Sunday, May 9, 2010
Last week at a friend’s place, boredom and curiosity (two fundamental ingredients for the most exciting discoveries) compelled me to steal a glimpse into his private collection of erotica (yep, that’s the prettier word for porn). I stand by my story, in the case that he reads this, that the magazines were already lying open on his bed; the fact that I was caught crawling out from under the bed proves nothing. What I saw at first glance did not surprise me. I’d heard of adults-only comic books and eroticised cartoon characters, and since this friend happens to be a self proclaimed anime-fanatic, I could’ve easily predicted a screen-by-screen reel of what went down inside his head. However, the thing that caught my attention was the manner in which the girls were depicted. Wide-eyed, flushed cheeks and pre-pubescent, these images construct the fascinating world of lolicon.
Lolicon, or the “Lolita complex,” refers to the sexual attraction to young girls. The term was coined in Japan, where there exists an enormous market for grown men to perve and pant over childlike characters posed in erotic manners. My first experience with Vladimir Nabokov’s lovesick, poetic, and strangely loveable creation, Humbert Humbert, prompted me to single out this personality as an unfortunate aberration of humankind; a man tormented by perversions that rest completely beyond his control (funnily enough, Nabokov did reuse the characterisation of baby-faced nymphettes in several other works). However, the widely spread market of lolicon, particularly in Japan, blurs the line between paraphilia and subculture.
In Japan, the style of kawaii, which translates to “cute”, is a spectacle that exists beyond the pages of pornographic magazines. The streets of Tokyo are brought to life by groups of women dressed in pink lace, frilled collars and oversized ribbons, flaunting the childlike image that’s quickly gained nation-wide popularity. The school-aged girl in a school uniform is regarded as an erotic symbol in Japan, comparable to the image of a cheerleader in the United States. There is no surprise then that the collusion between the cute and the perverse in Japanese culture has provoked both global and domestic criticism. Countries such as Canada, Australia, Sweden and the Philippines have attempted to criminalise the sexually explicit forms of lolicon, deeming the phenomenon as child pornography, but many culture critics argue that it is essentially harmless. But before we can start pointing fingers at the despicable habits of foreign cultures (we all love to cry foul at the Japanese), we first must take a closer look at our own.
The shelves of our department stores would probably be the first place to look. With the profit-driven creations of pre-teen push-up bras and satin thongs, “Eye Candy” t-shirts and the notoriously sexy Bratz doll, the modern trend of sexualising young girls has crept into Western societies with very little recognition. Gigi Durham poses the following question in her book The Lolita Effect: Who would disagree that the “baby-faced nymphet” – perhaps embodied more explicitly by a school-uniformed Britney Spears in the Baby One More Time video – is a regular fixture on the media landscape? Durham brings attention to a culture that increasingly positions girls from a very early age that women are merely “passive, objectified sex kittens”; girls are not encouraged to actually desire sex, yet they are mandated to be desirable to men. Girls are to appear “up for it,” but to not act upon it, for that would of course be sluttish.
I cannot smother my passion on this matter because that would betray the heated feminist ideals that surge forcibly through my veins. At the risk of playing Devil’s advocate, I don’t believe we should hide the realities of the “Lolita effect” from our daughters. Perhaps instead, we should find a way to explain the separation between sex and consumerism. The objective of generating profits has constructed a culture in which the practice of sex is seen as predominately man-pleasing. If young girls are taught to consider sexuality as a human impulse, pursued by both men and women, we may have a lot less to worry about concerning the potential repercussions of society’s escalating Lolita complex.