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October 06th 2008 print

Bill Muehlenberg

When Art Covers a Multitude of Sins

There has been a lot of media attention and commentary on the latest outrage concerning Australian photographer Bill Henson. It turns out he scoured schoolyards to find very young children to be photographed in the nude.

There has been a lot of media attention and commentary on the latest outrage concerning Australian photographer Bill Henson. It turns out he scoured schoolyards to find very young children to be photographed in the nude. Since no one has asked this question, let me be the first to do so:

What is the difference between the following?:
-An “artist” who scours schoolyards to find young children to exploitatively use for his own purposes, including seeing and photographing them naked;
-A paedophile who scours schoolyards to find young children to exploitatively use for his own purposes, including seeing and photographing them naked.

Answer: not much, in my view. Now am I saying Henson is a paedophile? Absolutely not. Am I saying Henson is a bit of a sleazeball who seems to get his kicks out of photographing naked children and calling it “art”? You betcha. He is certainly exploiting innocent, vulnerable young children for his own grubby “artistic” ends.

After all, he is not doing all this for nothing. He makes his living out of such photography, and he is getting rich out of the use of naked children. In my book, that is exploitation and just not on. And I think most people would agree with me.

But leave it to out morally vacuous and intellectually bogus elites to rush to the defence of poor old Bill. A great case in point appeared in – and why are we not surprised? – today’s Age. Peter Craven argued that this whole episode is just no big deal.

Says Craven: “Bill Henson having a look at some kids in a primary school is as innocent and straightforward as a junior footy coach or a casting director of Neighbours doing so.” And to emphasise his point, he also says, “The fuss had been about nothing”. So there you have it.

Gee, it was terribly decent of Craven to sort out all this Bill Hensen fuss for us. I guess I and millions of others have been overreacting all along. I am glad that Craven has helped me to see the light. And there I thought that the well-being of children and the protection of their innocence should be our highest concern. But now that Peter has set us all straight, we can all stop worrying.

Indeed, it is we, the concerned parents and citizens of Australia, who are really at fault. After all, Craven informs us that we are nothing but “zealots,” “philistines,” “socially deranged,” and running on “hysteria”. Yes, we are the real monsters here. We are destroying society and bringing the West to ruin because we have so foolishly thought that children matter, that they are weak, vulnerable and easily exploited, and that they deserve our highest care and attention. Foolish us.

Isn’t it terrific that out cultural elites are there to guide us poor sots about our silly over-reactions. But wait, there’s more. Indeed, Craven is not finished yet. He makes it clear that our concerns are just abominable: “It’s sick, and it has to be resisted,” he says. We should all just “back down” he warns.

It makes you wonder: if our ruling elites like Craven ever got their way, they would probably think they are doing the world a favour in locking us all up. After all, it is not the artists who like photographing naked children who are the sickos here, but you and me: ordinary Australians and parents who want the best for our kids, and who are tired of their sexualisation and destruction of innocence.

All this is but one more example of the moral reformating that is taking place in the West. We are bent on turning all moral values upside down, and calling what is good, evil, and what is evil, good.

But I guess there is really nothing very new about this. Some two and a half millennia ago a Hebrew prophet bemoaned the very same thing: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).

We not only live in a world that is in a moral freefall, but we live in a world when any old clown can call himself an “artist” and then seek to do anything and everything, even though those things done by any mere mortal would probably get them locked up in jail.

But our artistic elites think they are above the law, and can do whatever they want to do. After all, “art” it seems covers a multitude of sins. Call yourself an artist and you can get away with murder. Do the same thing under any other banner, and you’re toast.

So I have an idea. The next time I run a red light, punch out a foolish Age columnist, or take a few liberties with a toddler, I will just plead the excuse of “art”. I dare any judge or court to convict me in that case. If they refuse to do anything about Henson, then they should surely leave me alone.