Garance Franke-Ruta's injunction against the unseemly characters who profit from girls who go wild (i.e. show of their little (and big) taters) has--you'll pardon the verb--engendered some controversy on the interweb, and although Roy at Alicublog, whose post initially directed me to Franke-Ruta's secular anathematizing, has got her dead to rights, I'm going to say this about that anyway.
You can't expect children to develop ethically if you deny them ethical agency. Prohibitionism up to arbitrary age-lines doesn't predispose those 16- or 18- or 21-year-olds with newly acquired rights and privileges to act responsibly. It encourages them to go balls to the wall. We've all been to twenty-first birthday parties. That's not to say that we should allow every 15-year-old kid and his buddies to wander unsupervised into any bar, but it is to say that at home or at a restaurant with the folks, there's nothing wrong with giving him a glass of wine or a draft with dinner. Not only nothing wrong--it's a positive benefit. You learn to "enjoy responsibly," as goes the warning-label slogan. Exposure breeds understanding, and understanding enables ethical action.
Of course we're far more deranged about sex than about alcohol or even the hardest of drugs, and so rational minds that would otherwise agree that our prohibitory attitudes do more harm than good reach instantly for the bans when the soft bodies of our young female-Americans are concerned. (To be accurate, though: Franke-Ruta seems generally to approve of the current drinking age. Eh.) As in:
A woman of 18 may be physically indistinguishable from one who is 21, but they are developmentally worlds apart.This, I believe, is called universalizing from your own experience. There are plenty of 18-year-old girls with far greater poise, self-assurance, and wisdom than hard-partying 21-year-old elders. And vice versa. That's the flaw in arbitrary lines of demarcation. The difference between a college freshman and a recent college graduate isn't quantifiable. Those aren't meaningful categories, except perhaps to college juniors and sophomores. Most 19-year-olds don't consider their "forms" to be "newly developed," and if you'd poll them, I'd suspect that a fair majority would tell you that they'd had a heartbreak or two. There are plenty of women well into middle-age who have never thought "long and hard about what her value is, both in her personal life and at the office." Garance Franke-Ruta has taken the timeline of her own peculiar and privileged life--from first high-school experimentation through the cum laude degree at Harvard, through writerly gigs at thinkerly rags full of over-educated social pontificators with time to invest in thinking hard and deep and long about issues of self-worth and gender equity and the fine distinctions between a woman with the independent capacity to show her tits and appreciate the conseuqences versus a girl who in her native, Arcadian state, knew not nor never knew that the goddamn cameras were rolling--and from it determined that no sorority sister on spring break in Florida could possibly appreciate the ramifications of her own actions, "Scorpion Bowl" or no.
Think only of the difference between a college freshman and a recent college graduate, or between a high-school senior and a young woman with a job and apartment of her own. Or think of the difference between a 19-year-old girl--intoxicated by both a Scorpion Bowl (illegally served) and her own newly developed form--and a woman who has been through her first heartbreak and has had to think long and hard about what her value is, both in her personal life and at the office. The second woman is more likely to nurse a chardonnay with friends than "go wild" in the sense that Mr. Francis' cameras are so eager to record. Surely the porn industry can survive without the participation of teenagers.
A new legal age for participating in the making of erotic imagery--that is, for participating in pornography--would most likely operate in the same way [as the legal drinking age], sometimes honored in the breach more than the observance. But a 21-year-old barrier would save a lot of young women from being manipulated into an indelible error, while burdening the world's next Joe Francis with an aptly limited supply of "talent." And it would surely have a tonic cultural effect. We are so numb to the coarse imagery around us that we have come to accept not just pornography itself--long since routinized--but its "barely legal" category. "Girls Gone Wild"--like its counterparts on the Web--is treated as a kind of joke. It isn't. There ought to be a law."Honored in the breach more than the observance?" Someone call a priest. "There ought to be a law" that no one will observe. Yes, that is the recipe.
Perhaps it's only the fact of my faggotry, but I don't think of porno as "coarse imagery," to be spoken in a Tipper Gore tone of magisterial disapproval. Why it is that arousal follows from watching other folks go at it is one of the great mysteries of sexual nature, but it's true, and it does. "'Girls Gone Wild'" . . . is treated as a kind of joke." It is! you marvelous prude. And it's your tsking about it that makes it so much more difficult for a woman, confronted with this "youthful indiscretion," to laugh about flashing her tits at Joe Francis and Snoop Dogg at Mardi Gras, 1999, and to go on with the job interview. We don't need a law. We need a laugh.
UPDATE: La_rana has an alternate take.