At one point in my life, I was captivated by the 2017 film “Call Me By Your Name,” directed by Luca Guadagnino, in which 17-year-old Elio falls in love with 24-year-old Oliver. Before a conversation with a friend, however, I did not know that Elio was a minor in the film. “Call Me By Your Name” is just one of the latest pieces of media to subtlety justify its portrayal of pedophilia, a theme that is all too common across popular culture that needs to be addressed.
In “Riverdale,” which is the Netflix adaptation of Archie Comics, the relationship between music teacher Miss Grundy and high school student Archie Andrews is not punished by the law. Rather, it is punished by Miss Grundy’s unrelated death. Initially, Archie’s father is adamant that Miss Grundy must be arrested when he finds out about their relationship. However, after some convincing from Archie to not go to the police, Archie’s father forces her to quit her job and leave town. Later, Miss Grundy is killed by a group called the Black Hood in an unrelated incident. While invoking a sense of karma, it can be implied that Miss Grundy’s death was the result of her actions. However, this is never directly revealed to the viewer. Instead, Miss Grundy’s actions are swept under the rug, only bolstered by the show’s portrayal of Archie being adamant about the relationship’s consensual nature. Minors are regularly groomed by their abusers to believe their relationship is consensual, when in reality the belief is based solely on manipulation.
In this way, “Riverdale” follows in the footsteps of the renowned novel “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov. In the novel, a 12-year-old girl Lolita and her stepfather engage in a sexual relationship, with much of the blame pushed onto Lolita as she is the one who seduces her stepfather to have sex with her. Later in her life, it is revealed that Lolita is clearly traumatized by the events. Since its publication in 1955, “Lolita” has served as a blueprint for the upcoming generations of media to portray victims of pedophilia as complicit in their own abuse. This type of display of pedophilia insinuates that young girls are “asking for it,” and as a result, people begin to discredit the experiences of young people who have experienced pedophilia.
Film, TV and literature all go to great lengths to masquerade their portrayals of pedophilia, but there is one medium that makes no such concessions: porn. Many people watch porn, and I personally do not see a problem with that. However, what disturbs me and many others is that a widespread and accepted attraction to minors has spawned the “school-girl” and “teen” genre of porn. In 2019, it wasn’t the most searched topic on PornHub, but it definitely wasn’t the lowest either. In this type of porn, the male stars are usually manipulating, dominating and degrading the “young” girls. As a result, “teen” and “school-girl” porn makes it seem as if it is normal to desire and pursue children and even amplifies pedophiles themselves. Furthermore, it discredits the abuse that children experience by pedophiles via sexualizing and manipulating the presentation of it.
One of the biggest consequences of pedophilia in popular culture on young children is that they begin to view themselves as sex objects. They believe that their self worth is based on sex and attraction. They feel the need to change their body, display their body and look older, so that older men desire them and pursue them as seen in the media. Furthermore, it creates a distorted image of what love and relationships should look like because this viewpoint is based on women being controlled and dominated by men rather than being treated equally.
At the same time, these contorted depictions of pedophilia continue to line the pockets of film, TV and porn producers. These portrayals are not only tolerated by society but also accepted by a large portion and inappropriately enjoyed by others. Simple scapegoats of “the actor was not actually a minor,” or “in the end, the pedophile is punished (but never directly)” do not justify the existence of portrayals. Pedophilia needs to be resolutely and visually punished when presented in media. If it is not, this form of media needs to be boycotted and not treated as socially acceptable in any way.
Anmol Gill is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 fall quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org