An internet cartoon showing characters modelled on Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson engaging in sex acts, is child pornography, a judge has ruled in a landmark case.
In February at Sydney’s Parramatta Local Court, Alan John McEwan was convicted of possessing child pornography and using his computer to access such material.
He was fined $3,000 and required to enter a two-year good behaviour bond in relation to each offence.
McEwan appealed against the conviction, but it was dismissed in the NSW Supreme Court, with Justice Michael Adams concluding a fictional cartoon character is a “person” within the meaning of Commonwealth and NSW laws.
“The alleged pornography comprised a series of cartoons depicting figures modelled on members of the television animated series The Simpson,” the judge said.
“Sexual acts are depicted as being performed, in particular, by the “children” of the family.
“The male figures have genitalia which is evidently human, as do the mother and the girl.”
He noted the figures made no pretence of imitating any actual, or fictional human beings.
“In particular, the hands bear only four digits and the faces have eyes, a nose and mouth markedly and deliberately different to those of any possible human being,” he said.
The magistrate had rejected a submission that cartoon depictions or representations of fictional characters such as The Simpsons were not of “persons”.
Justice Adams said the legislation’s main purpose was to combat the direct sexual exploitation and abuse of children that occurs where offensive images of real children are made.
But, he said, it was also calculated to deter production of other material, including cartoons, which “can fuel demand for material that does involve the abuse of children”.
He upheld the magistrate’s conclusion that the figures in the cartoons were depictions of persons within the meaning of the definitions in the laws.
Justice Adams ordered each party to pay its own costs, as it was the first case dealing with the “difficult” issue.
As long as there have been cartoons, there’s been pornographic spoofs of them, notably the early 20th century ‘Tijuana Bible‘ genre, which included popular cartoon characters of the day like Mutt & Jeff, The Katzenjammer Kids and Little Orphan Annie, crims like John Dillinger and also Hollywood actors. The modern equivalents run the gamut from Japanese hentai to Kim Possible.
There’s absolutely no excuse to be made for some of the content of these spoofs- some unquestionably depict scenarios of child sexual abuse as well as sexism and racism, amongst other perversions and misdemeanors. I’m merely making note that these things not only exist but have been around for a very long time. Doesn’t make them defensible- just means they exist. The NSW case is indeed a landmark because most legislators and jurists in western nations have had the good common sense to deem them to be satires, instead of trying to give cartoons a legal status as ‘people.’
Due to their nearly worldwide familiarity, The Simpsons naturally are a target for satire. Homer and Bart are anti-heroes, with their exploits taken far past the logical extremes by Groening, which is core to their comic shtick. It’s only natural for a satirist to exaggerate the faults of a mark to generate a measure of outrage in the reader. To satirise Bart, you make him even more bratty, self-serving and inappropriate than Matt Groening ever intended. Marge’s and Lisa’s straight-laced conformity and moral sensibilities are discarded and they are caricatured as wanton libertines.
This decision by the NSW Supreme Court opens Ye Olde Canne of Wurmes. The judge himself admits that his verdict, while Bart Simpson et. al. are certainly not real people nor depicted as such, meaning there is no victim to this particular ‘crime,’ was intended to prevent the development in paedophiles of a taste for materials which do victimise children. Sorry, Your Honor, but that taste is already there and has been as long as there have been sociopaths with screwed-up sexual identities.
Since the Simpsons have now been legally adjudicated in Australia to be “depictions of persons within the meaning of the definitions in the laws,” it stands to reason that someone should be able to collect Family Tax Benefits or other payments based upon the existence of depictions of a fictitious person. If a cartoon character is a ‘person,’ deleting an image of one should by rights be classed as murder. Said cartoons should also be able to obtain tax file numbers, sue for defamation and violation of human rights, including privacy, by the publication of pornographic spoofs of them. There’s a cascade of serious, unintended legal problems for the government if the NSW Supreme Court’s ruling is allowed to stand.
As foul and distasteful as these pornographic satires are, they’re still merely satires. Child protection advocates are defeating their own purpose by having a cow over these Simpsons spoofs. To treat these tasteless cartoons as child pornography risks diminution of the truly criminal nature of actual child pornography and rejection of self-styled child protection advocates as mere nutbags.
While we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater, over-the-top UK child protection advocates have successfully lobbied UK telecom authorities to block access to a Wikipedia entry which shows an image of the cover of rock band ‘The Scorpions’ 1976 album Virgin Killer. The cover does depict a nude prepubescent girl, but in no more sexualised a pose than you find in any Bill Henson or Pollixeni Papapetrou photograph. This manoevre has inadvertently increased the ‘trafficking of child pornography’ (if indeed the image is pornographic) as British Wikipedia users and millions of others worldwide who previously had no idea of the existence of the cover hit Google to find out what all the fuss is about.
To sum, censorship doesn’t work on the internet. Sometimes we have to grin and bear it while Bart grins and bares it.
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