INVERTING IMAGE AND REALITY: R. V. SHARPE AND THE MORAL PANIC AROUND CHILD PORNOGRAPHY

Lise Gotell

Abstract


In the atmosphere of high anxiety surrounding the Supreme Court’s decision in R. v. Sharpe, abnormal and normal collide and fantasy and representation become equated with reality. It is my intent in this short article to explore the complex cultural and political conditions that give meaning to the Supreme Court’s unanimous endorsement of stiff criminal penalties for possessing sexual representations of adolescents and children. In the Criminal Code provisions on child pornography and in the discursive web woven by both the majority and minority opinions in Sharpe, anxieties about the well-being of children are being projected onto the highly symbolic target of child pornography. Any dissent is pathologized and cast into what has become an elastic category — “the pedophile.” As Weeks writes, “[m]oral panic occurs in complex societies when deep rooted and difficult to resolve social anxieties become focussed on symbolic agents that can be easily targeted.”2 There is strong evidence that we are in the midst of a moral panic around child pornography, the contours of which require careful analysis.


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