Beauty as coltish youth.
David Hamilton’s photos could only have been taken in a more broad-minded era than today. The photos are classically posed and not, to my mind, erotic. A person who finds them erotic, in fact, may be blurring categories, and have serious questions to ask himself.
What has been more likely is the reflexive need for a ban on such images. This is the sign of a person reacting purely emotionally. For me, the photos are simply beautiful in the same way that a landscape is beautiful.
Despite challenges from church leaders (often those seeking to make a name for themselves with a certain section of the cultural right), Hamilton’s books can all be found in art stores.
In antiquity the nude was accepted as a subject for art; it took Christianity, and its disdain for the material world, to apply the fig leaf. It wasn’t until the late Middle Ages before Eve, for example, could be portrayed as a woman. Today we see a curiously Victorian and selectively applied feminism doing the work of the inquisitor.
The Web is ostensibly broadening, but it is actually narrowing. The range of acceptable discourse, as was acknowledged in “The Manufacture of Consent,” is perhaps narrower than it has ever been. In the political sphere this has been obvious. We are asked to pretend that there is a left (Democrats) and a right (Republicans).
Anyone with a passing understanding of political history knows that the Democrats are a center-right party, and in modern Europe it would be considered as such. The U.S.’s “far left” is almost entirely just FDR-style Democrat. Some questions are never asked in the mainstream, such as “Why do so few people vote?” or “Why do the Democrats and Republicans agree on almost all issues?” and currently “What does the oligarch theater of the impeachment hearings do for the poor and ill and the hopeless of the nation?”
The Web, especially in social media, actually narrows what is acceptable in the public sphere, because all moral systems are supposed to be taken into account. (What actually happens is that a few people at the headquarters of social media companies decide what is acceptable, with predictably disastrous [and at times hilarious] results.) What is fine in New York may be anathema in New Delhi or Riyadh. These moral systems, as they apply to photographs of people, span the spectrum of abolishing all portrayals of humans as idolatry to the most extreme libertine.
Since today’s mainstream media seeks to keep us always afraid of our neighbor, and always expecting the worst from him or her, we tend to respond to images with set patterns of responses to apply to categories of images. Trump has us hammering away on our keyboards, sending a message he will never read. Crime cases have us responding with similarly boiler-plate answers.
The portrayal of minors or young women in fashion magazines, in provocative poses, goes unnoticed, except by cultural conservatives. These are far worse and more damaging than the image here presented because they convey a cultural norm. The smug cultural left makes the mistake of seeing people as “little lower than the angels,” practically devoid of an animal nature at all. (Today this notion is applied mainly to men; it is chic for women to brag about, for example, waking up in a different bed every Sunday morning.)
The contemporary world swirls with this dizzying array of mutually contradictory values, often taught in the political theaters that were formerly college English Departments. The most puzzling thing for me, given the rise of the new Victorian morality, was the mainstream acceptance of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” made into “Game of Thrones” on HBO.
The popularity of this dire display of depraved humanity had its forerunner in movies like “Pulp Fiction.” Creatively filmed killings are now “dark humor.” There is a mile-wide disconnect between morality in how it is practiced and professed, depending on the location of the acts in question. Morality is strictly a la carte now.
In the video-game industry (which makes more money than the movie and music industries combined, and is thus worthy of study), representation is worried over to the tune of thousands of comments, the same that pervade the political sphere to no good purpose.
Meanwhile the content of these games, many of which contain brutal acts of violence, are taken in stride. If you go to a “woke” video-game website like RockPaperShotgun, you can see this in action. It is of great concern that the character performing the disemboweling of another character “looks like humanity.” You can almost hear the developers saying “This was a chance to make the chainsaw-wielder a person of color.” Meanwhile, the human subconscious sees no difference between what is image and what is real.
The judge famously and unhelpfully said he knew it (pornography) when he saw it. The way I see it, Hamilton’s photos are practically demure compared to what is allowed today.