I've long believed that the frenzied media baying-for-blood of pedophiles and viewers of child pornography is a witchhunt, arising out of taboos about childhood and adulthood, and our difficulty as a society to deal with an unprecedented torrent in the production, dissemination and consumption of pornography in general -- a phenomenon so wedded to the spread of the internet that web pornography now threatens the print porn industry.
Instead of tackling the meanings and effects of pornography's sudden ubiquity, of our relationship with it (the truth is that we -- men, at least -- enjoy porn), we target the fringes of the phenomenon, directing our venom and vitriol at the "pedophile bastards" who make and use kiddie porn. That way, we draw a line between "us" (normal people) and "them" (insert derogatory expletitive here). We refuse to ask questions such as: why, if child pornography so disgusts us, is "teen" (a deliberate ambiguity, since it refers to an age that spans from 13 to 19) one of the most-used words on "adult" porn sites?
Similar hypocrisies were highlighted here in Ireland recently, when Tim Allen -- husband of celebrity chef, Dorina Allen -- was found guilty of downloading pornographic images of children. Allen was fined and sentenced to 240 hours of community service. As journalist Ronan Mullen pointed out, "the Star [newspaper] carried a front-page headline, You're rich, you're free, but you're still a sick pervert, while on its inside pages it carried ads for sex chat lines."
On the rare occasion that we see the phenomenon of pornography tackled conscientiously in the broadsheet press, the agenda is usually a feminist one, and we are made to feel (wrongly, I believe) that pornography is always demeaning to women, and male consumers are portrayed as addicts. While porn may indeed be addictive (so is sex!), such analysis simply reinforces the notion that pornography is "bad" even though (sssshhh!) it's everywhere. The vicious circle continues; we can't talk about porn, the elephant in the room.
A society can maintain such pretence only for so long, before the cracks begin to show. In Dallas, one big fissure recently opened up when a couple were arrested for creating kiddie porn -- after they left photographs of the mother, Jacqueline Mercado, simulating the act of breastfeeding with her baby son into a one-hour photo lab. The full story appears in the Dallas Observer (from where I got the image, above left, which is presumably a version that's been through a fax machine), and there are a spate of comments on the story from the internet public on Kuro5hin.
In the end, the Mercados had the charges against them dropped. But they still haven't got their kids back from custody...