These are not the Vivian Girls

Lara asked my thoughts on this story of a Tennessee man charged with making child pornography via photoshop manipulation. Generally, I am very leery about any kind of thoughtcrime or artcrime laws; the work of Henry Darger would be my exhibit A in any argument on the subject.  In an eerie coincidence, I see at CNN that Michael Jackson has just died. I must admit that I feel oddly about this; I would not have thought that I would have such a strange mix of emotions upon hearing this news. There’s a sense of disbelief, and even sadness. For even though I do believe that he did monstrously criminal things, I also can’t help thinking of the kid who played the Scarecrow in the Wiz. The sadness is for him, not what he would one day become

Henry Darger was a janitor who died in the early 70’s. His landlords found a trove of artwork in his apartment and recognized its merit. The content of the work could sometimes be disturbing, but it is also captivating and intriguing, to say nothing of posessing unique beauty. Darger may have been a bitter and strange loner fixated on his miserable childhood, but he certainly isn’t the only person who turned out that way. A significant portion of Darger’s work could be considered ‘criminal’ if we’re going to say that altered photos or drawings can be considered child pornography.   

However, the devil is in the details and when one reads the specifics of the case against Michael Wayne Campbell the deviltry is easily apparent. I don’t think that merely making provocative images can or should be criminal, but there is evidence that this individual presented a threat to those girls. At the very least his actions involved trespassing, but there’s something even more ominous underneath. My hat is off to the father of the girls who showed admirable clear-headed restraint by going to the police rather than going crazy vigilante-style on the son-of-a-bitch.

2 Responses to “These are not the Vivian Girls”

  1. I guess my concern over this is the legality of it. Yes this guy is creepy and I would not want him near my children BUT is it illegal to photoshop a child’s face onto someone’s elses nude pic? He has not committed a crime perse.

    We are very quick to jump on anyone who has a mere whiff of having pedophile tendencies….people have been destroyed over accusations. So I just wonder at this new twist. Do we start arresting people because they are creepy? Hmmmm….

    A little off this guy’s story but I highly recommend the movie – The Woodsman with Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedwick. It really speaks tot he complexity of this issue.

  2. I think going into the home of an acquaintance and taking pictures of his daughter’s panties could be viewed as trespassing at the very least. I absolutely agree that the issue is complex; I also don’t think that making images can generally be considered a crime, but the complexity of this issue means that sometimes making images might actually be a crime.

    There’s a young man that I know who has had a lot of problems; his mother had me talk to him because she’s very concerned about him. He wants to be an author and a writer so she had me look at his work to see what I thought. I am not a psychiatrist and I suggested she have him consult with one but she’s very religious and doesn’t trust doctors. I don’t really know why she trusts me, but I looked at his stuff and had a long talk with him. The kid is no Henry Darger but his work is filled with similarly disturbing imagery and a kind of incoherence that is schizophrenic in flavor. On the one hand, he’s a very nice kid who smiles easily and seems utterly flabbergasted that anyone finds his work disturbing; on the other, he has been accused of stalking several girls and his stories seem to fixate on predictable topics such as rape and murder. My thought is that how he turns out is going to largely depend on how the world treats him; if he is shunned and treated like a potential threat then it should be no surprise to anyone when he turns out to be a monster. However, if he is taken seriously as an artist and given proper mentoring there might be another outcome. The important thing to keep in mind, I believe, when dealing with him is to remember that he has not yet committed an atrocity, and doesn’t even seem to want to; he is curious and fixated but not yet lost.

    I’ve heard ‘The Woodsman’ is excellent. Gotta run…

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