John Austen: The Semiotics of Parental Grief

One thing I discussed fairly often at the original Pigtails was the semiotics and aesthetics of art; that will be no different here.  Thus, I wanted to point out something interesting in John Austen’s artistic interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but first we need a little literary and historical context here.  With the exception of Hamlet himself (he is around 30) the ages of the characters are never specifically given.  However, the practices of the day should be kept in mind.  Peasants may have married whenever it was convenient for them, but royalty and nobility would’ve been expected to marry very young, and often their marriages were arranged in childhood.  This was particularly true of females.  Both Hamlet and Ophelia were nobles, Hamlet a full-fledged prince and Ophelia the daughter of the king’s adviser.  Given these facts, it is almost certain that Ophelia is an adolescent, or at most a young woman in her early twenties.  Any older than this and she would’ve been married off already, if not to Hamlet then to another noble.

What I’d like you to pay attention to in the following two drawings is the age that Ophelia appears to be in both.  In the first, while she is alive, she is clearly a young lady approaching adulthood, and so she appears in most of Austen’s drawings of her.  In the second her dead body appears to have reverted to that of a child’s.  Why is this?  Well, it is Austen’s clever way of looking at Ophelia through the eyes of a (surrogate) parent.  As the daughter of the king’s chamberlain, we can be sure that Ophelia grew up in the kingdom, and we know that Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, adored her almost as she would her own flesh-and-blood daughter.  It is Gertrude who finds Ophelia’s body and announces her death in what some consider one of the most heartbreaking scenes and speeches in the whole of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.  This scene is what Austen captures in the second drawing.

Again, notice how young Ophelia appears to be in this image.  Also, note that she is nude, giving her an additional mien of vulnerability and innocence, reinforcing the concept of Gertrude’s view of her as a beloved child, and we the viewer are therefore meant to feel more acutely the grief being expressed here, as that of a mother for a lost daughter.

Austen is another of my favorite illustrators.  I know, I know—I have so many favorite illustrators that I almost don’t need to mention this point anymore.  What can I say?  I love this stuff and I just gotta broadcast it!  Anyway, Austen began his career mimicking Aubrey Beardsley to some extent (personally I like Austen’s stuff far more than I like Beardsley’s), but as his career unfolded he embraced an array of styles and media to better compliment the works he was illustrating.  He fits snugly in the Golden Age era of illustration and was an absolute master of his craft.

John Austen – Hamlet (1922) (1)

John Austen – Hamlet (1922) (2)

JVJ Publishing: John Austen

Wikipedia: John Austen

Mexx Kids Ad Stirs Dirty Feelings in Prudes

As inevitably happens, some ad for kids’ clothing stirs outrage in a few people who seem unable to look at nude or semi-nude children (or children posed in certain ways)  without wanting to jump their bones, and so, believing that everyone must see the ad the same way they do, they raise holy hell and project their dirty, guilty feelings onto all of us.  How else do you explain the instant outrage when people see images of shirtless girls and boys doing the oh so erotic activity of . . . standing around with their hands in their pockets, looking bored.  So, here is the offending ad.  Just look at those kids standing there, baiting pedophiles with their come-hither looks.  And, what’s this?  The girl in the hat has her arm around a boy!  Uh oh, she’s been sexualized!*

Beatrice Heydiri – Mexx Kids ad (1)

Okay, that’s the end of my sarcastic taunting of the the morally panicked . . . for now. 🙂  This ad is not, of course, typical of Mexx Kids advertising, and it was only used in Europe, where people are a little more sane about this kind of thing, rather than Canada where the company is headquartered.  Oddly enough, it wasn’t the above ad that originally sparked the controversy. It was this one:

Beatrice Heydiri – Mexx Kids ad (2)

If you’re confused by this advertisement being controversial . . . join the club. And, as usual, I have never heard of this company until the controversy, and now I’m pushing their wares. Mission accomplished?

Beatrice Heydiri (official site)

I loves me some controversy . . .

Oh noes, I am hot and bothered by this!

* Is it ironic that my spell check doesn’t recognize the word ‘sexualized’?  I don’t think so.

The Luna Lovegood Fashion Show, Pt. 1

I came so close to never seeing the delightful Evanna Lynch in her role as Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series. I don’t generally follow popular culture and it was a while before I decided to take my first look at Harry Potter. I was quite impressed with the premise and play of ideas in the first story: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s [Philosopher’s] Stone. The author’s use of language and pagan mythic themes really did create a compelling new world. While reading the books, I looked forward to the next movie installment to see how true to the books they would be. When the fourth movie (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) came out, I was actually disappointed. The special effects were great, but the execution was overly theatrical and I felt less emotionally involved with the drama of the characters. I decided not to watch any more and just finish the books. Some time later, someone mentioned a plot point not consistent with the books and I decided I had to watch the rest of the films.

Those last three episodes featured the character Luna Lovegood and I must concur with the fans that Evanna Lynch was a casting coup. When watching her performance, the quality of her voice seemed surreal, giving the character an ethereal quality. I did not know if it was her natural voice or if she was just affecting this kind of speech for the role. A YouTube interview confirms that it was her real voice. Lynch is an Irish native and was one of 15,000 girls trying out for the part. I imagine getting the role was a dream come true because she was already a major fan, with posters on display all over her room. When producing this post, I thought I would congratulate the casting director Fiona Weir for making such an excellent choice, but from the literature it seems that Lynch was a natural and obvious choice.

When I learned she was cast at age 14, I had to acknowledge that she really wasn’t a little girl, but her delicate features and gentle manner suggest the spirit of a much younger girl and so she appears in Pigtails. I found myself getting a bit fixated on this character and I started asking around and discovered she was the favorite of quite a few people—men and women. I noticed the clever way J.K. Rowling (the author) uses a character’s name to tell us something about him or her. “Luna” refers to the moon and evokes pagan associations as well as serving as an idiom for insanity and “Lovegood”—probably a double entendre—indicates her compassionate nature while hearkening to the Free Love Movement of the 1960s and 70s. Some like the character because she portrays a kind of classic counterculture type drawn principally from the hippie generation. As for the rest, I think we simply fell in love with the actress and wondered how much like her screen character she really was. This post deals with the introduction of the character as depicted in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

She is introduced to us sitting on a carriage, waiting to be taken to Hogwarts and reading a tabloid. Even with her school uniform she wears interesting accessories that make her stand out.

J.K. Rowling, Michael Goldenberg & David Yates – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) (1)

Only Harry and Luna among the students can see the thestrals, as they only appear to those who have seen death. Luna witnessed the death of her mother which is an interesting clue to something I will discuss in Part 3. She spends the entire movie barefoot as someone—probably a Nargle—has been playing a prank on her.

J.K. Rowling, Michael Goldenberg & David Yates – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) (2)

Katie Leung, who plays Cho, is another relative newcomer and took it upon herself to help Lynch settle in with the cast and crew.

J.K. Rowling, Michael Goldenberg & David Yates – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) (3)

It is hard to capture skipping in a movie still since the image is blurry, but here she is on her way to a makeshift Dark Arts lesson taught by Harry. Skipping seems a most appropriate form of locomotion for this character.

J.K. Rowling, Michael Goldenberg & David Yates – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) (4)

It is Luna’s suggestion that the gang use Thestrals to get to London and confront the dark forces at the Ministry of Magic. It looks like fun, but alas the actors were shot against a blue screen and the creatures were “comped” in later.

J.K. Rowling, Michael Goldenberg & David Yates – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) (5)

Luna’s kindness is touching, and here she is consoling Harry after the death of his godfather..

J.K. Rowling, Michael Goldenberg & David Yates – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) (6)

This leads to a nice denouement when Luna finally locates her shoes, as seen in this shot.

J.K. Rowling, Michael Goldenberg & David Yates – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) (7)

Part 2 of this series will focus on costumes using images from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Part 3 will explore the nature of magic using images from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Sulamith Wülfing: Girls in Bloom

As a particularly apt metaphor for girls achieving womanhood, the blossoming flower has long been employed by artists and poets in this sense.  But Wülfing took the idea and ran with it, placing adolescent girls inside of flowers.  A couple of times she used the ‘flower bud as womb’ metaphor in the same way, showing translucent buds bearing glowing infants, but it is really the blooming adolescent girl that most fascinated her, and that is the focus of this post.

As we can see in this first image, even when the flowers weren’t birthing children or young ladies in her art, they were still often oversized, to accommodate the artist’s love for depicting sensuous details like intricate leaves and petals.  With the juxtaposition of flowers and girls, Wülfing was really in her element.

Sulamith Wülfing – Iris

Sulamith Wülfing – The Young Girl (1942)

Sulamith Wülfing – Development

Sulamith Wülfing – Development (detail)

Sulamith Wülfing – Sun Shined Over the Pasture (1932)

Sulamith Wülfing – Sun Shined Over the Pasture (detail) (1932)

Sulamith Wülfing – The Garden Child

Sulamith Wülfing – The Garden Child (detail)

Sulamith Wülfing – Flower (1931)

Sulamith Wülfing – Flower (detail) (1931)

Sulamith Wülfing (title unknown) (1) (1933)

Sulamith Wülfing (title unknown) (1) (detail) (1933)

Sulamith Wülfing (title unknown) (2)

Wikipedia: Sulamith Wülfing

State-of-the-Art Exploitation

One of the things that irritates me about the rhetoric on child protection is that those of us who gain innocent pleasure from them seem to be accused of harming them in some intangible way. Admittedly, children are weaker both physically and psychologically than adults and that makes them fairly easy to manipulate. But those selfish and greedy enough to take advantage of this are the real menace, not only to the children but to the rest of us. That is what this post is about, and I have identified three main ways that children and the rest of us are manipulated. First, their images are used to tug at our heartstrings and get us to spend money on so-called good causes or products. Secondly, children are used to get adults, especially parents, to pay for things they would never otherwise buy. Finally, children are targeted because the attitudes and tastes they develop in their youth stay with them for the rest of their lives—a kind of guaranteed income for those companies that manage to gain their loyalty early. The ubiquitous influence of money is at play in all these cases, in the form of multinational corporations who have the resources to coerce us so effectively.

Even casual observers have noticed that children are used to pull at our heartstrings. The effect is even stronger when we are parents wanting to do the best for our children. Today we see a multitude of products and services that serve no useful purpose while we are made to believe we are doing some kind of good by using them. Even with the backlash against synthetic sweeteners, companies might adapt by emphasizing the naturalness of their product. McNeil Nutritionals was even sued by another manufacturer for falsely implying the naturalness of their product.

McNeil Nutritionals – Splenda Ad (2004)

There are many documentaries that expose the tactics of megacorporations, but two in particular reveal the high tech way companies manipulate children. The first, McLibel, is about a lawsuit McDonald’s filed against two activists in London—Helen Steel and Dave Morris—who were trying to inform the public about the various harms perpetrated by the company. It had the dubious distinction of being the longest case in British history (314 days) and it was a public relations disaster for McDonald’s. Many people came forward to help Steel and Morris in their defense, and a website run by volunteers called McSpotlight was set up to help people get accurate information about the case and the company and served as a clearinghouse for individual contributions from the public.

Those interested in the dangers of fast food can read Eric Schlosser’s excellent book Fast Food Nation. He spoke in the documentary and pointed out that these companies realized early on that eating habits are formed in childhood and if they could get people eating this food young, they would eat it for the rest of their lives. They leave no stone unturned to exploit this fact, and Schlosser says, “…there is no aspect of children’s conscious life that they haven’t tried to infiltrate.”

Franny Armstrong – McLibel (2005) (1)

One of the greatest challenges for the defendants in the trial was getting hold of the company’s operations manual. The contents were a jealously guarded secret, and Helen Steel was kind enough to reveal some of its contents, illustrating that the company is fully aware of its cynical tactics. These quotes are excerpts from McDonald’s Operations and Training Manual dated 1990/1991:

“Remember, children exert a phenomenal influence when it comes to restaurant selection. this means you should do everything you can to appeal to children’s love for Ronald and McDonald’s.”

“Birthday parties are an important way to generate added sales and profits.”

Franny Armstrong – McLibel (2005) (2)

“Offering toys is one of the best things to make children loyal supporters.”

Franny Armstrong – McLibel (2005) (3)

Gathering witnesses was hard work, but a number of people generously testified on behalf of the defendants. One was Geoff Guiliano—a former Ronald McDonald—who likened his work to Nazi propaganda efforts:

“Anyone can really manipulate a child…this is not that difficult. And I just went home one night and I said no no I can’t do this; I can’t live with myself if I continue to do this.”

It must seem that McDonald’s is being singled out, but that is only because it has been at the forefront and has served as a model for other brand-conscious companies trying to gain market share.

Another excellent documentary—almost a definitive work on the subject—is The Corporation. Usually when filmmakers are looking for people to interview, they are given the run around by the larger PR departments. The producers of The Corporation should be commended for the range of people who agreed to participate. The producers tried to make every effort to get a balanced perspective and that helped in their credibility with experts and viewers alike. However, I believe most viewers come away with a distinctly negative attitude about corporations.

Susan Linn, Professor of Psychiatry, Baker Children’s Center at Harvard, echoes Schlosser’s contention that the efforts of these corporations are extensive and permeate every possible aspect of the children’s lives. She is also concerned about the use of psychologists by marketing firms who use them just to sell things to children rather than helping companies to make better products. She observed that marketing techniques have gotten progressively more sophisticated over the decades. In 1998, Western International Media, Century City and Lieberman Research Worldwide conducted a study about nagging. This study was not to help parents cope with nagging; it was to help corporations teach children to nag for their products more effectively. She describes the overwhelming nature of these efforts:

“Marketers are playing to their [children’s] developmental vulnerabilities. The advertising that children are exposed to today is honed by psychologists; it’s enhanced by media technology that nobody ever thought was possible…One family cannot combat an industry that spends $12 billion a year trying to get their children; they can’t do it.”

Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott & Joel Bakan – The Corporation (2004) (1)

Lucy Hughes, Vice-President of Initiative Media and Co-Creator of “The Nag Factor,” shares a number of statistics revealed in this study. For example, anywhere from 20% to 40% of purchases would not have occurred unless the child nagged their parents.

“We found, for example, a quarter of all visits to theme parks wouldn’t have occurred unless a child nagged the parents. 4 out of 10 visits to places like Chuck E Cheese would not have occurred…We saw the same thing with movies, with home video, with fast food. We do have to break through this barrier where they do tell us or they say they don’t like it when their kids nag. Well, that’s just a general attitude that they possess. It doesn’t mean that they necessarily act upon it 100% of the time. You can manipulate consumers into wanting and therefore buying your products. It’s a game…They [children] are tomorrow’s adult consumers so start talking to them now, build that relationship when they’re younger and you’ve got them as an adult.”

Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott & Joel Bakan – The Corporation (2004) (2)

Linn also informs us that corporations are now marketing to infants. If you read advertising magazines or trade journals, you see talk about cradle to grave brand loyalty. It’s been discovered that children as young as six months old actually recognize and respond to brands.

I think this next picture speaks volumes about how cynically companies—in this case Disney—use children to create an idyllic image. They attempted to create a kind of manufactured dreamlike community, but rather than inconvenience customers by having them go somewhere with real snow, they bring it right to their doorstep.

Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott & Joel Bakan – The Corporation (2004) (3)

Sulamith Wülfing: Angelic Presences

I have been sifting and sorting my Sulamith Wülfing folder and will be doing what is now looking to be a seven part series on her, the first of which was already posted. So, the second part deals with angels and angelic beings, which show up frequently in Wülfing’s art. Consequently, this post will be quite graphics heavy.

As I pointed out in the first post on her, she claimed to have seen angels and other mystical beings from a very early age. I suspect she may have been pulling the legs of many, many people, including her parents, who, being Theosophists, were no doubt pleased as punch to have a daughter who could see spirits, fairies and angels. Whatever the case, with the help of her husband Otto Schulze, who set up a printing house in sole service to his wife’s artwork, she channeled her eccentricities into a quite lucrative career. And whether she saw angels or not, she definitely had a knack for visually expressing these gentle, ephemeral creatures as sweet wide-eyed children, wispy adolescents or beautiful lush-winged adults. It is, however, the first two of those groups we are most concerned with.  Some of the angels here are adults, but these are protecting, guiding or counseling young girls in some way.

As you can see from this photograph of Wülfing and her husband, in her youth she was just a slip of a girl herself (quite a pretty one, I might add), and it seems she may have modeled for herself often enough.  Schultze and Wülfing had one child, a son, who currently represents her estate.

(Photographer Unknown) – Portrait of Sulamith Wülfing and Otto Schultze

Sulamith Wülfing – All Souls Day

I was planning to post only one of these, as they are the exact same image, but I decided to post them both because I think they reveal something interesting about how changing the lighting and color values can completely alter the tone of a work.  In the topmost version the colors are dark and cool tones prevail, giving the piece a menacing aspect.  However, the version below it is bright (too bright, really–some of the lighters shades are almost completely washed out) and the scene is awash in much warmer pinks, reds and faint earth tones, making for a much more inviting piece.  Remember this when you are photographing an artwork, especially if you’re looking to sell something!  Some of this can be corrected for in programs like Photoshop.  I do it frequently.  But if the textures of particularly detailed works–especially ones with a lot of exquisite subtleties like Wülfing’s art–are too bright or too dark, they can lose a lot of their impact.

Sulamith Wülfing – Angel and Child (1)

Sulamith Wülfing – Angel and Child (2)

Now here’s a piece where the colors and tones were reproduced perfectly!

Sulamith Wülfing – Caterpillar

Sulamith Wülfing – Child

Here’s another interesting thing.  This piece I have marked as a detail (meaning a fragment of the entire piece), and yet, unlike the others marked similarly, I do not have a full version of the image, nor have I seen it.  So how do I know it is a only a fragment then, you may ask?  Elementary: I can tell by the way it was cropped, which is badly, especially on the right side, making the composition rather cramped and awkward on that side.  I also know that Wülfing was too good of an illustrator to have made this mistake in her art.  Eventually I will give you all a simple lesson in composition, but for now just take my word for it.  Unless, of course, you already know a thing or two about artistic composition!

Sulamith Wülfing – Childhood (detail)

This is an interesting piece in that the lines are heavier than is common for her.  I suspect this may have been a piece created early in her career, but I don’t know for sure.  The image is also pretty badly desaturated, so that makes it seem heavier.

Sulamith Wülfing – Dialogue

Now this is more like it!  By the way, I am not entirely certain about some of the titles of these works.  Clearly some were crudely translated from the original German (not by me–if I’m not sure on a translation, I will leave it in the original language, and sometimes I do that anyway because I like the sound of the original title better than its English translation), and others had two or three different titles, depending on which website you encounter it on.  This is why I hate, hate, hate when people post images without citing all the pertinent info, especially if they fail to give the artist credit for his or her work.  I mean if they know it.  Sometimes people just don’t have that info available, despite their best efforts.  This happens with me often enough.  If I do not know an artwork’s title, and especially if I do not credit the artist, you can be sure that I at least tried to find that information.  But there are just too many people on the web who post art and had the information available to them at the time but decided not to provide it.

Sulamith Wülfing – Dream Angel (1934)

Here’s a good example of one where the title didn’t quite sound right to me, but it was the best I could find.  I know the ‘Eija, Eija’ part is right; it’s the part that comes after that sounds iffy to me.  Still, it is technically not grammatically incorrect.  It can be read as if the children were contemplating what their lives might be like if they were Eija–something like, “Eija, Eija, if we were you, we would . . .”  But here it takes a slightly different form: “Eija, Eija, were we you, we would . . .”  And so on.  This appears to be a funeral for little Eija.  Note the melancholy poses of the angels and the older child sitting by the barrow, as well as the musical instruments being sounded by the angels.

Sulamith Wülfing – Eija, Eija, Were We You

Sulamith Wülfing – Eija, Eija, Were We You (detail)

Another obviously cropped work.

Sulamith Wülfing – Fulfillment (detail 1)

Sulamith Wülfing – Fulfillment (detail 2)

Sulamith Wülfing – Moon Angels

Sulamith Wülfing – Moon Angels (detail)

Sulamith Wülfing – The Bud (1933)

Sulamith Wülfing – The Bud (detail) (1933)

Sulamith Wülfing – The Encounter

Sulamith Wülfing – The Encounter (detail)

And the best for last (in my opinion); this piece is one of my absolute favorites.  It’s simpler and not as dynamic as some of her other pieces, but what it sacrifices in dynamism it makes up for in elegance and a sturdy sense of design.

Sulamith Wülfing – The First Butterfly

Sulamith Wülfing – The First Butterfly (detail)

Wikipedia: Sulamith Wülfing

‘Copper’ Renewed for Another Season

Last year the series Copper premiered on BBCAmerica.  I watched the entire original airing of the first season of the series and was quite impressed with it.  It takes place in Civil War-era New York City and centers on a young Irish-American homicide detective, Kevin Corcoran, nicknamed Corky.  We find out very early in the series that Corky has a dark history: his little daughter was apparently murdered, and his wife has disappeared.  Thus, while most episodes feature a different murder being investigated, the overarching storyline revolves around Corky’s search for his wife and the murderer of his daughter, as well as his interactions with a colorful group of mostly lower class folk who are his friends, colleagues and lovers.

The series paints NYC circa 1860s as a place rampant with crime, corruption, racial tensions, and political intrigue, all of which are quite accurate.  It also features excellent acting, writing and directing all around.  I am generally not a fan of police procedurals, especially anything with an abbreviated title like NCIS or any of the Law and Order series.  For one thing, I can’t keep them all straight; they’re all clones of each other. For another, on top of their constant and infuriating scientific inaccuracies and exaggerations, they are also pretty blatantly emotionally manipulative.  But Copper caught my attention right away and kept it throughout, and I’m quite happy the series has been renewed for a second season. Not that the show is perfect—it occasionally falls pray to PC-ness and emotional manipulativeness too, but all in all it balances its drama with realism pretty well.

If you haven’t seen it, you may be wondering why I am discussing it here.  Well, because a major supporting character in the show is a little girl named Annie Reilly (played by the amazing Kiara Glasco) who also happens to be a 10-year-old child prostitute at the beginning of the series and a supposedly reformed one later, but we see throughout the series that she keeps slipping back into her old behavior, including spending most of the first season attempting to seduce Kevin, who continually rebuffs her advances.  In fact, in the meeting of Corky and Annie in the first episode, she tries to ply her trade with the copper right off the bat.  The first murder Corky investigates is also closely tied to her, which is how Annie comes into the detective’s long-term orbit.  Detective Corcoran takes her off the streets and puts her in the care of Elizabeth, a wealthy woman he has befriended through this case, and he checks on her frequently. Corcoran eventually starts to fall for Elizabeth, much to Annie’s chagrin.

What is most fascinating about Annie is that, unlike sexual abuse victims in most cop shows, Annie is far from a one-dimensional, whimpering, easily manipulable innocent.  Not that she is exactly a bedrock of strength either; she has her moments, but on the whole she’s tough and smart and even downright devious at times, playing head games with Elizabeth at one point to try to get her out of the picture so she can have Corky all to herself.  She also perpetrates a pretty brutal act of violence in the first episode; a justifiable one certainly, but still . . .  And she attempts to entice other men who come into her presence besides just Corky, though I believe these were an attempt to make Corky jealous.  More than once Annie also expresses her frustration and embarrassment with being treated as a child by these new adults in her life, not just in terms of their rebuffing her sexual advances but also in rebelling against Elizabeth’s attempts to reform her morally and socially, and she eventually expresses a desire to go back to her old life, even as it is clear she loves Kevin Corcoran—perhaps deep down more as a father figure than a potential lover, but initially she hardly knows the difference—and doesn’t want to leave him, and knows that her old life wasn’t exactly ideal for her.  So she’s very conflicted. In short, Annie behaves very much like a real child prostitute in her position probably would, not to mention being involved in a longer and very abusive relationship with a man for awhile that I won’t go into detail about here, as it is an important plot point of one of the episodes and the series as a whole.

Actually, I would like to touch on that relationship for just a moment, because it sheds light on an important fact that you rarely see in these types of shows: the writers created a well-rounded character in Annie, and they go out of their way to show that sex in general, at least conceptually, does not bother Annie; however, she is clearly terrified of the man she was involved with because of his brutality, as well as some of the customers she encountered at her first place of business.  Even though she is ambivalent about it overall, she clearly knows that sex can be a good thing. While it’s obvious that Annie has some psychological distortions and damage resulting from her history, which includes a several major traumatic events, including one that occurs in the first episode of the show, beyond just being reduced to selling herself for money (only being able to express love towards men in sexual terms probably chief among them), I would say that she is hardly a completely dysfunctional mess despite all she’s been through.  And that is pretty daring for a television series these days, especially a cop show. The notion that a child might attempt to seduce an adult for any reason seems utterly alien to most people. But it does happen.

The series is also realistic in depicting members of the police force, including Corky, as less than perfect, sometimes brutal in their methods, and occasionally prone to breaking laws themselves (such as Corky’s frequenting of prostitutes early on in the series and his sporadic violent outbursts against certain people he’s investigating, including, on one occasion, a high-ranking Episcopalian minister.)

Season 2 begins this summer.  I recommend finding the first season somewhere if you can and watching it all.  If you haven’t seen this series, you are missing out on a pretty solidly made period police drama.  I wanted to put in some clips of the show I found on YouTube here, but all of them contained major spoilers for the series, so I will simply offer you this promo that came out right when the show started:

Photographer Unknown – Promo for ‘Copper’ featuring Kevin (Tom Weston-Jones) and Annie (Kiara Glasco) (2012)

BBCAmerica: Copper (official site)

BBCAmerica: Annie Reilly (short profile of the character)

Nudes: A Moral Argument

It would be naive of Pigtails in Paint to ignore the issue of nude or naked children since we feature them on our website and I have personally gotten a reputation of focusing on them. There are good reasons for both of these and I will discuss some in this essay. Before this site develops much further, I wanted our readers to understand a rational perspective of child nudity and why it is important for Pigtails to give it special attention.

For anyone who is interested, my three favorite young girl images are not nudes: 1) Nature’s Beauty by Steve Hanks (a painting), 2) Mischievous Mouse by Lladró (a figurine) and 3) Soap Bubbles by Peter Dominic (a photograph). I waited for those to be posted before publishing this article.

Because of rampant misunderstandings, I must resort to the conventional definition of nude which to most people simply means naked. Nude properly is an artistic distinction which focuses on the naked form in a composition. There are many cases where being naked is incidental to the work or is a prerequisite to the activity being depicted—like taking a bath. For the purposes of this site, I classify a work as nude if the subject is unclothed at the waist. This can be ambiguous when the subject’s waist area is not visible, but I will endeavor to assess the artist’s intent or context of the scene in these cases.

Given our culture’s current hysteria, I have felt it necessary to compensate for the dearth of nudes in the arts and media. I want people to get a balanced perspective on the scope of art and range of viable human lifestyles. If I felt there were some genuine harm in the innocent, artistic or instructive portrayal of naked children, I would not be doing this. I have given this deep thought and am confident in my position and can refute any rational arguments offered by any detractors. Two major misconceptions fuel the most emotionally charged arguments: 1) the standards of morality are handed down by God and are accurately interpreted via holy book(s) and authorities and 2) cultures other than ours are ignorant and inferior and their manners and beliefs have no merit. Of course, moral standards form the basis of civilized laws, but when they are so constraining as to restrict the legitimate expression of our humanity, then the laws are repressive. Like most people, I endeavor to obey the law, but defenders of artistic freedom have relied too much on legal arguments and historical precedent; if substantive progress is to be made on this issue, we need to make enlightened moral arguments which can also serve as a basis for laws. Moral restrictions (backed by law or not) that unnaturally hinder a dignified human existence cannot objectively be called righteous.

There are three aspects to the impact of child nudes that need to be properly debated: beauty, intimacy and sexuality. The current debate seems to engage in a slippery slope assumption—technically a logical fallacy—that beauty leads inevitably to sex. The imperative of reproduction does make sexual behavior one of the most potent human forces, but it is a mistake to think that beauty and intimacy serve only one function.

Beauty is a two-way street. First, there is the object itself that has some characteristic(s) considered beautiful, and then there are the people who find these things beautiful. Appreciating beauty is pleasurable, as it is associated with survival or reproductive value, and the benefits get reinforced through the evolutionary process. As social mammals, mechanisms are in place that motivate us to protect our young. Human babies and other animal young are cute and compel adults around them to treat them gently. Since human beings are not born completely formed (altricial), there is a long period of development before all his/her capacities are in place. In time, these features fade and they begin to be treated in a more serious and rough manner.

Our instinctual behavior goes a bit haywire when we use our rational mind to contemplate the business of the beauty of youth and decrepitude of age. Many artists have even played with the juxtaposition of the two in interesting ways, and this leads to a kind of spiritual quest for the mystery of young beauty and why we must be condemned to bodies that fall apart. All arts, and especially photography, afford us the opportunity to freeze time and preserve this beauty or the memory of a beautiful moment. The very young, while still assimilating their culture, seem more like wholesome natural creatures without the taint of the political adult world, and that strikes us as appealing. Nothing is more natural and pristine than a nude, and the impact is even more heartfelt when we are privileged witnesses to these moments of idyllic humanness.

There is also the peculiar business of the different reactions of men and women. Civilization, in part, has served to detach us from our animal natures, but women, being more intimately tied to the cycle of life, cannot maintain a sterile rationality indefinitely. There are practical matters of the intimate care of children, the sick and the elderly, and the untidy facts of sex, birth, bodily fluids and personal anxieties tend to faze them less. Men who may not have grown up with sisters are more prone to be startled by the naked form of girls and women; in many cultures men and women are largely segregated. With their natural proclivity for visual fixation, men try to reconcile cultural norms with their impulses and can come to hasty and contradictory conclusions. Beauty in the form of attraction is an important part of sexuality and pair-bonding, but it should not be confused in a child’s case with the other functions it serves–namely to protect them.

Intimacy, strictly speaking, is about closeness and physical touch. The way adults respond to a child’s form is usually to touch, and that has become another strange taboo in American culture. The same slippery slope of beauty seems to have been applied here as well: that to touch someone means to show sexual interest. Most people would agree that this is patently false in the case of a mother caring for her child, Freudian theories notwithstanding. Young children require nurturing to develop properly, and that nurturance takes physical forms (caressing, petting, kissing, tickling, horse play etc.) and vocal ones (baby talk, soothing, songs, stories and compliments). This signals that the child is loved and a desirable part of the community.

Again, girls and women tend to be more exposed to this behavior, and they experience pleasure when interacting with children. The lack of intimate contact in our society is sometimes redirected to fawning over pets as surrogate children. Here photography is a two-edged sword, bringing beautiful intimacies to people at large but also creating the impression of violating that intimacy. In the parlance of modern civilization, these things are private, and thus there is something odd about private things being publicly accessible. Instead of thinking about this peculiarity, we condemn the mother who brings it to us. It can be hard for some mothers to fathom the severity of this reaction because, after all, it is natural for her to share these joys with others in her community, but when the only outlet is public, she is scolded by her society. An additional stigma has been attached to children pretending to behave in adult ways, but again these are natural private explorations that are a part of a child’s development. The fact that society currently pays special attention to those with sexual implications can, with ridicule, harm a child’s natural development, self-image and the innocent enjoyment of others. It is tempting to say that children should only be portrayed in ways consistent with their age, but this is too simplistic, and the fact that we get pleasure from watching children play grown-up means there is more to this phenomenon that requires serious reflection.

With regard to sexuality, only fools would fail to respect it as a powerful force in human lives and ignore its dangers when undisciplined. It should be understood that human beings are not—as if by magic—suddenly sexual beings at age 16 or 18 or 21. Like everything else, sexuality develops in stages, and the biggest problems—for those inclined to regard sexuality as a problem—have to do with adult projections and stigmatizing the naive spontaneous behaviors of our young. Pigtails in Paint for the most part will refrain from dealing with the sexual aspects of childhood simply because there is a lot of other ground to cover before such an emotionally-charged subject can be tackled intelligently.

Any attempt to abolish nudes or even child nudes would be a little like attempts in the past to ban alcohol, gambling or sausages! However, for artists there is an additional importance. Most obviously, there has been a historical need for anatomical reference to paint or sculpt realistic figures. Many artists may be content never to make use of nude forms, but those who put human beings in their work should, as an exercise, work with them a little to develop their technical skills. A more subtle reason for an artist to make at least some use of nudes is how they lend credibility to an artist’s vision. If a viewer feels the artist is consistently and deliberately avoiding a particular taboo, how can one trust the veracity of his expression? One role of a proper artist is to challenge his society’s notions of the world. Sometimes that means they engage in dark imagery that makes us uncomfortable, especially sexual or violent themes. Most of us have strong instincts to protect children, but it is important to remember that even young children can understand the idea of acting as make-believe and can participate in the spirit of fun even while not understanding it on an adult level. If an artist has done some good work with nudes, we can be sure that he has gained the confidence of his subjects to the degree that he can express real artistic freedom.

One may ask, if my arguments are so strong, why are we in this predicament? It is a challenge to get most people to analyze rationally the sacred principles of their own culture. One must sometimes question these things to get to the heart of matters—in this case why nudity has found itself at a moral crossroads. Jewish, Christian and Islamic beliefs all stem from a moral system which developed the idea of God against Nature. Most notably with the teachings of Zoroaster, the notion of putting oneself in accord with nature as part of one’s spiritual path was superseded by one that put religion in charge of the ethical domain where some things were good and some evil. As such, a person’s duty was to strive for the good, and that paved the way for religious authorities to place judgments on what aspects of nature should be embraced and which ones resisted. These were at least partly arbitrary and served some societal purpose at one time but inevitably got concretized into dogma. The argument that God likes or dislikes any particular sexual or private practice is absurd, and it seems to me sacrilegious for human beings to presume to understand His creation and then use that simplistic understanding to condemn others.

I can only hope that human beings will come to their senses in my lifetime, and this site is venturing some first steps: to make the images of nude girl children more commonplace and include them as legitimate expressions of human experience. One prescription is an idea I got from a documentary about the hateful treatment of homosexuals by their own families. In a few cases the families began to have second thoughts about their attitudes and realized that homosexuals can be perfectly decent people. The filmmakers made the interesting observation that once someone got to personally know three homosexuals, a kind of critical mass was reached and they changed their minds about them. I believe this is probably the case for many people who were raised with narrow preconceptions. If they could be made to know three decent naturists or homosexuals or black people or handicapped people or atheists or anarchists, the mystique would be lifted and everyone could get on with normal dignified lives. I like to call this principle the “Three Occurrence Rule.” When a nude photograph is processed or exhibited and the authorities are called, they tend not to be well-versed in the legal standards, and a percentage of innocent artists or mothers are put through a painful court process. My recommendation for police and prosecutors alike is to familiarize themselves with three good books on photographic nudes. After that, it is easier to distinguish legitimate art and documentation from gratuitous titillation. At present I would suggest: 1) one of Jock Sturges’ books, 2) Sally Mann’s Immediate Family and 3) Frank Cordelle’s Bodies and Souls: The Century Project. All three contain at least some child nudes and yet have different artistic inspirations behind them.

Album Cover Assortment #1

Among my many loves is music, and I am extremely eclectic and wide-ranging in my tastes, though I tend towards avant garde pop and rock, especially the dark and haunting varieties.  Anyway, I encounter a wide range of fascinating album covers as I seek out new music, many of which fit the theme of this blog.  Rather than do them mostly as single-image posts as I tended to on the old Pigtails site, because of the large quantity of them (with more being discovered almost daily) I encounter in my musical adventures across Spotify, I’ve decided to post them in groups.  There will generally be no particular thematic or stylistic groupings, just a random selection of covers I really like.  And so, here is the first batch.

(Note: unless otherwise specified, the artists, photographers and/or designers of these album covers should be assumed to be unidentified.)

This one is adorned with a cute photo of the singer herself as a bare-bottomed toddler.  Love those boots!

Karen Maria Schleifer – Yes, You Can Touch It (cover)

Random Axe – Random Axe (cover)

Thad Fiscella – Love Without Words (cover)

The Nixons – Foma (cover)

This next one was actually released under two different titles, both with the same artwork.  Here is one version, The Inmost Light.  The alternate title is All the Pretty Little Horses.

Current 93 – The Inmost Light (cover)

Jamie Barnes – The Fallen Acrobat (cover)

Pearl and the Beard – Prodigal Daughter (cover)

This is the cover for Erasure’s single release of “Love to Hate You,” my favorite Erasure song, in fact.

Erasure – Love to Hate You (cover)

I’ve seen the fnords!  No, not the band–Robert Anton Wilson would understand. 😉

Note: a reader of the blog has correctly identified the artist for this cover as John Kenn Mortensen, who just goes by John Kenn on his blog (highly recommended for fans of Edward Gorey, Charles Addams, etc.)  So a big thanks to that reader!

John Kenn Mortensen – The Fnords – Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Fnords (cover)

This cover is just absolutely enchanting:

D’aLan – Light of the Ice Fairies (cover)

Dolour – The Years in the Wilderness (cover)

Various Artists – My Old Man: A Tribute to Steve Goodman (cover)