Navigating the Notorious Grey Area

It does not seem like six weeks ago, when I was nervously beginning the subject of BCM110. In that relatively short amount of time, I have not only learned a tremendous amount, but also been challenged on occasion, by the differing perspectives offered by my peers and teachers.

Interestingly, the week that I found personally the most perplexing has been the present, where we were asked to relate the media theory that we have learned to a set of media issues.

One example that we were asked to engage with was the controversy that surrounded Bill Henson, and those now infamous portraits. Now, let me preface by saying that I have always regarded myself as being relatively open minded in regards to sex, and I am not easily offended. However, where that open-mindedness seems to close up is in regards to children, who I believe have been exploited, particularly sexually.

 The lecture seemed to assert that we often view provocative images of children in the context of being told by the media that they are ‘erotic’, and thus, inappropriate. Within the medium of the lecture and tutorials, we as students, were able to discuss the issue within a mediated public sphere. An argument that appeared to be put forth was that the reason we feel uncomfortable with such images is due to the preconceived ideas we have when viewing them, and that the media is responsible for a moral panic. I respectfully disagree.

An argument that was put forth by one of my fellow peers was that Bill Henson’s photographs are okay so long as he got the consent of the subject and their guardians. There are two issues that I have which arise from this argument. The first being whether it should be up to a child’s parent to consent to something so controversial on their behalf, which they may later come to resent, and secondly, do the children themselves have the capacity to consent?

Certainly the law regards children, as having doli incapax, an inability to commit a crime as they do not have the capacity to form the necessary intent. Thus, should they be able to consent to something like this? I would say no. It was stated in the lecture that an individual might be found to be in possession of child pornography if they have any ‘naked’ images of people under the age of 18, even if taken with consent. Consider this, if a young man aged 17 or 18 were found to have Henson’s photographs of his 15 year old girlfriend he could be liable. Should a middle-aged man, who produced them for the view of the general public, not be held to the same account?

How do you rate Bill Henson’s latest photographs?

Beautiful 31%

Not to my taste but I recognise the artistic merit 26%

Not to my taste and unsure of artistic merit 14%

I find the subject matter disturbing 7%

Disturbing and it shouldn’t be classified as art 22%

Total votes: 3759.

I found it interesting that my post ‘The Women in the Child’ appears to be so relevant to this week’s material.  Henson’s pictures are very grainy and voyeuristic, if we go back to the topic of semiotics, and dissect what these images connote, I would suggest that they do have a paedophilic feel about them. It is not necessarily because they are naked, it is the way those naked bodies are depicted through their adult and provocative poses.


Julian Burnside QC, tried to imply that by taking issue with the photographs, one was merely encouraging censorship. HUH? WAIT, WHAT? That makes absolutely no sense…


Of course I understand that children and adolescents have a sexuality, but personally I believe this needs to be monitored and cared for by the adults they trust. I actually think the media has done a wonderful job of providing a space for issues such as this to be discussed and debated, and even provide a platform for children to weigh in on such issues.


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