Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Photography and Thought Crimes

In modern society we have, for the most part, discarded the primitive notion that an image partakes of the reality of the thing depicted. We do not feel, generally, that a photograph of a thing is inherently part of that thing, or that photographing a person literally takes something from that person. There is one area, however, where we seem to be holding on to this idea. This is the case of the apparent pedophile, photographing our children. Let me remark that as of this writing, my daughter is three and a half years old.

We collectively freak right the fuck out when we hear of some apparent pervert photographing little girls on the street or in some other public place. You can make arguments about privacy, or about the fear of the pervert becoming a kidnapper and stealing out little girls away, but these are pretty much shams. There's no expectation of privacy granted to anyone else in a public place, why are kids special? The probability that your child will be kidnapped by a stranger is rather low. If you're worried about that perhaps you should worry more about how much time you spend in the car with your child. Your daughter is much more likely to be killed in an automobile accident than in a sex crime, let alone a sex crime perpetrated by a stranger.

Well, why are kids special? The fact is, we expect them to be given more privacy than adults both in our minds and in the law. There are two things going on here.

The first is that we very much want to prosecute and punish pedophiles for their thoughts. Since we, as a society here in the USA, do not officially recognize Thought Crimes as a punishable offense, we seek out something concrete. Photographs serve the purpose here. By criminalizing the photographs, we allow a veneer of sanity to cover our desire to punish people for thinking thoughts we find abhorrent.

The second thing going on here is that we feel the primitive notion that the photograph steals something from our daughter. The photograph partakes of our daughter's reality, and when some pervert takes it home and uses it in some abhorrent way, that in some way violates and injures our daughter. I have argued that photographs do indeed damage but I stopped short of the mad notion that it literally damages the subject. In this case, any actual damage to the little girl is either non-existant or so distant as to be effectively non-existant. Yes, yes, if the pervert then kidnaps and murders the little girl, that's not so distant. That's also a completely different thing, and is an actual crime and so on, that has pretty much nothing to do with the photograph.

While we're certainly not comfortably with the idea of a pedophile looking at our child, remembering them, and later having an abhorrent fantasy, it's not nearly as upsetting as the same pedophile using a camera as a memory aid in precisely the same way. This is because of our magical thinking about imagery.

I'm no fan of pedophiles either, to be sure. I feel the same abhorrence about such photographs that you do. I do, however, recognize it as magical thinking.

If you happen to stumble across this post somehow, and are now overwhelmed with the urge to comment something about how horrible I am, please re-read the post a few times. Make at least a token effort to understand what I wrote, and that I am not advocating that pedophiles be given free children, nor am I advocating the decriminalization of child pornography. Thanks.

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