Does Perez Hilton have a point?

He argues the Miley Cyrus upskirt shot isn't child porn because it doesn't show us anything we haven't already seen

Published June 18, 2010 8:59PM (EDT)

Perez Hilton
Perez Hilton

I really didn't want to write about Perez Hilton today. I've done my part in feeding the frenzy. (You should see the list of search terms currently driving people to Salon -- it reads like a poetic ode to baser desires: Miley Cyrus upskirt, upskirt Miley photo, Cyrus upskirt Perez pics, upskirt Perez Hilton, Miley Cyrus underwear Perez Hilton -- and so on and so forth.) I was ready to take away the cotton candy and force-feed you guys some damn spinach, I really was. But then I came across a clip of Hilton last night on "The Joy Behar Show." He was his usual unapologetic self (announcing that he would post the photo again tomorrow if the agency with the rights to the image would only let him), but a couple of things did stand out.

Namely, his insistence, despite what legal experts say, that the image isn't  possibly child porn: "It's not showing anything inappropriate," he said. "It's not actually doing anything worse than Miley herself has been doing recently -- from grinding up on her 40-something director to pole dancing to all the oversexualized things that she has been doing ... ." Ignoring his obnoxious, shaming attitude, he does have a point. It isn't a point likely to hold up in a court of law, but, philosophically at least, it's a valid one. How can an upskirt shot -- which, to be clear, was caused by a gust of wind and a low-angled camera lens -- of a panty-clad 17-year-old be considered pornographic when that same teenager is frequently seen on national television gyrating in fishnets and skin-tight leotards? Assuming that Hilton's description of the photo is accurate, there is no substantial difference between the visuals -- aside from the context in which they were taken and presented.

Child porn distribution charges often hinge on such nebulous factors. In Hilton's case, the implications of his tweet -- "If you are easily offended, do NOT click here Oh, Miley! Warning: truly not for the easily offended!" -- are up for debate. He doesn't explicitly say: Check out this minor's crotch! He does, however, present it as an offensive image -- which could be interpreted any number of ways. If it was somehow proven that he was attempting to trick people into thinking it was a pantyless shot -- even if it wasn't -- or to arouse his fans with a titillating photo of a minor, it's possible he could be in trouble.

The truth is that this debate has been raging for days, but few of us have actually seen the uncensored version of the photo. As Hilton said last night, "I feel like if everyone saw this image in question they would clearly see that you're not seeing anything down there that you're not supposed to," he said. "It's definitely not child pornography and it's definitely not illegal." He oversimplifies the legal issues at play, but, indeed, who is going to distribute the photo or seek it out, given the risk? We have to take his word for it and rely on his view of the image. This is how conversations about child porn so often go. They are abstract, hypothetical and bubbling over with fear. I've spoken with a number of criminal defense attorneys over the years who describe how even in child porn trials, the evidence is treated as radioactive material.

This is all rooted in a good place: We want to protect children. But you need only look at the ceaseless supply of pop tartlets for evidence that we also have extremely volatile and hypocritical attitudes toward young people and sex. How quickly a child's sexuality goes from being seen as cute, harmless fun to immoral, depraved and perverse! It's no surprise that we have crude child porn laws that perpetuate that cultural cognitive dissonance.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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