Right now, Bill Henson, an artistic photographer of international repute, stands in danger of criminal proceedings over certain photos that were to appear in a (now-cancelled) exhibition of his work in Sydney.
The photos concerned were nude portraits of young teenagers. Nobody with any sense - I don't count our deplorable prime minister, Kevin Rudd, or our equally deplorable opposition leader, Brendan Nelson - disputes the artistic merit of the portraits. Nor does there seem to be any doubt that Henson acted with all propriety in obtaining the permission of the subjects' parents. We are not confronted with a case of child abuse. Moreover, as The Australian newspaper alludes to in a wishy-washy editorial today, there is a tradition in visual art of depicting emerging teenage sexuality.
Yet, there is a prospect that Henson will be prosecuted for, in effect, creating child pornography. The New South Wales police are investigating. If the material is considered child pornography, then if you so much as attempt to inform yourself by searching for the photos on the Internet you risk being charged with a crime.
This is outrageous; if child pornograpy laws are broad enough to have these effects then they urgently need to be narrowed.
As has happened so often in human history, we are seeing a witch hunt by nasty-minded prudes and panic-merchants - among them, smiling Kevin who is proving once again that he's little better than his troglodyte predecessor - against the work of a genuine and talented artist. There are no shades of grey here: we have every reason for anger at such repression.
The extensive popular support that the witch hunt appears to be receiving is further proof that we have a long way to go before this is a genuinely free society, and we can be sure that we've shaken off the influence of puritanical religious traditions. Goddammit, this is happening in Sydney, Australia, of all places: a sophisticated international city, not some backwater of illiterate red-necks in the American bible belt.
Please do whatever you can to stand up for art and freedom of expression.