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Monday, August 28, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine and Rosa Brooks on the sexing up of little girls

Though I am sure we are outdone by our friends at Concurring Opinions, and their unceasing search for internet traffic via popular word searches, I fear the title of this post could also generate a few Google hits from the unsavory kind of readers recently profiled in the New York Times in a couple articles that Paul described last week on these pages.  So if you're drawn to this post for those reasons, click away please.  On the other hand, if you're here to discuss Little Miss Sunshine, have at it. Little_miss_sunshine My wife and I saw it the other night.  All I can say in the PrawfsBlawg spirit: we loved it!   Any movie that can justifiably make a star out of this kid's glorious acting is worth my 7 bucks.

Oddly, FOP/Georgetown prawf Rosa Brooks's recent LATimes op-ed overlooked this outstanding movie when discussing the  spate of  causes underlying the robust sexualization of young girls.  Brooks thinks corporate America is going soft on family values.  She writes:

In a culture in which the sexualization of childhood is big business — mainstream mega-corporations such as Disney earn billions by marketing sexy products to children too young to understand their significance — is it any wonder that pedophiles feel emboldened to claim that they shouldn't be ostracized for wanting sex with children? On an Internet bulletin board, one self-avowed "girl lover" offered a critique of this week's New York Times series on pedophilia: "They fail, of course, to mention the hypocrisy of Hollywood selling little girls to millions of people in a highly sexualized way." I hate to say it, but the pedophiles have a point here.  There are plenty of good reasons to worry about children and sex. But if we want to get to the heart of the problem, we should obsess a little less about whether the neighbor down the block is a dangerous pedophile — and we should worry a whole lot more about good old-fashioned American capitalism, which is busy serving our children up to pedophiles on a corporate platter.

Though I still live in a kid-free home, and thus, perhaps, I'm a bit out of my depths on this issue, I'm skeptical of the effort to locate responsibility for this mess on the shoulders of corporations.   The notion that Disney or other Acme Corp'ns are "serving our children up to pedophiles on a corporate platter" is a bit, uh, fantastic.  No doubt, harried parents are pressured to succumb to the tyranny of desires sharply articulated by their kids.  But the choice to send 4 year old girls to school in lip gloss, nail polish, and mini-thong underwear is largely that of the parents who buy and tolerate these badges of "maturity." 

As to the pedophiles' newfound role as social critic, it doesn't take a genius to espy continued slippage in the social norms that once co-related modesty with self-respect.  But the vigor of Disney's marketing strategy hardly confers a reason to engage in coercive sexual violence against young children.  Blaming corporations, while warranted on occasion, should not become an escape hatch from responsibility--for both parents and pedophiles alike. 

Posted by Administrators on August 28, 2006 at 01:19 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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Paul: Fine! While what follows from that proposition is a more complicated matter, I have no problem with the proposition itself. Lest it seem as if I was exaggerating on my own behalf, the "platter" line was taken from the Brooks column.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Aug 31, 2006 10:53:29 AM

Paul H.: that's of course true. But... I think we can suggest that the mass cultural sexualization of children might be partially culpable for the level of pedophilia we have today without accusing anyone of serving kids up to pedophiles on a platter or subtracting from the culpability of the pedophiles themselves.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Aug 31, 2006 9:44:40 AM

Hanson's recent stuff is great. (If you're reading this, come to sunny LA! Southwestern wants you as a guest speaker.) LONG -- his is not a "35,000 word limit" universe -- but great. It doesn't, however, go so far as to justify a line suggesting that Disney and like companies are serving kids up to pedophiles on a platter. It may justify modifying our view of the agency of the parent/consumers who are buying the Princess Ariel bikinis and so on, but it doesn't sufficiently justify making any similar comments about the agency of the pedophiles.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Aug 30, 2006 6:41:29 PM

Paul, thanks for the references. I've read much of Jon's other stuff (including the stuff he wrote with Doug K), but not some of the recent stuff. I'll take a look.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Aug 30, 2006 6:21:47 PM

Dan, before you pooh-pooh the advertising-as-proximate-cause theory too much (not perhaps in the tort law sense, but at least in the fair assignment of blame sense), can I suggest taking a look at Jon Hanson's "critical realism" series of articles? (Noted on his HLS webpage.) The obesity and justice one is particularly interesting in the BK context.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Aug 30, 2006 6:17:15 PM

Irony, ladies and gentlemen Look it up!

Posted by: Ted Rosen | Aug 30, 2006 10:34:05 AM

I appreciate Prof. Brooks's clarification. I wrote a long response to her for the blog, and scrapped it, on the grounds that I need to husband my writing time, and should spend it elsewhere. Suffice it to say that, whether or not Prof. Litvak's characterization is accurate, I agree with her, and with Dan, that there is still much that is unconvincing about her effort to connect the "hysteria" over pedophilia with the question of marketing "sexy" clothes to children. Moreover, her effort to describe the furor over pedophilia as "hysterical," while it may ultimately be justified, is tendentious, to say the least, and raises questions about what other public concerns should be characterized as "hysterical," *if* we accept her logic. Using the same logic, I think we could fairly characterize the furor over domestic surveillance by the administration, on which Prof. Brooks has written her share, as "hysterical," among other examples. That doesn't mean it *is* hysterical. Rather, it suggests that a label does not an argument make.

I do want to add, quickly, that I think she does a clear injustice to the New York Times when she characterizes its recent two-part series on pedophilia and the Internet as part of the "flurry of excited stories" that were "launched" by the arrest of John Mark Karr, as if to suggest that the Times seized on the occasion to exploit the public interest in this issue. It should have been self-evident that those Times stories were the product of extensive and careful reporting and writing that were obviously in progress well before the recent news broke, and this point is further confirmed by the fact that the reporter in question, Kurt Eichenwald, had already written an extensive story on the subject months earlier. It would be more accurate, if unkind, to say that Prof. Brooks's own column is a far better example of the media's exploitation of public concern about pedophilia than were the Eichenwald stories.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Aug 29, 2006 2:39:04 PM

No. My argument is not that Disney causes pedophilia, or Disney causes child rape, or that the wearing of thongs is inherently harmful, or more harmful than anything in particular. My argument was rather modest: simply that the nationwide hysteria about pedophilia rings a little hollow in a culture where marketing "sexy" clothes to toddlers is big business for mainstream corporations.

Posted by: Rosa Brooks | Aug 29, 2006 1:00:52 PM

I think Rosa Brooks was trying to say that, given a small probability of forcible rape, the rape’s expected harm to a child's psyche is smaller than the expected harm from the high-probability inducement to wear a thong. A rather unconvincing argument, I would add.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Aug 29, 2006 12:35:46 AM

Pardon me, Dave, I should have adverted to this reference instead:

Yes, advertising tries to shape preferences, but that doesn't make it the "proximate cause" in any situation where a 4 year old girl goes to school in a thong. I say this not only as a normative point. The law hasn't moved in this direction either as far as I can tell. Can you think of a case where X shoots Y, and X's defense is, but "I saw an advertisement for this cool gun?" Or X eats BK's food too much, grows obese, and sues for injury based on BK's whopper ads?

Posted by: Dan Markel | Aug 29, 2006 12:16:48 AM

"Unceasing search"? Citing a blog post from January?

Regardless, I wonder why you think that parents' choices here are fully autonomous. You'd agree that advertising is designed to shape preferences, right?

Posted by: Dave Hoffman | Aug 28, 2006 10:57:09 PM

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