As explained here the other day, there’s currently a public debate raging in Denmark about drawn and animated child pornography, triggered in part by the opening of an exhibition on the topic in the city of Odense, in part by the conviction in Sweden of a manga translator alleged to have possessed drawn images of minors engaged in sexual acts.
This site’s sometime contributor, cartoonist, and chairman of the Danish Comics Council, Thomas Thorhauge, had the following op-ed piece published yesterday in the Copenhagen daily Politiken:
Disturbing perspectives in proposed ban on drawn child pornography
A polemical exhibition on animated child pornography has finally launched widely a debate on the proposal made by the Social Democrats to ban drawn child pornography. The proposal is based on catastrophically misconceived notions that have recently led to almost Kafkaesque situations in Sweden. There, ordinary comics readers, art book afficionados and others owning illustrated books, may consider double checking their shelves and perhaps getting rid of a book or two, if they wish to avoid a pedophilia charge.
To anybody even remotely acquainted with comics history, this recalls earlier eruptions of media hysteria in the 20th century. Both here and abroad, comics have been subjected to the censorious tendencies of concerned psychiatrists and psychologists: comics turn kids into juvenile delinquents, psychopaths, and so on. And we have all seen how film and video games have been subjected to similar treatment.
And now it is happening again. This time the concerned citizen is the Social Democrat Karen Hækkerup, whose proposal is based on exactly the same premise as earlier instances of hysteria: looking at naked cartoon characters turns you into a pedophile, just as violent films and video games make you violent. And so on.
This is not convincing. Even if one found conclusive, incontrovertible evidence that pictures have that effect, the proposal risks enabling the banning of all cultural products that concern themselves with “dangerous” subject matter, such as violence, sex, lies, deceit, and so on.
Hækkerup’s proposal is based on Swedish legislation, under which a special police unit decides whether a given drawing is child pornography, or whether it has artistic or scientific merit. In the latter two cases, it will be protected from prosecution. But it is obvious that such a distinction is impossible to make in practice.
The Kafkaesque case of a Swedish manga translator who was convicted last month for possession of child pornography, because his extensive comics collection contained 51 erotic manga cartoons of characters which the court in Uppsala considered to be “under 18 years of age” is a disturbing wakeup call. The translator has defended himself convincingly and is unlikely to be more of a pedophile than the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter and Swedish Television, who have now both been reported to the police by citizens offended by some of the manga cartoons they showed as part of their reporting on the case.
The conviction establishes a precedent that places under suspicion ordinary children, who may own copies of the international smash hit Dragon Ball. Or their father, who may have on his bookshelves a couple of old, anti-authoritarian and transgressive comics of the kind created by the great American master Robert Crumb. Or their grandmother, who may be in possession of an art book containing Carl Larsson’s delicate scenes of Swedish country idyll with small, naked girls in them.
This situation is now the new reality in Sweden. If Karen Hækkerup’s proposal is passed, Denmark will soon follow suit.
It should be unnecessary emphatically to state that sexual abuse of children is totally unacceptable. Photographic child pornography documents real, illegal sexual abuse. A drawing on the other hand, no matter how disgusting and horrible it might seem, is still a drawing. There is no victim.
Karen Hækkerup’s proposes to ban fiction and drawings — ideas. It is, in other words, the right to think, debate, polemicize and, not the least, to question, which is at risk.
Will everyone who seriously wishes for the establishment of thought police in Denmark please stand up?