Thomas Thorhauge on the proposed Danish ban on drawn child porn

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?

Images from Comics and Beats 4

This Sunday saw the fourth Comics and Beats event in Copenhagen. Organised by the Danish Comics Council, it is a live drawing event where cartoonists improvise to music provided by a DJ and prompts given by the audience and the MC. This time, it took place as part of a charity event in Copenhagen’s Fælledpark, with the resulting drawings subsequently being auctioned off to benefit Zimbabwean farmers.

This time, the artists were Allan Haverholm, Ina Korneliussen, and Erik Petri, the DJ was M. Dejean and the MC was Cav Bøgelund. As usual, Frederik Høyer-Christensen was there and caught the event on his camera — check his Flickr set here.

Image: Cav Bøgelund and M. Dejean vs. Korneliussen, Haverholm & Petri.

On the Child Pornography Debate in Denmark

The highly publicized child pornography conviction last month of a Swedish translator, for possessing manga which allegedly depicted sexualised minors or minors engaging in sexual acts, is but the latest manifestation of a debate concerning what constitutes child pornography that has been going for a number of years. The chairman of the Swedish Comics Society, Fredrik Strömberg, has written succinctly about the case here and here.

The debate has also been raging in Denmark for the better part of a year, with Karen Hækkerup — a member of parliament for the main opposition party, the Social Democrats — leading the charge against the kind of animated child pornography currently legally accessible on the internet (from a Danish website amongst other sources). Hækkerup and the Social Demoncrats want to change the law opening the people manufacturing this kind of material for prosecution, and she has recently found support from the powerful, right-wing Danish Peoples’ Party. The issue exploded in the media this week because of the opening, Friday, of an exhibition about drawn and animated child pornography at the Odense museum Brandts klædefabrik.

Hækkerup’s proposals have been met with criticism from a number of quarters, including not just free speech groups, but also the child protection organization Red Barnet. The research cited by Hækkerup, purportedly showing that looking at pornography may ultimately lead to actual transgressions, has been questioned and the proposal described as a slippery slope, potentially leading to cases like the ones in Sweden, or worse. Mie Harder, a member of the government’s junior coalition partner, the Conservative Party, has been very vocal in her opposition to the proposal and has started a Facebook page to fight it.

The government is currently awaiting a promised statement by the Sexological Clinic at the National Hospital in Copehagen on the possible links between pornography and criminal sexual transgression. The minister of Justice, Lars Barfoed, as well as the judicial spokesman of the Danish Peoples’ Party, whose votes will be important to the passing of any new legislation, have both noted that it will be important for their further consideration of the case.

The Danish Comics Council, on the board of which I sit has also been involved in the debate. Chairman, and occasional Metabunker contributor, Thomas Thorhauge — who is highly critical of the censorious tendency evinced by the proposal — has appeared in a radio debate with Social Democrat Maja Panduro and the Council is presently preparing an official statement, which will appear in English in this space.

Hype: Mutant Pop

For those in the Copenhagen-Malmö region, I recommend checking out the exhibition Mutant Pop, now open at the Loyal Gallery in Saltimporten, Malmö. It is curated by Joe Grillo (it’s his work above) and Laura Grant of Dearraindrop and includes work by a host of talented artists, amongst them Mat Brinkman, Brian Chippendale, Ron Regé Jr., Yuichi Yokoyama and Gary freakin Panter! It runs till September 20th.


Picks of the Week

“Think, for example, of Northrop Frye. Frye’s is now a name that you never hear mentioned but which was then everywhere. CS Lewis, who is now famous for fairy stories, was then famous for being a scholar. Tolkien too was famous for being a scholar, not for elves and so on. There is no prestige associated any longer with being a good critic. There are people writing now who seem to me likely to be as good as those critics I’ve been mentioning but they won’t be as famous nor as influential. There’s some very good scholarship in the subject still going on. There’s also an immense amount of rubbish.”

— Frank Kermode

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Crumb! This week saw the continuation, but also the possible cessation (?), or roundtable on Crumb’s Genesis over at HU. Last at bat was Peter Sattler with a great essay on the ‘literalism’ of Crumb’s approach. In addition to that, Tim Hodler linked to film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum’s fine piece on Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb documentary, as well as a recent piece he has written for its reissue in the Criterion series. All worth reading for people interested in Crumb!
  • Re: the “Ground Zero Mosque” shitstorm, Justin Elliott examines how an innocuous and initially uncontroversial news story developed into the ridiculous media circus we are now witnessing. And former FBI agent Ali Soufan expresses his exasperation.
  • Frank Kermode RIP. The passing of the great critic found me reading this short 2006 interview, in which he talks about the evolution of criticism and its reception over the course of his career.
  • Overset: Anikonisme

    Lige en kort notits: jeg har i længere tid gerne ville anbefale Anikonisme, en af de tegneserier Simon Petersen har lavet til det i øjeblikket tørlagte Serieland. Det er måske Petersens mest ambitiøse tegneserie til dato og en af de eneste danske tegneserier, der er gået ind i den sprængaktuelle billed- og integrationsdebat.

    Petersen forsøger sig i den 69-sider lange serie som socialrealist i sin skildring af den unge, vordende tegneserietegner Khalid og hans liv i og omkring Gjellerup-parken. Man kunne hævde, at han har taget munden for fuld i forsøget på en sandfærdig skildring af et miljø, han i bedste fald kender fra anden hånd, men han går som altid til sagen med krum hals og formår at skabe en fortælling, der virker forholdsvis realistisk og, vigtigere, vedkommende på i hvert fald denne læser. Petersen har altid haft godt greb om hverdagens dialog, især som den udfoldes blandt yngre mennesker, og formår på ganske lidt plads at levendegøre de centrale figurer.

    Som sædvanligt har han et problem med at afslutte sin historie. Han benytter til slut et greb, han vist selv synes giver det hele en raffineret åbenhed, men som nu mest virker som et cop-out. Det forekommer tydeligt, at han ikke formåede at få samling på sine livlige fortælletråde og derfor i stedet besluttede sig for helt at droppe forsøget.

    Oh well, det er bedre end at gribe til postuleret patos, og serien er indtil da overvejende et glimrende or kærkomment ambitiøst forsøg på en socialt engageret dansk tegneserie. Det var efter min mening en fejl, at vi ikke nominerede den i kategorien ‘Bedste danske webtegneserie’ til Læs den!

    DWYCK: Word Made Inky Flesh

    Over at Hooded Utilitarian, my monthly column this time is an extended piece on the art historical antecedents of cartooning, with special focus on Robert Crumb’s adaptation of Genesis, and with reference to Bruegel and Rembrandt, plus a bonus discussion on the different meaning-making properties of text and image.

    I hope you’ll check it out, and perhaps join the discussion, which is part of what has become an extended, frequently interesting roundtable on Crumb’s book.

    Image: Rembrandt, Abraham Conversing with the Angel, c. 1636-37, pen and brown ink, 108 x 114 mm., formerly London, private collection.

    B.o.B vs. Drake II

    Further to my article of last week on the two new rapping and singing Wunderkinder, B.o.B and Drake, I just wanted to add a few comments about the reception of their debut albums and what it might say about hip hop criticism today.

    My colleague over at Rapspot, Toobs, dug both albums (warning: Danish), preferring B.o.B’s, but he pointed out something he saw as a shortcoming of his album in comparison with Drake’s: that it lacks lyrics of more personal nature. This would appear in direct contradiction of my criticism that Drake sounds like a record company product, promising to give us the “real” him, but instead offering polished formulae, wouldn’t it? Well, here’s why: