Recently an American was arrested at the Canadian border on charges of possession of child pornography. Now, in no uncertain words, the sexual exploitation of any child is despicable. I have no sympathy with peddlers of child pornography and less for those who participate in it's creation.
But this is different.
The child pornography in question was a digital copy of an undisclosed Manga (Japanese comic book).
And let's make this perfectly clear, the material in his possession is legal under the laws of the man's home country. This is because of the definition of child pornography differs between our two countries.
In the States child pornography is defined as being the product and record of child abuse. By definition the material can only involve real children because an artistic rendering of fictional characters, no matter how explicit, has no underlying crime or victims.
In Canada child pornography is defined as being the depiction of nudity or sexuality in anyone under 18 years of age. This depiction can be in any form whether it be photograph, painting, or illustration. Conceivably even ASCII art under theoretical extremes.
So, oh country of mine, how far does this go?
One of the seminal pieces of graphic literature in the 20th century is the Sandman series. The character of Delirium is depicted as being grade school age and often wears clothes that expose her bare chest. Is that considered child pornography?
Osamu Tezuka's Ode To Kirihito, widely considered to be the first medical thriller in manga and certainly influential, is filled with explicit female nudity. Because of the artistic style and because age often is not mentioned, someone could easily identify the illustrations as being of minors.
Oh, but let's go further, what about nude baby pictures? Illustrated medical books? Sex Education highschool textbooks?
But I think the above examples are going to be pretty safe. Let's step towards the grey area, shall we?
Let's look at Lost Girls.
Alan Moore is basically THE creative powerhouse in the world of graphic literature. Chances are that if you're even a passive fan of graphic novels, you're aware of his name and his impact on the medium.
Lost Girls is something Mr. Moore himself describes as being pornography. To be clear however, his stated intent in defining the work in such a way is not to belittle the content but to elevate what adult material can be. For those not aware, the story of Lost Girls follows Dorothy Gale, Wendy Darling and Alice meeting and sharing the sexual exploits of their younger (most certainly underage) years in retellings of their respective familiar tales.
The work contrasts their sexual exploits with the growing violence of the oncoming first world war. Much like Lady Chatterly's Lover, which set a passionate affair between an upper class married woman and a servant against a backdrop of class struggles, Lost Girls has a much richer thematic tapestry than it's plot summary would suggest.
To say that such a work has no literary value is absurd, yet I've little doubt this book would fall under Canada's definition of child pornography.
The reality is that sexuallity isn't something that just switches on at eighteen. And a person's sexual awakening is usually one of the most powerful and profound events in their lives. A first lover may stay in your mind longer than any other. The first dance, the first kiss, the first moment of shared intimacy; these are rites of passage that resonate with everyone regardless of ethicity or background. And often it's against the background of those profoundly affecting events that the strongest stories are told.
It's for that very reason that this report disturbs me.
If as a society we're unwilling to tolerate exploration of something so fundamentally human in art and graphic storytelling, then what does that say about us?
Yes, Japan is known for some pretty messed up stuff particularly in the depiction of sexuality. Yet, ironically, images of explicit sexual activities and frontal nudity were banned well into the 1980s. And rather than leading an increase, a late 1990s study found a marked decrease in sex crime across all demographics since the that ban was lifted. To quote: It is certainly clear from our data and analysis that a massive increase in available pornography in Japan has been correlated with a dramatic decrease in sexual crimes and most so among youngsters as ... victims.
But there's more at stake here, I think; if we're not willing to take a stand for the freedom of artistic expression when it challenges something we may not agree with then what right do we have to do so when it happens to be something that DOES matter to us?
Until next time, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic... and I need a shower after this.
ONE FINAL THOUGHT
In most of North America the legal age of consent is 16. Two teenagers can legally get together and screw each other's brains out on their sweet sixteen party, but God help that same couple if they engage in 'sexting'; even between a legally consenting couple, possessing a photo of a lover's exposed underage breast is a felony.
ILLUSTRATION BY BETH WAGNER