It makes me feel creepy even to post this photo, and I may rethink the decision, but for now, I just have to put it up to illustrate my comment. I was flipping through a recent issue of Flaunt magazine at a friend's house today when I came across this editorial photo promoting Chaser clothing for kids. Pay special attention to the girl on the left. With her miniskirt and open-mouthed pose (not to mention the Desperately Seeking Susan Madonna-esque ripped fishnets on the girl on the right and her additional open-mouthed fellatio-inviting expression), the sexualization of the girls in this photo really crosses the line. I just got around to reading Mark Greif's "Afternoon of the Sex Children" (from Best American Essays 2007), in which Greif argues that because of the rampant sexualization of children in our culture, we as a society bear some of the responsibility for the pedophilia that takes place within it, and from which I'm going to quote at length here:
Since the two zones - maximum value of sex [youth, virginity] and maximum evil for sex [pedophilia] - are right next to each other, shouldn't we wonder whether there's some structural relation in society between our supergood and absolute evil?... By otherwise accepting the sexual value of youthfulness... morality would have to narrow itself vengefully upon the single point of visible contradiction and overpunish whoever pursues too much youth, or does so too literally...
One fears our cultural preoccupation with pedophilia is not really about valuing childhood but about overvaluing child sex. It would be as if the culture understood it must be so ruthless to stop tampering with real children just because it is working so hard to keep afloat the extreme commercial valuation of youth and its concrete manifestations in the slightly older sex child. Does the culture react so vehemently at just this point because were the screen of morality to collapse, the real situation would have to be confessed - the child's extreme uninterest in adults; the child's sexual "liberation" as a subeffect of our own false liberation; the brutalization of life at all levels by sexual incitement?
It seems likely that an incessant overvaluing of the sex of the young will train some people toward wrong objects. This should swell the numbers of incipient or intermittent wrongdoers who might no longer see a bright line between right and wrong--because social discourse has made that beam wobble, then scintillate, attract and confuse... Thus we may produce the obsession we claim to resent; the new pedophile would become a product of our system of values" (105, 118-119).
The photographer's name is Roger Erickson. If you find this photo as disturbing as I do, contact the editors at Flaunt magazine at 323-836-1000 or through its Myspace page (no direct email contact listed on its website) and tell them so. Flaunt says that it has "made it a point to consistently break new ground, earning itself a reputation as an engine of the avant-garde and an outlet for outsider culture," but calling something "avant-garde" doesn't make it any less exploitative.