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Childhood innocence lost on the internet

Please assume an expression of concerned sympathy, for here is another – yet another – tale of youthful innocence betrayed by middle-aged cynicism.

Four years ago, 14-year-old Lara Jade Coton posted a photograph of herself, wearing a ballroom dress and a top hat, on a website. Now she has been “absolutely horrified” to discover – quite how remains a mystery – that her photograph has appeared on the cover of a pornographic DVD called Body Magic (plotline: “a young fashion model discovers the ins and outs of the world of desire”).

When Lara Jade, now 18, rang the manufacturer, TVX Films, a Texan home video company specialising in “classic erotica”, she was put through to its president, Bob Burge. He was rather less than helpful.

“Nice try, toots,” he said, before adding, woundingly and irrelevantly, that “you’re not even that well known.” Eventually he agreed to remove her photograph from the cover of Body Magic on the grounds that the DVD had bombed anyway – probably as a result of the photograph on the front.

Enter m’learned friends, outraged. A lawsuit has been filed in Florida, claiming that Lara Jade’s copyright had been infringed, her image misappropriated and her privacy invaded. The allegation that the photograph of her was to blame for the porn movie’s disappointing sales was said to have caused particular emotional distress.

There is something odd going on here. Lifting a copyright photograph is, of course, straightforward theft but, looking at the broader moral picture, it is difficult not to have a sneaking sympathy for the Texan pornographer.

The shot which caught the eye of Bob Burge’s art director is shadowy, sultry and distinctly adult. The website on which it originally appeared, before being uploaded on to Facebook and MySpace, is called Deviantart.

The title may be cool and ironic but, in the world of Bob Burge, there will be little room for irony. It must have seemed a mere letter away from being a perfect companion for other TVX Films productions – Fiona on Fire perhaps, or Mr Magnificent or the Classic Bitches on Heat trilogy.

The truth is that the moment Lara Jade dressed, pouted for the camera and then posted the result on the internet, she had invaded her own privacy.

Playing games, experimenting and impersonating adults have always been part of growing up, but they have previously remained within the secret life of teenagers. When those games are exposed to the lizard eyes of sleazebags all over the world, what innocence they once had is lost.

Exhibitionism is the great hobby of the moment, and sometimes it seems to propel parts of the media, but it becomes dangerous when children and teenagers are encouraged to show off to strangers, playing to what can best charitably be described as cultural ambivalence in attitudes towards childhood innocence.

Presented by lawyers and the press as another case of exploitation of the young, the story of Lara Jade’s top hat photograph is more complicated. She is now making her way as a professional photographer.

The image of her on the Body Magic DVD is unrecognisable. Had it not been for the court case and her press campaign, it would have been seen by a very small number of sad cases in Texas and then disappeared. Now it is plastered across the world’s press.

Showing off when you are 14 is understandable but, four years later, you should really be expected to know better. There is exploitation on both sides here and, in the end, the nasty old Texan Bob Burge probably got it right. Nice try, toots – now it is time to move on.

Do we really want poetry in motion?

It is difficult not to be concerned for the welfare of Sally Crabtree, who this week becomes poet-in-residence for First Great Western Railways. Crabtree, described in the press as a “pink-wigged pocket Venus from Cornwall”, will perform for passengers as part of what the rail company calls “our annual engagement with our public”.

The fashion for hiring poets as a way of illustrating corporate respectability, rather as developers and supermarkets plant trees when they are up to no good, had seemed to have passed a couple of years ago. Companies quickly discovered that modern poets, with their fluting voices and studied eccentricities, merely ratchet up irritation levels.

Are Great First Western, a quarter of whose trains are currently running late, aware of the risk of getting a someone, even a pink-wigged pocket Venus, to shout verse on a platform in front of commuters?

* Who could forget Connie Talbot, the gap-toothed little darling who, we were told, “captured the nation’s heart” when she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the final of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent two months ago? Quite a lot of people apparently, because the record company which had been interested in recording the six-year-old’s debut album has just pulled out of the deal.

The news seems to have been a bit of a shaker for Connie’s mum and dad. Sharon Talbot is angry with Simon Cowell, the judge who had predicted Connie could make over £1m this year and who runs the record label. “They have left her with nothing,” she says. Her daughter has asked sadly, “Does Simon not like my singing any more?” Mr Talbot is talking to another record company.

This conflation of sentimentality and financial beadiness around the career of a bewildered six-year-old is faintly nauseating. Cowell, unusually, has behaved with decency and good sense.

  • Chris Rust

    It’s not a trivial issue that the researchers here don’t seem to have any notion of irony or context. If McCartney is saying old people are unloveable how come so many oldies belt that song out at their 64th birthday parties? It’s an affectionate song about love persisting despite the inevitable effects of getting older, what could be more positive?

    But there’s something quite sinister here, the conclusions of the article say:
    “It is imagined that the negative representations of age and ageing can be dispiriting and confidence and esteem lowering for older people and that more scrutiny of these texts by censorship boards should be exercised.”

    In other words it’s a manifesto for the thought police to start telling artists what to do, based on a particularly numb piece of research. Decidedly chilling.