Boo, who covered her mouth when she laughingly told the camera that she had to look "sexy." She and other child beauty contestants must be perfect Lolitas to gain fame and fortune—but she could never say this. The cover illustration could have been the lead in for a meaningful, challenging discussion of how those who pride themselves as being enlightened have segmented their condemnation of sexuality in a bizarre way. Getting off with those of the same sex or by looking at pictures of naked children were of the same class in law and psychiatry only a brief half-century ago. Now, the former of these is seen as slightly more enlightened than heterosexuality, while the other is condemned with a hatred that defies reason.
The sexual urge is not only physical, but part of our very being. It is so powerful that we need cultural constraints, taboos that delimit its expression. We may understand this at some level but don't have a handle on it in our conceit that we are too rational to need such hocus pocus. The picture on the cover, with a single different stroke of the artist's brush, could have been toxic, not only for the publication but anyone who had one in his possession. This insanity is reflected in last year's Proposition 35, which was described with these words by the attorney general in a booklet that went out to 10 million voters: "This proposal will extend sexual offender status to someone who makes a copy of an obscene picture of a child, even if he had no contact with the subject." Those who read it had no concern for the severity of the punishment for such a trivial act, as somehow reason has been replaced by something different in issues of sexual activity.
Perhaps that's what the little girl looking out from last week's cover was trying to tell us. While she may be protected from sexual predators, she will be entering a world where she can no longer trust anyone. In our quest for pluralistic equality, we have created other castes, those whom we can despise and punish for actions not even taken. And just as that little girl on the cover had no words, neither do we.
Al Rodbell, Encinitas
Editor's note: We received several emails from readers who considered this cover at least mildly pornographic. The painting of the little girl on our May 22 cover was created by Nicole Waszak. The subject is her daughter. That was explained in a story in our "Seen Local" column. In fairness, we understand that the story behind the art can be hard to find. There was no reference to it on the cover because we like to keep the art that we showcase free of added text. When we feature a local artist on the cover, we indicate on our "Editorial" page where the story about the artist can be found.
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