To the editors
This is intended as a letter to your letters column as well as a personal letter to Michael Miner whom I have known for 20 years.
I write concerning your Hot Type column of Nov. 9th, Michael, which included a Robert Mapplethorpe photo of a little girl about 3 years old with her dress up and her vagina showing.
You chose to print that picture to expose what you consider the fallacy of censoring art for sexual reasons, I assume. You didn’t state your point, but it was implied in your article.
Because we both have been in the Chicago news business for 20 years, you may understand what I am going to say here somewhat better than many who have not made their living in the news business or in related businesses such as law enforcement or social work.
Human sexuality is a multi-faceted phenomenon. For this letter, we will consider two facets.
Sex created every man, woman and child on earth. It is the primary source of the love between a man and woman that is necessary to form the stable unions required for raising human children. This love is one of the principal glories of human existence.
That is one facet of human sexuality.
Sex is John Gacy strangling 33 young boys and men and having intercourse with some of the corpses. Sex is every child who was ever raped by a father or other relative, some of these victims driven to madness. Sex is every girl or woman spread eagled on a floor or in a stairwell or on the pavement, in poor neighborhoods and rich, with a knife at her throat being raped and screaming–often silently–but screaming. Sex is a man bashing in a girl’s skull because he has molested her and wants to cover it up. Sex is a serial killer cutting off the penis of a live and screaming young boy, then cutting up the boy while he lives and until he dies and putting the parts in plastic bags and forcing some of the gore down the bathtub drain until it clogs. (Did I cross a line there for newspapers? You will decide.) Sex is a motive for murder, rape, and child molesting every day, always.
Substitute your own examples as you read, whatever examples impress you with the reality of sex crime. I remember seeing a tiny girl standing on a table in a large courtroom in the Criminal Courts Building, whispering. The judge leaned toward her and said, “Can you speak a little louder, honey, just turn toward me.” She is answering a question about whether her father penetrated her body and where.
It is difficult, but in this instance absolutely necessary, to retain both these facets of human sexuality in the mind, simultaneously and equally, and to hold them there.
Those who object to a consideration of the negative side of sex might say we should “get our minds out of the gutter.” But some decisions require us to weigh all sides of humanity, including the side in the gutter.
This is true, for instance, when choosing which sexual customs we will uphold and which ones we will break in printing photographs in newspapers. We must weigh both facets of human sexuality. We must open our minds to all that is human, including the irrational but very real.
If that photograph is art, to how many more “artists” has the Reader given justification to take how many similar photos, or worse, and to distribute them? Who will the children be? What else will happen to these children after the photo sessions begin?
If we keep all this in our mind, it may seem too much to bear. It may seem that from the extremes of love and beauty to the extremes of depravity there is too much contradiction to allow any kind of answer. So we might be tempted to throw away one side and base our decision solely on the other side, whichever side we choose.
But we must not.
Keeping both sides in our mind, it may seem again that the question is too big for us to answer. Yet we must answer it. For this we need wisdom.
We look for wisdom in the accumulated experience of humanity.
We strive to ask the previous generation, and our grandparents, and all our predecessors what they would do if considering publication of such a photograph. We ask these questions all the time through our knowledge of the ways of those who came before us.
We look to our knowledge of the existing world. What do our fellow men and women in other, contemporary societies on the earth do?
Would our contemporaries elsewhere or our ancestors have printed that picture? Or are their lines drawn regarding human areas that are irrational–but well known–lines which have been handed down to us?
The oldest parts of the Bible are 3,000 years old in written form, and the stories it records are older. Without considering the existence of God or the validity of religion, from the Bible we can get an idea of the way humans behaved perhaps as far back as human memory can go.
In the creation story, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” Gen. 3 vs. 7
The Genesis author here means men and women have always clothed the genitals. Especially, we know this to be true of the female genitals.
Has all of human history been prudish until last week in the Reader?
You made a mistake, Michael. If you come to agree with me that you made a mistake, I hope you will acknowledge it and apologize in the paper.
I have seen you with your children, and I consider you to be a fine father.
I think you and the other editors of the Reader were temporarily blinded by your concerns for freedom of speech. In other contexts, we know that freedom of speech is not the highest good or goal of mankind. That is why it is illegal to deceitfully shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. That is why there are libel laws. All rights are limited by other rights.
Who decides the limits? We do, the adults.
If we refuse to uphold our responsibility to say what matters, to set limits, what will disappear will not be all limits. What will disappear will be the freedoms we love.
Michael Miner replies:
I’m in considerable sympathy with the letters from Jerry Crimmins and Dr. Borelli. At one point, I had serious qualms about printing Honey in the Reader. But I must say that I always regarded these as qualms to be overcome; the case for printing Honey always struck me as compelling.
My view of Honey is that its artistic merit lies in the way it forces us into the consideration that Crimmins says “may be too much to bear.” Perhaps with some people that is literally true. Crimmins seems concerned about the effect of Honey on certain psychopaths who spot it in print. Crimmins has seen more of the world’s horrors than I have, and if he’d pursued this idea he might have convinced me that publishing Honey has put Chicago’s children in greater peril. But his argument is largely intuitive, based on traditional mores. Artists feel no obligation to halt at mores, and I don’t feel derelict as a journalist in probing them as well.
Dr. Borelli says flatly that Honey is “child sexual abuse” because it commercializes a child’s sexuality. I gather that he and Crimmins both think that what Honey has in common with black-market child pornography is much more significant than what it doesn’t. My own gravest reservations concerned the girl herself. But I decided that after 14 years in which her picture had appeared on museum walls, in catalogs, and as state’s evidence in a celebrated trial, there was no harm publishing it again could do to her, if in fact harm had been done her before. Honey was the picture at issue between the New Art Examiner and its printer, and that dispute was the subject of my column. Was it, nevertheless, a sight upon which my readers simply could not look? I decided not. I would rather lose this debate over propriety than see it waged in visual ignorance.