Joanne Faulkner

The innocence FeTish: The commodiFicATion And sexuAlisATion oF children in The mediA And populAr culTure
Over the past century, a great deal of cultural energy has been invested in the ideal of childhood innocence, to the extent that innocence is frequently cited as our society’s most valuable asset. More recently, however, the dominant sentiment — frequently represented in news and current affairs media — has been that childhood innocence is imperilled, and that the ‘less responsible’ aspects of our popular media are putting it at risk. This article argues that the reasoning that engenders innocence with cultural value invites, and even demands, its violation. Specifically, the very same influences through which the child has come to be valorised also lead to the desire for and consumption of innocence. Innocence has become a ‘fetish’, positioned as a lost freedom and plenitude inciting desire. This article draws upon psychoanalytic theory to place into its correct context the anxiety about childhood innocence. It argues that these ‘responsible’ lamentations about the sexualisation of children and the loss of childhood innocence contribute to (rather than avert) a fetishisation of innocence that both prepares the ground for childhood to become the ultimate commodity, and ignores the concrete circumstances, desires and capacities of children.

This century has witnessed the intensification of a trend that situates children as innocent victims of a pernicious adult desire. While various demons of social change have threatened childhood — factory work, automobiles and divorce, to name a few — as James Kincaid (1998) has shown, today the greatest risk to children is apparently posed by the monstrous face of the pedophile, buoyed by a popular media that both represents and incarnates this desire to violate children. The threat that generates this concern is the sexualisation of children, where ‘sexualisation’ is understood to encompass not simply children’s self-concept and range of comportments and behaviours but, more precisely, how adults view children. The depiction in magazines and on television of children adopting apparently ‘coquettish’ postures, the wearing of make-up or adult-looking clothes, and the products marketed to children are all identified as signs of the decline of childhood innocence per se, as children increasingly are captured by popular culture as objects of desire and as consumers. This anxiety was plainly articulated in the recent Senate inquiry into the ‘sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment’ (2008), which
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but also to a particular understanding of childhood: as a mode of existence that is separate. and so denying them participation in the discourses through which we understand sexuality and other ‘adult themes. learn and grow. authored by Emma Rush and Andrea La Nauze: Corporate Paedophilia (2006a) and Letting Children Be Children (2006b). The suggested danger is that sexual or proto-sexual imagery and signification viewed by children can lead to their ‘premature sexualisation’. sexuality is the paradigmatic feature of adult life that must be kept rigorously distinct from the lives of children. is the role played in the sexualisation of children by the very ideal of childhood that Rush and La Nauze step up to defend: a positioning of children as innocent. This is more paradoxically stated by the authors themselves: ‘children are dressed in clothing and posed in ways designed to draw attention to adult sexual features that the children do not yet possess’ (Rush and La Nauze. as different in kind from adults. meaning and value through which humans live. As I will argue in this article. Rush and La Nauze’s claim is that the media present us with a chimera of childhood sexuality. To give them due credit. 2006a: vii). It leads. in other words. What remains unacknowledged in these reports. centuries of art and literature about children — laying the groundwork for the fantasy of innocent childhood — had already created an environment in which children were more liable to be exploited. and thus expose them to exploitation. The fear is that this ‘drawing of attention’ to the (non-existent) sexuality of the child performatively constitutes the child as sexual. to the abrogation of children’s inner nature — to be a child — and to the dangerous passage from childish nature to a way of being that the child is incapable of fully comprehending. Second. If a magazine or advertisement produces an image of a young girl that conforms to conventions usually associated with sexual womanhood. by separating children from the adult sphere of life. from the concerns of adulthood. the papers are framed in terms of the harms the media pose not only to children. however. Rush and La Nauze understood these papers to be urgently needed interventions in a commercialised culture that displays a callous disregard for the specific needs of children. and must maintain its separation. she is positioned as potentially sexually receptive. and therefore the possibilities available to them. then the acceptance of this image alters social interpretations of what it means to be a child. and as somehow apart from the everyday economy of labour. through these discourses children have become a ‘fetish’ whose heightened value also renders them desirable in a multitude of ways that we cannot always control. Rush and La Nauze pinpoint a problem here that requires further investigation: that the adult’s gaze organises for the child their social reality. Indeed. In keeping with this view of childhood. 135 — May 2010 107 . and to a knowledge that is not proper to childhood. Whether or not the girl in the picture experiences pangs of desire for her hypothetical turn was prompted by two position papers by the Australia Institute. but an illusion that at the point of representation has the capacity to alter reality — to render children sexual in the eyes of adults. First.’ we render them No. And this may be cause for concern if assumptions are then drawn about children’s interest in sexual experience with adults.

I have no wish to suggest that advertisers do not sometimes exploit the sexual resources childhood offers. overwhelmingly images of children are read against an unexamined understanding of how childhood ought to be represented — the expectation being that children should be free of desire (e. and the role these anxieties about the sexualisation of children play in controlling that most valuable of resources — and dare I say commodities — childhood innocence. not only as naïve consumers of the products corporations peddle. sexualisation is only one aspect of a more pervasive attitude towards children. Rush and La Nauze protest too much regarding their own part in the sexualisation of children. In order to address this modified focus. or that we should be complacent about the commercialisation of childhood. What they anamorphically reveal. Rush and La Nauze unintentionally reproduce a construction of girls and women that positions them as (‘innocent’) asexual beings. 1998: 193–225). their own disavowed desire. which eclipses the dividend that the whole community — and not only the pedophile or advertiser — receives from the fetishisation of innocence. consuming subjects. however. is the relation between an idealised vision of innocence attributed to children and the hidden means by which children have become the forbidden (and thus most prized) fruit of adult sexuality. 2006a: 5–6). however. albeit an emotionally charged aspect.even more vulnerable to the desires of others. Corporate Paedophilia is concerned with commercial exploitation of and predation upon children. It is worth considering. then. The ‘interest’ in innocence As the report’s title suggests. in the object world.g. Rather. albeit in the service of a different pleasure. the fantasy of childhood underpinning the Australia Institute’s call for greater vigilance against the popular media is the flipside of the pedophilic fantasy: both fetishise innocence. but also as tantalising lures used to promote consumption by others. but as Lumby and Albury (2008) demonstrate. what requires scrutiny is the public’s investment in the image of childhood: the function it performs for the construction of adult identity and sexuality. Rush and La Nauze. In essence. rather than existing in opposition to it. stripping them of any defences upon which the more experienced (and thus less ‘innocent’) child might draw. I wish to shift the focus of debate away from speculation about the harms posed to children by popular media and advertising. The unspoken Media International Australia 108 . just as the ideal of the ‘innocent child’ is the mirror image of the sexualised child that apparently threatens it. I will draw upon psychoanalytic theory. and thus as the cause of men’s (uncontrollable) sexuality. as sexually corruptible. In this article. In expressing the concerns of many adult. As a point of clarification. As Egan and Hawkes argue (2008). that this phenomenon is continuous with a culture of over-protectiveness of children. Some limited attention is given to the discursive strategies and context of advertising. as well as questions of who is to blame for propagating images of the new ‘knowing child’ (see Higonnet. particularly Jacques Lacan’s invocation of ‘anamorphosis’ as the subject’s means of concealing from themselves. Indeed.

‘Sexuality’ came to be conceived as a most private. 1978: 146. this privileging of the private sphere — conceived as a space for the enjoyment (always separately. Only after economic production no longer takes place in the home does the division between private and public spheres — and earners and their dependants — have meaning. get a sense of the critics’ own investment in the very discourses that render the offending media both intelligible and effective. ‘childhood’ and ‘sexuality’ share a conceptual history. one of the founding moments of contemporary forms of governance. Arguably the most lasting legacy of Romanticism has been a distrust of society. Likewise. we cannot help chattering about the providence of childhood. Capitalism and all its trappings coevolved with childhood and sexuality in such a way that the relegation of children and sex to the private sphere comprises those social arrangements and conceptual schema that support the formation of the productive (and consuming) individual. but actually historical. 1978: 17–49). 2008. likewise. ‘Childhood’. for Foucault. In addition. the corrupting influence of culture and of adulthood.standard for the assessment of these images is an inheritance of Romanticism. The two commitments that act as premises for their argument are. even if it is conceived as their negation. on the one hand. other children who err from their ‘nature’ or culture itself — from the moment the project’s logic is articulated. Indeed. both sexuality and children have undergone an intensive cultivation of their meaning and value. The assemblage of terms by means of which the reports situate childhood is still sexuality and decadent cultural forms (notably capitalism). humanity’s innermost innocent nature. The ‘innocent child’ of philosophical and social discourses from the eighteenth century (Egan and Hawkes. Having been set apart from social life and hived into a private sanctuary. 2010) was galvanised in the same historical milieu as contemporary notions of sexuality. the importance of its purity and the threats that chronically plague it. the purity of children. constructs were forged and continue to develop in tandem with one another. As Stevi Jackson (1990) argues. 2009. of course) of sex and children — is both a prerequisite and consequence of the development of a capitalist economy. For that reason. once work becomes a matter of leaving the home and alienating one’s labour to someone else. the sexualisation of the child through surveillance of masturbation was. and on the other. and the construction of the ‘natural child’ (Higonnet. or what he calls ‘bio-power’ (targeting populations at the level of knowledges about the body and life rather than through prohibition and death) (Foucault. 153). and thus most authentic and integral. It is therefore inevitable that children shall be at risk — from adults. defined negatively as a ‘purification’ of the taint of society into which the rest of us irrevocably fall. a cultural movement of modernity. 135 — May 2010 109 . to which we have access only by means of our children. The influence of this Romantic view has unintended consequences for both reports’ structure and conclusions. so that these presumed universal. society’s glowing (or degenerate) future. then. We can. childhood comes to No. aspect of human being — so ‘secret’ that what was understood as repression in fact incited speech about it (Foucault. 1998: 22–30). is understood as holding the secret to the self — as the nostalgic construction of a simpler past.

and with the best intentions. for instance. children are still positioned as desire-free objects of desire. The image of the innocent child — as exemplified in Pears soap advertisements of the early twentieth century and the toilet tissue ads of today — was purpose-built for selling goods (Higonnet. into the protective bosom of the family home (Arendt. 1998: 51–71). It is. politics and the simple course of maturation. 2007: 228). the means of its own production. 1998: 38). Conceived by self-loathing Romantics as the idealised contrary of socialised humanity. work. It is. we might say that the ‘innocent child’ — as perishable as any other artificial commodity — is drawing nearer to its expiration date. over the last century. The home. What the child thus represents is the notion of a ‘freedom’ emergent of a withdrawal from society and from the sphere of production. as desire itself comes to signify a dangerous supplement to innocence. the notion of the ‘innocent child’ was perfected are largely products of advertising. always opposed to the desire that created it. Indeed. the conception of the child as separate from the ‘sins’ of adulthood — in particular. in a dialectical relation — with its ‘adversaries’: sexuality and capitalism. but now we shrink from this constituting desire. violence. By loving children we made them lovable. vulnerable to contamination by the desires of those who safeguard them. as well Media International Australia 110 . the concept of ‘childhood’ is always in dialogue — or more pointedly. too. childhood is not actually separate from the influences of modern life. or are at least highly commercial. the innocent child will continue to receive the projections and detritus of the adults who attempt to shape their own identities through them. The child is a perennially threatened figure. Because of the ideological conditions of its emergence. Take. through capitalism. a curious proposition that the exploitation of children by commercial interests should constitute a novel threat (Rush and La Nauze. however. Childhood innocence is especially threatened by the desires of adults that are. 2006a: vii). paradoxically. then. the innocent child furnishes an image of pleasure and beauty (without trouble or toil) that each of us seeks. Images of children that spruik things for the domestic hearth became ubiquitous. Largely an invention of a modern subjectivity that is highly attuned to commercial vicissitudes. however. sexuality and capitalism — could not last forever. Mary Cassett and their contemporary equivalent. felt to be sullied by the exigencies of everyday life — and not only sexuality: by privation or exploitation. then. As a figure that spearheaded the formation of a new consuming subject. the images of children through which. Yet it must be remembered that childhood shares its destiny. Not only. then. and developed in meaning and ‘naturalness’. More correctly. then. Despite these appearances. Anne Geddes.represent a cherished lost period of integration and self-possession. a freedom identified with the very ideals of enjoyment and consumption that keep commercial culture ticking over (Stavrakakis. but also. a shared understanding of childhood is developed. and in fact the very fall from grace that precipitates moral degeneracy in adulthood. does the separation of children into a deeply significant private realm prepare the conditions for consumer capitalism. Even as the object of our protection. the illustrations of Kate Greenaway. is not so much a residue of nature within culture — a sanctuary from the dangers of society — but a highly artificial product (and further stimulus) of consumption.

In theorising the formation of subjectivity. and the quest to find it again. The visual is therefore a valuable resource for advertising precisely because it taps into this deep sense of reality furnished. Commercial media — including those highly contested images of little girls — work upon us profoundly because they recapitulate the structure of fantasy through which desire is its origins. advertising — concerned as it is with provoking demand for goods — has become a key indicator of fantasy. which together form the constellation by which contemporary subjectivity finds its bearings. The commercial does not so much sell a ‘product’ as the life of plenitude connected to the product in the fantasy register of the advertisement. advertising speaks to the very conditions through which Western subjectivity is animated. desire is animated by the lack of such complete and all-encompassing love. In contemporary life. etc. the whole from which the subject is rent. 2007) argues. The visual. when the child becomes one of many rather than the one object of her love. and within the social context of the family (as son. thus making life bearable. by fantasy. but can never replace. 2007: 236–37). with sexuality and capitalism. 2007: 241–42). There is an apparent immediacy. Visual media appeal directly and powerfully to the deep-seated ideas and ideals through which our interactions with our environment and with others garner significance. As Yannis Stavrakakis (2000. permanence and clarity belonging to sight that is not shared by the other senses. and more ambiguous and temporal). in truth. brother. 135 — May 2010 111 . playing out a discourse that articulates subjects’ relations to their own desire. but an idealised reality — clean and easily mastered. Visual imagery affords a greater sense of ‘reality’ than text or voice. sister. and this is why desire never completes itself (Stavrakakis. Especially with regard to the mother. daughter. the commercial No. where the child grasps language to the extent that they can situate themselves within it (as ‘I’ or ‘me’). More pertinently. such as hearing and touch (which seem less reliable. or object cause of desire) represents. The fantasy object (objet petit a. to quibble over the truth or falsity of advertising is to miss the point regarding its effects on our lives. It is also why consumption begets more consumption — why. then. in fact. Desire is initiated at the point of individuation. is the focus of anxiety in this case because the conventions that shape what we can apprehend visually are so ‘natural’ as to be invisible: conventions of seeing that constitute reality instead of simply mirroring it.). The fantasy veils the gap between the self and its lost bounty. Lacan famously argued that the subject was ‘split’: constituted in its separation from the undifferentiated whole that had (at least retospectively in fantasy) characterised all experience until that moment. In this way. there is no ultimate pair of shoes or car or lipstick — because the object is only ever a partial approximation of our original loss (Stavrakakis. Fantasies of childhood It is perhaps no accident that anxiety about childhood innocence should direct itself towards the visual imagery of children that mediates our relation to the objects of everyday life: advertising that employs photographs of children.

the fantasy child. Childish innocence is a state of reprieve from the perpetual. In the world of marketing and the regulation of desire through advertising. ‘intelligence’. The commodity fetish takes on a pseudo-spiritual aura insofar as it is no longer viewed as an artefact with a material history of production. Hence they satisfy the definition of a commodity fetish furnished by Marx. and the role advertising plays in structuring desire and identity. According to psychoanalytic theory. help us appreciate the cultural labour through which the fetish is produced. another grey hair. ‘has’ that we do not is an ignorance of the myriad responsibilities and disappointments that. too. but rather reprises the beginnings of desire itself. What this fetish.does not simply manufacture ‘false’ desires. authority. presenting a likeness of what we are ‘missing’. over-valued precisely because our image of it is divorced from the means of its production in adult fantasy.1. etc. amorphous guilt adults feel by virtue of having desire. but rather as expressing relations of power and prestige between consumers mediated by the symbolic network of advertising media. Whereas for Marx (1999: I. prestige. Baudrillard’s (1981: 91) focus upon the relation of commodities to consumers. render our lives incomplete: dirty washing. a life without desire. but unaffected by the conditions associated with adult life: obligation. the child is thus a dense signifier for the pleasure capitalism promises: wealth. Children. as its value exceeds its usefulness and the work through which it is produced. work and mortality.). more than this. children are ideal inducements for the consumption of products. However. connecting us to an imaginary past in which there are no claims upon us. in the transition between infant and speaking subject. Children represent a mode of existence that is recognisably human. Commercials present us with a phantom of the thing that (we believe) would make us whole were we to possess it. Innocence is nothing other than the adult fantasy of life without stress or disenchantment — in short. leisure and happiness. a house. replacing the piece of self lost at the onset of becoming human. innocence is precisely that from which the divided subject is separated. ‘athleticism’ or ‘street-wisdom’ — through its commercial representation as that ‘certain something’ with which the divided subject gains access to those ideals. The commodity is fetishised to the extent that it achieves this transformation of a material thing into the missing ‘Thing’ — insofar. another year wasted. The fetish becomes the sign of a broader identity signifier — such as ‘wealth’. the child performs a pivotal role according to Lacanian psychoanalysis: as the longed-for ‘Thing’ of fantasy. the empty toothpaste tube. Such unawareness — and the ‘completeness’ that apparently accompanies it — comprises children’s innocence. and being caught up in a network of signification (having a job. The innocent child can be read as a fetish under the rubric of the commodity.iv) the significance of the commodity fetish is that it occludes the social relationships of production that undergird the capitalist system (thus deflecting the affect of these relations on to the produced thing). bit by bit. are fetishised to the extent that they represent the carefree existence the rest of us are denied. that is. Media International Australia 112 . apart from a desire characterised by lack. as well as the material conditions of being a child. For this reason. compromise.

A further resonance of fetishism that remains unexplored. but be interpreted by a child to be a boy ‘checking out’ a girl of the same age. for instance. thus preserving for the (boy) child the phallic mother. the subject both acknowledges and denies the mother’s ‘castration. but which nonetheless animates the current fascination with children and their selling power. the concepts (or social imaginary) through which it is lived. When the little boy sees that his mother ‘lacks’ the valued appendage. We find in Corporate Paedophilia.A cute kid can sell anything from soap to insurance. The discourse of innocent childhood has always contained cognitive dissonances. for Freud (1977: 352). Now we are witnessing the radicalisation of good and bad children — those who embody the ideal of innocence. we will examine the register of fetishism that is barely concealed by Lacanian psychoanalysis and the study of capital. Through the fetish object. because their image so aptly encapsulates the goal of (Western) desire. he assumes that his father castrated her. this analysis of an innocuous photograph of a boy and girl — about twelve years old — from a Myer catalogue: [They] might be interpreted by a parent to be a brother taking care of his sister. 1962). … This issue of viewer interpretation is of particular importance for the sexualisation of children. involves the sexualisation of an object not usually regarded in a sexual context. In the next section. absorbing within it those darker images of childhood that persisted before the seventeenth century. 2006a: 5–6) No. When children dress and behave in overtly sexual ways. and those who threaten it with their proto-sexual comportment — so that children and their images are increasingly the focus of surveillance for signs of betrayal of that ideal. individuals (of whatever sex) manage the knowledge of their own castration — their entry into the symbolic order of language and exchange — in relation to some fetish or other: an illicit object of desire that provides a sense of phallic wholeness. while she was still phallic: pubic hair (fur). and that upstanding members of the community hastily dismiss. comes from Freud’s treatment of the matter as a study in sexual perversion. when the first stirrings of the Romantic formation took place (see Ariés. 135 — May 2010 113 . This object gains its sexual value for the perverse subject as a substitute for the mother’s ‘lost’ penis. they are not necessarily aware of the way their sexualisation may be interpreted by other children and by adults. and so feels for the first time the vulnerability of his organ. underwear. Reading from a Lacanian angle. importantly. The innocent child also performs this function. and continual negotiation and interpretation. but which currently is vexing to crisis point our conceptions of childhood: those sexual connotations of innocence that advertisers bring into play. (Rush and La Nauze.’ focusing the intensity of his affect on the last thing he saw before realising her/his lack. Anamorphosis and the sexual child The conflict between the advertising media and protectors of childhood innocence staged in the Australia Institute reports brings into relief the instability. Fetishism. of any given historical milieu and. a stiletto-healed shoe.

As Lacan writes. is transmitted. The viewer invested in the discourse of innocence splits the ‘child’ between ‘good’ exemplar of the natural child and ‘bad’. passes. by which the ‘complete’ subject is split and thus desires. This is the gaze: the piece of the abjected self that looks back. or ‘excess’. While perspective arranged the scene from the standpoint of the viewer. the anamorphic intervention reprises castration itself. when plotted to different coordinates the anamorphic object destabilises this sense of control by inserting another viewpoint within the image. 2005). 2004. and symbolic identification. These child models are the site of the convergence of moral protector and moral transgressor. is faced with the shadow of an exploitative self. 2001. 1998: 88–89). ‘The Ambassadors’. insofar as they desire — insofar. albeit a convergence that is staged as struggle. The stain on our field of vision — the ‘gaze’ — is a point of annihilation: the element of the object world that uncannily embodies that of ourselves that would destroy our coherence were we to admit it. But they also split themselves along similar lines: the ‘good’ citizen. Lacan illustrates this with reference to Hans Holbein’s painting. protecting their young. Only when viewed at an acute angle can this blur be recognised as a skull. This abjected material. strangely compelling yet unrecognisable. we can make sense of this symmetry between the protector and violator. thus furnishing a sense of possession over the world that it depicts. What if the sexualised child is this blot on the moral crusader’s landscape — the spectral aspect of their own disavowed relation to children. Lacan makes clear in his Seminar XI (1998) that there is no self-reflexive subject without a cost. The memento mori thus undoes the mastery to which they lay claim (Lacan. or may fall destitute and alone. Whatever these men may achieve. The anamorphic skull is achieved by means of a play on perspective — a bizarre twist upon what was a relatively new artistic technology at the time. which comes Media International Australia 114 . accomplishment and vitality: these are Renaissance men. ‘something slips. and is always to some degree eluded in it — that is what we call the gaze’ (1998: 73). however. which depicts two sixteenth century men. reappears in the field of vision as an incomprehensible stain that both mars her experience of the world and institutes her relation to it. Something disturbs the scene. as they are subject to the economy of exchange. the symbols of vanitas — objects of scientific knowledge and the arts — resting on a shelf between them. Adler. in order to circumvent all possibilities of sexual children (see Higonnet 1998: 133–58. they are still only mortal: they will age. The image expresses power. Let us look to Lacan’s concepts of the gaze and anamorphosis to elucidate this point. If we analyse this phenomenon again in Lacanian terms. it says. Lumby. from stage to stage. the subject misrecognises herself as self-possessed by projecting elsewhere a remainder: those relations and unconscious desires that are out of her control — that exceed the social position with which she identifies — she abjects. with the world at their feet. Kleinhans. may blunder. unsettling our sense of mastery.We are thus encouraged to seek a sexual connotation within all images of children: to share the pedophile’s perspective. corrupted perverter of childhood. Danay. For Lacan. 1998. paradoxically. More precisely. in other words. however: in the foreground is a hovering oblong.

perhaps accurately reflecting community opinion. and mischievous. innocent. constructed as innocent. 135 — May 2010 115 . First. In lamenting the situation of parents forced to confront with their No. in their own ways’ (2006b: v. is naturalised. an understanding of children as passive receivers of adult desire. instead of the increasingly lurid depiction of children. 1998: 15). Yet what those sexually ambiguous advertising images of children indicate is the integral role that the child plays in animating adult desire. spontaneous. a field through which adults can negotiate their anxieties and desires. a perverse and excessive perspective that. Second. So are the children. To the extent that we learn to see ‘the child’ and ‘the erotic’ as coincident. spontaneous. 3. sweet. The doe-eyed coquette has depicted innocent childhood from the first instances of its composition. 7–11) — and a vague gesture toward letting them ‘develop at their own pace. As Kincaid (1998) writes: We see children as. letting children be children? Finally. agency or desire of their own. insofar as children are excluded from exposure to the concerns that occupy the rest of us — from the economy of advertising and consumption to work and sexuality — they are ill-equipped to cope with the importune desires of anyone who would genuinely do them harm. we are in trouble. helpless models of perfected humanity. and mischievous. vacant. innocent. 25). provide only a list of proscriptions about what children should not be and do — from dressing like an adult to existing in adult spaces or settings (2006a: vii. We construct the desirable as. 1. This approach has two consequences for the social status of children. smooth-skinned. and thus fails to perform innocent childhood with fidelity. among other things. The sexualised-innocent child only comes into focus once we adopt the ulterior perspective of the pedophile. once seen. vacant. so that the rest of us may then engage in an apparently unpolluted relation to children (see Mohr. and in this respect is the empty object of adult fantasy (Kincaid. and more to how we construct what is sexually desirable — but not much more. in a context in which childhood is allowed no positive content of its own? The Australia Institute reports. There’s more to how we see the child. among other things. smoothskinned. 1999). sweet. Or perhaps the cognitive dissonances within our desire for children are simply becoming too apparent to tolerate — with each child who pouts back at us from a glossy brochure. with no character. The monstrous allure of the pedophile’s gaze is that he can be held responsible for all desire for children. (1998: 14) That we are now discerning the extent of its convergence upon the sexual perhaps signals a greater sensitivity to power inequalities in the sexual arena.back to haunt them in the object of their desire? The sexualised child is that uncontrollable element of a field (childhood) that is supposed to be trained to adult desire. what does it mean to let children be children. can never be expunged. Childhood now comes to be valued only as a hiatus from the anxieties and desires of adulthood.

as well as the impasse between maintaining children’s innocence (which is what I think is meant by the phrase ‘letting children be children’) and equipping them to negotiate risk. Children may be at risk when they blindly mimic sexy behaviours without understanding how adults interpret them. 11. ‘Girls. pp. 151–91. As I have attempted to show in this essay. ‘The Danger of Fighting Monsters: Addressing the Hidden Harms of Child Pornography Law’. Gail 2008. Perhaps. 2006b: v–vi. 2. girls’ magazines and music videos — media that at least engage children and address their interest in the ‘adult’ world encompassing them (even if we might then have to discuss with them the complex issues this turns up). rather than ‘letting children be children’. the over-protective quality of contemporary ‘helicopter’ parenting must be challenged. Danay. vol. Rush and La Nauze miss an opportunity to promote better communication between parents and children. For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. we need to let them become adults. 209–73. Telos Press. 307–22. Yet the most telling symptom within the ‘sexualisation’ papers — and one that echoes community anxieties — is the ever-present phantom of the pedophile as the ultimate reference point for public morality regarding children. and discuss with them concretely what might constitute unwelcome attention — as well as healthy or wanted bodily exploration — they are in a far better position to avoid harm than the child who is sheltered from all exposure to ‘sexualising’ material. 1. To tackle this ‘at its source’. Chicago. we need to examine the proximity between ideals of childhood and what is deemed sexually desirable. 2005. Arendt. ‘The Perverse Law of Child Pornography’. Robert J. however. Australian Feminist Studies. 24. 101. coexisting with a sexual culture that values vulnerability. vol. Columbia Law Review. Jean 1981. Charles Levin. St Louis. Egan. no. 1–3. University of Chicago Press. pp. by encouraging their social growth and supporting them to participate in the concerns of everyday life — which would include developing a working acquaintance with discourses of marketing and sexuality. Sexuality and the Strange Carnalities of Advertisements: Deconstructing the Discourse of Corporate Paedophilia’. Media International Australia 116 . Rather. Danielle and Hawkes. the image of innocence oscillates into the image of sexual availability with alarming regularity. we need to adjust our focus beyond advertising. Baudrillard. R. Hannah 1998. however. pp. 38). no.children ‘adult’ issues arising from the consumption of popular media (2006a: 47. The Human Condition. vol. trans. Review of Constitutional Studies. For this to take place. Yet if we talk to our children before puberty about sexual desire. Perhaps a more substantial threat to children’s autonomy and growth than the nebulous. Likewise. 23. we must ask ourselves about the extent to which the fear of children’s exposure to sexuality masks a broader unease about their passage to adulthood. sexually controlling stranger is the controlling parent. in the child molester the moral warrior sees their own distorted reflection. Because of a general fascination with innocence. 57. no. Amy 2001. References Adler.

org. K. NC. Thames and Hudson. 85–90. 1999. Lacan. Elsevier. ‘Demons and Innocents: Western Ideas on Children’s Sexuality in Historical Perspective’. Edinburgh. ‘Virtual Child Porn: The Law and the Semiotics of the Image’. no. Senate Standing Committee on Environment. W. Catharine 1998. Joanne Faulkner is the recipient of an Australian Research Council Post Doctoral Fellowship (project number DP0876618) at the School of History and Philosophy. 135 — May 2010 117 . ‘On the Critique of Advertising Discourse: A Lacanian View’. Mohr. Jackson. trans. Lumby. vol. vol. Handbook of Sexology. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. 12.guidemag. New York. 1998. no. 1. no. Andrea 2006a. ed. James Strachey. Higonnet. Pictures of Innocence: The History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood.marxists.). Yannis 2000. ‘The Problem with Protection: Or. Vol. Jacques 1998. ed. 23. Sexualisation of Children in the Contemporary Media. Vol VII: Childhood and Adolescent Sexology. 2008. www. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies. Foucault. 17–34. ‘No Kidding: Paedophilia and Popular Culture’.aph. 146’.au/file. New York. Penguin. the Australia Institute. University of New South Wales. Childhood and Sexuality. 1. The Guide: Gay Travel. Her project explores the social role of the concept of innocence in contemporary social life. pdf. Senate Printing Unit. 389–400. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. Discussion Paper Number C. The Penguin Freud Library Vol. pp. Basil Blackwell. ‘Submission to Inquiry into the Sexualisation of Children in the Contemporary Media Environment. Letting Children Be Children: Stopping the Sexualisation of Children in Australia. 3. June.cfm?ID=E6B2CF69-031D11D4-AD990050DA7E046B&method=GuideFullDisplay. Politics. New York. Oxford. Alan Sheridan. Edinburgh University Press. —— 2006b. and Albury. Parliament House. 1. www. Anne 1998. Entertainment. Marx. Penguin. Kincaid.—— 2009. London. Sigmund 1977. Jacques-Alain Miller.E. Journal of Visual Culture. pp. —— 2007.pdf. Capital. Stevi 1982.htm. Chuck 2004. vol. and trans. Discussion Paper Number 93. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies. ‘The Pedophilia of Everyday Life’. Richard D. Emma and La Nauze. 1. The History of Sexuality. Corporate Paedophilia: Sexualisation of Children in Australia. Norton. Department of the Senate. —— 51. pp.tai. Freud. Theory. ‘Fetishism’. Communications and the Arts 2008. Submission no. vol. Canberra. trans. Michel 1978. the Australia Institute. Vol. Lumby. www. James R. 7. Theorizing the Sexual Child in Modernity. org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/index. Perry (ed. 47–54. www. —— 2010. pp.php?file=DP93.W. Palgrave Macmillan. Durham. Karl 1999 [1887]. The Lacanian Left: Psychoanalysis. www. Duke University Press. Third Text. Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting. in M.php? 3. Harmondsworth. Politics & Sex. Harmondsworth. No. Rush. in On Sexuality. Why We Need to Mover Towards Recognition and the Sexual Agency of Children’. Kleinhans.

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