27 October 2008

The Dignity of the Person

An Australian "artist" presented a display of his photographs in New York City after having ignited a furor over his work published in an Australian magazine. Why the controversy? His exhibition contains nude photographs of underage young girls. Some people have claimed that the images are pornography, he and the magazine claim they are art, and that the girl's parents gave consent for the photographs to be taken. For detailed facts, read this.

The debate over pornography vs. art is a long one, and gets even more heated when you are talking about images of children- do they constitute child pornography? If they do, then the images are criminal and an offence in the Criminal Code. The Supreme Court, in R. v. Sharpe [2001] 1 SCR 45, held that freedom of expression in s 2(b) of the Charter does not extend to cover child pornography. As a society, we have decided that child pornography is wrong, but in the wake of changes to the social mores of the Western world, I wonder how long that will last.

I believe that our society is increasingly sexualizing children, especially girls at a young age. It's an interesting shift from how things "used to be." Our modern, progressive society is horrified that we used to treat children as miniature adults. During the industrial revolution (and before) they held jobs at an early age, and helped to provide for their families. We've now passed child labor laws to prevent that, so we can let kids just be kids. Or have we just exchanged one type of miniature adults for another one?

An example of this can be seen in girl's fashions. We put little girls in clothes that emphasize their sexuality; their clothes reveal "assets" that haven't even developed yet, and we market make-up and beauty tools to increasingly younger and younger children. We ask the girls to dress older, look old, to embrace their sexuality, and then we toss up our hands and wonder why my generation and the younger generation have so many issues. Why do we feel the need to take the innocence of our children so early? Why do we want to erase and destroy that spirit and turn it into an adult with adult issues and problems? Why has our society launched an all out war on the dignity of the human person?

I think this really began in the 1960's. During the sexual revolution, everyone was encouraged to do whatever felt right. Women were to shake off the oppression of men and indulge in sex on their own terms. This was supposed to be empowering. Here we are 40 years later, and that long dark road has all but erased the dignity of the human person, and as the debate around child pornography continues, we are erasing that dignity at an earlier age. This is not empowerment, it is objectification. Popular music all but screams this objectification, calling women ho's and bitches to be slapped around. Any man who opens a door or acts with any chivalry is mercilessly mocked, or is accused of chauvinism.

Sex has been trivialized, mocked and abused, much like the dignity of the men and women who engage in it so freely. Its beauty has been denied in popular culture, and this has cheapened and degraded everyone. If, as a society, we recognized and appreciated the dignity of every person, inherent in them because we are created in God's image and likeness, how many of society's ills would fix themselves? How many marriages would last and how many children would be allowed to keep their innocence and not grow up faster than they should? How many children would be allowed to live? How many vulnerable people would be allowed, not only to live, but to share their special gifts and graces with us all?

This may all sound pie in the sky, and it maybe is, but I just want everyone to stop and think when they read the news, watch TV or read a magazine. Is Mr. Henson's photography child porn or art? The court seems to think it's art, but maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't be allow the court to make our decisions for us; we should stop to think for ourselves; is what we are reading or watching demonstrating the dignity of every human, or is it destroying it?

If you want to see what started this rather random, incoherent rant, read this.

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