My recent trip in Hong Kong saw yet another fad rise in this part of Asia, a borderline form of soft porn passed off as art. The differences in sexual taboos between America and Asia, especially America and Japan, created very different social differences in the two cultures.

What would be considered as child porn has been widely in circulation in Japan for years, magazines and comic books regularly showed photos of nude girls as young as 12 in ads, sexual melodramatic violence has been around for decades. The outburst of this type of "literature", sexual adventure comics, which is widely read by kids in Japan just as American kids reads Marvel comics, spread to other parts of Asia, mainly to Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Regional spinoffs quickly spawned in the new fad.

Youth workers don't like it, but these comics are very popular, even to girls, as the pseudo-porn is not sexually one-sided. The authors call it art, and I have to admit, the artwork is pretty impressive, being meticulously hand drawn and illustrated in great detail. However, it is still soft porn, and kids as young as 6 or 7 read them. They would never get past the censors in America, but the different social standards here in Asia, allow them through into the hands of children.

Then again, there is young and nubile Brooke Shields in her controversial role as a child prostitute. They tried to pass that film off as "art", but it did feature full frontal shots of the naked Shields. The French pass off their porn as art all the time. It is very easy to cross the line.

Comics are not "real", like hentai. But it is still porn if it was drawn with the specific intent to depict graphic sexual matter. Personally, I think the stuff in this grey area between art and full-blown child pornography should be censored by age, but then again, my rather large collection of pornography makes me somewhat of a hypocrite for saying that.

My Japanese porn regularly features "lolitas", 18-21 year olds. Some look 13 or 14, with the makeup. Is that child porn? No. But is a sexual comic book featuring a character that looks very young (like they always do in this new fad here in Asia) child porn? Probably. The laws break down at this point. You can't put a specific age to a comic book drawing.

I feel the line is all in the intention. While the law may say differently, I do not believe nakedness alone makes for porno; it has to have a sexual theme. (Well, sexual above and beyond that implied by a naked person, anywho.)

This still makes for an awful lot of porno that's being passed for art in Japan, but as I have no problems with pornography itself, I've never bothered examining the issue.

Some of those weird fetishes freak me out, though. Damn sexually repressed Japanese people.

Drawings are not child pornography. The west has passed laws against child pornography not because it is sick, but because they did not want children to be abused and coerced into things that they don't fully understand and they would probably not do if they did. So hentai drawings of young children do not fall under the spirit of the law.

In the end of 1980s many countries outlawed child pornography — the "with children", not "for children" variety. As that happened, they needed a way to "separate the wheat from the chaff" or, put another way, to distinguish between illegal pornography and legitimate art. No one wanted to ban or censor Nabokov's Lolita and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet or their film renditions with 14 and 15 year old actresses playing adolescents in sexually explicit situations. That's why from the very beginning courts and lawmakers made artistic works clearly exempt from the new laws.

Nabokov's Lolita was saved, but, unexpectedly, others sneaked in as well. LolitasArt, LolitaFix, LolitasHeaven, LolitasLife, NextDoorLolita, NightLolitas, PreLolita and tens of others, as well as Nymphets, Virgins and Angels cropped up on the Net. These sites offered photos strictly for the artistic appreciation of the beauty of nude prepubescent and adolescent girls and boys. What was called softcore porn before became art.

But you have to give these sites their due, because they pay much more attention to the selection of their models than their adult colleagues. And the pictures usually look better, with original costumes and creative decorations. But is that enough to consider them art, when their main purpose was clearly to provide sexual stimulation for the viewers? People who answered negatively soon faced an even more complex question. New sites appeared that featured seemingly "innocent" photos of clothed girls doing mundane tasks like cooking, playing or swimming. Parents offered a masterful picture of injured innocence, pretending that other children of the same age were the target audience, apparently paying tens of dollars for memberships per month. :)

The thin line between art and child pornography became much thinner in recent years.

The lolita art sites started to experiment within the limits of possible. One site, "after receiving numerous requests to shoot two or three girls together... [came up] with a project that represents a new level of professionalism." They came all the way to this mysterious line and stopped right before it, offering pictures of 12, 13, and 14 years old girls almost having lesbian sex. Almost, but not quite. "The girls... were kissing, touching and hugging each other with more than friendly attitude." "[One of them] always liked Sveta and... decided to seduce her. But she wanted it even more!!!" The sites do not mention the word "sex" and they never fully show it, but they imply it in a completely obvious way.

But these sites know where they must stop, at least with 7 y.o. models. "Chic bathroom. Soft and wet body always looks so tempting! It seems that our attentions to each other are no more so innocent…but we still kept on playing. I don't think that it will turn into something more. I love my sister only as a sister." says one of the younger characters. Producers, photographers and content managers all need a unique sense of decorum. They must be careful not to upset the public and not to expose themselves to legal liability, while continuing to provide the subscribers with more and more risque works.

No one can deny that such works have a certain pornographic quality to them. But there is also an artistic side, even if the question of the work's artistic value is left solely to the viewer. And as these "artists" walk on this path, drawing a clear line becomes more and more difficult. One can even speculate that at some moment it will become impossible — if the pornographers maintain the same standards of quality and artistic merit, while pushing farther and farther into the realm of pornography. The same already happened in the 20th century, when pornography found its way into mainstream culture. This undoubtedly may happen again.

In the Western cultural tradition we see art as at most softcore erotica. The Greco-Roman art and the art of Renaissance at most showed nude women, nude men and sometimes nude children. Some of Bouguereau's paintings may be considered erotic, but they definitely are not pornographic. The hardcore art was usually censored and hidden in places where general public can't see it. But in other cultures (Japan and China come to mind), pornographic art was much more prevalent. And if pornography can be artistic, why can't child porn?

Once you know that there is no line, crossing it becomes simply a matter of patience and caution. When will we see the legitimation of hardcore child pornography? I don't know, may be when computer-generated porn will become mainstream. But one thing is already clear — by masquerading as art, child porn managed to grasp the market and public consciousness and is here to stay.

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