Two days ago Genesis Breyer P-Orridge gave an artist talk to accompany he/r ongoing retrospective at the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh. After the talk a hoard of people lined up, cell phones out to get pictures with Genesis. Suddenly s/he felt a presence behind he/r and turned to look. Standing in the center of the stage was a dignified little girl, waiting. Genesis said “hello” and the child walked over and extended her hand—unfurled it with a kind of strange elegance—and said: “My name is Madison. I’m nine years old. I’ve loved your work all my life and I wanted to meet you.” Genesis thanked her, shook her hand, and asked where her parents were. Madison walked h/er across the stage to meet her father who said “she’s been nagging me about coming to this talk since January.” “Have you seen the exhibition?” Genesis asked. “Twice, and I’m going back,” said Madison. Genesis asked if she could give her a kiss on the top of her head and then did.
Who is this angel child, precocious enough to love Genesis Breyer P-Orridge at nine years old? We are keeping our eyes out for her in years to come!
I liked this story because it speaks to how grossly underestimated the intelligence of children is in our culture. Given that they have a vast and complex capacity to understand, why is it that most of the “entertainment” created for children today is banal and insipid? The fact is there are social and economic forces with a vested interest in dampening children’s sense of the possible: the first violent step in a larger societal project to create docile consumers and apathetic political subjects.
One disturbing example: an artist told me she was turned away from Paul McCarthy’s White Snow at the Armory with her two-week-old baby because “no one under seventeen could be admitted.” “But he is two-weeks-old—he can’t really “see” physiologically; furthermore, I’m his mother and I say he can go in.” The Park Avenue Armory staff told her under no circumstances could she enter with her child.
Marie-Louis von Franz, the Jungian expert on fairytales, said that one of the dangers of the “Disneyfication” of fairytales for children is that they flatten out the multifaceted nature of archetypes so that characters become the embodiment of pure good or total evil. It is clear that by reinhabiting Snow White Paul McCarthy is complicating a beloved childhood visual vocabulary, born at the intersection of American Puritanism and consumerism. I think White Snow is both a love letter to the aesthetics of classic Disney films and a statement on the profound role these images and stories have in shaping our future psychic lives.
Champions of censorship in all forms usually cry “think of the children!” And let’s, because if we actually think about children and their intelligences do we would change what they get to see and how they are treated in exactly the opposite ways culture warriors demand.
—Contributed by Jarrett Earnest