Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Simpsons Internet Cartoon Parody Judged to be Child Porn [UPDATED & LINKS ADDED]

We don't know whether the legal ruling you are about to read about sets a troubling precedent, or whether it is a legitimate means of protecting our children. We picked up this story up from Neil Gaiman's LiveJournal and website, courtesy of James A Owen, who put us in the know. (It's slightly embarrassing that we had to find out about this from our American and English compatriots but it does demonstrate the power of the Internet and the fact that we perhaps need to follow the local news more closely!) 

Anyway, as the story goes – one of Neil Gaiman's Australian fans posted a link to a Melbourne Age article, which tells us that:
A NSW Supreme Court judge has ruled an internet cartoon in which lookalike child characters from The Simpsons engage in sexual acts in child pornography.

In a landmark finding Justice Michael Adams today upheld a decision convicting a man of possessing child pornography after the cartoons, depicting characters modelled on Bart, Lisa and Maggie engaging in sex acts were found on his computer.

"If the persons were real, such depictions could never be permitted," Justice Adams said in his judgement. "Their creation would constitute crimes at the very highest end of the criminal calendar."
We investigated further and pulled pieces from other articles to give you/us a more broader picture. ABC News, says:
The magistrate had rejected a submission that cartoon depictions or representations of fiction characters such as The Simpsons were not of "persons".

Justice Adams said the legislation's main purpose was to combat the direct sexual exploitation and abuse of children that occurs when offensive images of real children are made.

But, he said, it was also calculated to deter production of other material, including cartoons, which "can fuel demand for material that does involve the abuse of children".
And the Parramatta Sun reported that: 
The barrister Greg Barns, a specialist in criminal and human rights law, said the decision showed that the laws surounding child pornographer were too broad if cartoons could be classified as child pornography.

"These sort of parodies, offensive as they might be, are widely distributed and I think it would be very unfair to characterise those who are viewing the images as ... viewing child porn," he said.
In his post, the Neil Gaiman fan quite rightly asks what the implications will be for him as a reader/collector of graphic novels such as Alan Moore's and Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls, which is sold here not only in comics shops but we must add, also in well known book stores like Borders. And what about yaoi, where the key word is "boy love"? Are the teenage fictional "boys" depicted in these stories under the age of consent and thus do they fall within the definition of child pornography? 

Many years ago, Jozef and I also looked at an erotic comic adaption of the popular fairy tale The Little Mermaid – the characters were not prepubescent children around the ages of The Simpsons gang, but were supposedly about 16 or 17. In my library I also have a copy of Erotica Universalis by Gilles Neret, a compilation of erotic art through the ages from Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt to modern times. The book was published by the famous German art publisher Taschen in 1994. In the Erotica Moderna section, there are several etchings by  Martin Van Maele in "The Great Danse Macabre of the Quick (Prick) [c.1907]" series. (More art on the SxArt blog.) Some of these etchings depict post Victorian schoolgirls sexually interacting with their schoolboy counterparts (the image on the Wikipedia site would be of kids between 12 to 14 perhaps; some of the other plates in the series have younger kids showing each other their genitals). Do these images constitute child pornography and does this recent ruling mean that I can be arrested for possessing them in an anthology in my professional library? These are more on parr with the accurate depiction of the human figure than whatever naive artwork The Simpsons parody may offer. Oh, and by the way, from memory I bought this Taschen book from the NSW Art Gallery.

To read more about Child Pornography Laws, including definitions, go to the Parliament of NSW website.

We do not advocate child pornography in the slightest and absolutely understand the need for vigilance – the issue here is whether or not fictional matter in the form of cartoon characters can be defined as child pornography. As portfolio holders of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Comics/Graphic Novels Portfolio, we have brought this issue to the attention of the Executive Director and the Free Speech Portfolio Holder, so we will keep a close eye on this matter. We're also going to try and find the court transcripts and look at the "offending" images in question, as this blog report is entirely second hand and has been sourced from newspaper and online articles.

You can read more about this at PW The Beat.

In the meantime, we wonder what Matt Groening has to say on all this matter ...

No comments: