Friday, July 28, 2006

Photography as Abuse

Michelle Malkin and others are in an uproar over a left-leaning photographer, Jill Greenberg, who made toddlers cry and took their picture. Greenberg then used the photos in an exhibit that pretends the children were upset about what the world is coming to with Bush in the White House.

I have to say I'm stunned at the level of emotion in people's reactions to the photographs (see them here) and the photographer. It can break your heart to see little kids crying, but Malkin, Thomas Hawk, and commenters on his post used words that included these: abuse, horrible, emotional blackmail, traumatizing, bordering on pornography, cruelty. And that's just for starters. Here's one comment:

[T]he very idea of this woman tormenting young children in the name of "art" makes me sick to my stomach.

And how did Greenberg abuse these children? She gave them lollipops and then took them away after a few minutes. That's when she started taking pictures.

Some of the people who are appalled by Greenberg's methods seem to be having nothing more than a visceral reaction: Babies are crying, so it must be abuse. Others make stronger points, like this one: "[T]o intentionally inflict emotional pain on a child for no valid reason is wrong." Yep. That's right. I'm not arguing with that one.

Greenberg's husband (their daughter is one of the children photographed) responded to Hawk's post. Here's an excerpt:

jill did not "abuse" the children, nor abuse them. they were given lollipops, and then those were removed from the kids. jill didn't speak to them--the parents were there monitoring the whole time. this is the EXACT technique used in ads and movies and TV. i'm a producer in two of those mediums and have been through this before, so i know whereof i speak.

So all those crying babies in diaper ads go through the same thing, and nobody's screaming "abuse." Yet. Of course, now that the advertising cat's out of the bag, the screaming may start.

But this raises a question. Would the uproar be the same if Jill Greenberg wanted pictures of happy babies to illustrate their joy over the thought of Democrats gaining the White House in 2008?

Right now we have: (a) Babies are given a lollipop, (b) Lollipop is taken away, (c) Photos are taken.

Suppose we had: (a) Babies are given a lollipop, (b) Photos are taken, (c) Lollipop is taken away. Would anybody be screaming, "abuse" or, "emotional blackmail"? No. The pictures would have been of smiling babies.

It's hard to know for sure which way to come down on this. I'm swaying back and forth somewhere in the middle. It's not nice to make babies cry on purpose. Then again, this is accepted practice in the movie and advertising world, and the babies suffer no lingering effects (any more than they suffer for having been told it's time for bed).

But I definitely believe that the people screaming "abuse" have gone over a cliff and need to get a grip.


Christina said...

You know, we have lots of pictures that act as a scrolling "screensaver" for our computer. One that seems to come up a lot is the series of pictures I've lovingly entitled "Anatomy of a Tantrum". They were taken when Emily was throwing quite a fit. I decided to record one for posterity. She was bawling and crying (probably because I had taken something away or dared to change her diaper).

Hmmm...would these people call this abuse? I guess it would fit their definition. You know what's worse? Sometimes, when I see them pop up on the computer screen....I laugh! (Gasp!!!) It is quite the sight to behold.

Was the exhibit in question "nice"? Not really. No one should intentionally make babies cry. But was it "Abuse"? Not a chance. Why don't these people who are so up in arms take on real child abuse cases? You know the kind I mean...where kids actually suffer for hours or months or years in filth and conditions not fit for a cockroach. That would be a worthwhile endeavor.

All_I_Can_Stands said...

I think this picture set represents the Dems this fall when their lollipop of reclaiming the Senate and House gets taken away.

janice said...

I like MM and think she has her finger on the pulse of most right thinking Americans. As for this issue, I believe it's much ado about nothing.

Charlie said...

I actually think the whole thing is rather pathetic. Her press release says she's alarmed by the fact that the government has been taken over by fundamentalists. So crying babies are supposed to wake us up to the terrible threat of Christians in government.

Both her art and her anti-religious bigotry are childish in the extreme.

SkyePuppy said...


Of course the purpose of her art is childish. People like her love to pretend they're the grownups bringing Important Messages of Enlightenment to the unthinking religious masses. Silly, unthinking, emoting them!

But for normally rational people like Michelle Malkin to be in this much of a tizzy over crying babies surprises me. It's not worth the paper it's printed on. So to speak.