Teenage Sexuality, Body Politics and the Pedagogy of Display
By: Henry A. Giroux
Representing Youth as a Problem
Representations of youth in popular culture have a long and complex history and habitually serve as signposts through which American society registers its own crisis of meaning, vision, and community. Youth as a complex, shifting, and contradictory category is rarely narrated in the dominant public sphere through the diverse voices of the young. Prohibited from speaking as moral and political agents, youth become an empty category inhabited by the desires, fantasies, and interests of the adult world. This is not to suggest that youth don't speak, they are simply restricted from speaking in those spheres where public conversation shapes social policy and refused the power to make knowledge consequential with respect to their own individual and collective needs.
When youth do speak, the current generation, in particular, their voices generally emerge on the margins of society--in underground magazines, alternative music spheres, computer hacker clubs and other subcultural sites. The places youth inhabit, especially since the beginning of the 1980s, increasingly point to the dangerous erosion of civil society that has resulted in the undermining of the safety nets and nurturing systems that historically have provided some sustenance and hope for youth. Quality public schools, youth clubs, religious institutions, public art programs, urban shelters, and drug and crime free urban neighborhoods seem to have receded and been replaced, in part, by public spaces largely marked by the absence of adult support. The basketball court, the shopping mall, the darkly lit street corner, the video arcade, the urban dance hall, the suburban home inhabited by latchkey children, the decaying housing projects, and the second hand automobile have become the privileged sites for working class youth. In alarming numbers, youth in the 1990s are being distanced from both the values, language, and practices necessary to shape a democratic social order and those public terrains that traditionally have been used to promote and embody civic discourse and critical reflection.
Lauded as a symbol of hope for the future while scorned as a threat to the existing social order, youth have become objects of ambivalence caught between contradictory discourses and spaces of transition. While pushed to the margins of political power within society, youth nonetheless become a central focus of adult fascination, desire, and authority. Increasingly denied opportunities for self-definition and political interaction, youth are transfigured by discourses and practices that subordinate and contain the language of individual freedom, social power, and critical agency. Symbols of a declining democracy, youth are located within a range of signifiers that largely deny their representational status as active citizens. Associated with coming-of-age rebellion, youth become a metaphor for trivializing resistance. At the same time, youth attract serious attention as both a site of commodification and a profitable market. For many aging baby boomers, youth represent an invigorated referent for a mid-life consciousness aggressively in search of acquiring a more `youthful' state of mind and lifestyle.
At stake here is not merely how American culture is redefining the meaning of youth, but how it constructs children in relation to a future devoid of the moral and political obligations of citizenship, social responsibility, and democracy. Caught up in an age of increasing despair, youth no longer appear to inspire adults to reaffirm their commitment to a public discourse that envisions a future in which human suffering is diminished while the general welfare of society is increased. Constructed primarily within the language of the market and the increasingly conservative politics of media culture, contemporary youth appear unable to constitute themselves through a defining generational referent that gives them a sense of distinctiveness and vision, as did the generation of youth in the 1960s. The relations between youth and adults have always been marked by strained generational and ideological struggles, but the new economic and social conditions that youth face today, along with a callous indifference to their spiritual and material needs, suggest a qualitatively different attitude on the part of many adults toward American youth--one that indicates that the young have become our lowest national priority. Put bluntly, American society at present exudes both a deep rooted hostility and chilling indifference toward youth, reinforcing the dismal conditions that young people are increasingly living under. Donna Gaines is insightful in her claim that the 1980s represented a decade in which "young people were devalued, dismissed and degraded at every turn," and that the children and teenagers are currently losing ground in securing a decent present and future for themselves and others.
In post-Vietnam America, young people have experienced an erosion in their cultural prestige, their impact as a social force has diminished, they are losing ground in their rights and civil liberties. The nature of the nuclear family, the global economy and the world stage is in rapid transition. The American working class is disappearing as a social entity. Thee now exists a permanent subclass of American citizens we call `the homeless.' Half the kids in America don't go to college, and the ones who do spend six years getting degrees, after which they cannot find jobs, or afford housing, health care or cars.
For many youth, especially those who experience ruthless subordination and oppression, nihilism often translates into senseless violence, racism, homophobia, drug addiction, date rape, suicide pacts, escalating homicide rates, and a refusal to participate in building communities of hope and alliances with other oppressed groups. This is not meant to portray youth merely as reproducing a larger social pathology as much as it is meant to make visible the political, economic, and cultural conditions that undermine democratic public life and takes the young and the very old at its first victims.
Of course, conditions of oppression do not simply produce victims or ongoing forms of resistance, but also social systems that become ethically frozen because they have become indifferent to forms of political courage and civic responsibility necessary to engage critically the most pressing problems of the times. The distinctive change of attitude toward working class and black youth in America, while rooted in histories of racism and class struggle, can be seen, in part, by the dismal statistics concerning the quality of life of children in this country that reflect new economic and ideological realities. Statistics are often too abstract to capture the day-to-day suffering they attempts to register, nonetheless, they it serve as reminders of what can only be judged as a national crisis regarding the deteriorating conditions in which many children currently find themselves.
Nationwide, the number of children living in poverty increased by 2.2 million between 1979 and 1989. Child poverty among European-Americans increased from 11.8 percent to 14.8 percent, among Latinos from 28 percent to 32 percent, and among blacks from 41.2 percent to 43.7 percent....The United States has one of the worst infant mortality rates among industrialized nations. Out of every thousand babies born in the U.S., 9.8 die in infancy-a rate worse than sixteen other nations. Black children die at almost twice the national average-18.2 per thousand births.
Not only are there fourteen million children living in poverty in the United States, but the U.S ranks in the lower half of Western industrialized countries in providing services for family support. Moreover, the United States has experienced an alarming growth in cases of child abuse. It is also a country where more teenagers "die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, H.I.V infection or AIDS, birth defects, pneumonia, influenza, stroke and chronic lung disease combined." Similarly, behind the meager distribution of resources allotted for children of the poor looms an oppressive and exploitative structure of economic inequality in which the top 1 percent of the population "holds 46.2 percent of all stocks and 54.2 percent of all bonds." In a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development it was revealed that the United States, out of the top 17 wealthiest industrial countries, has the biggest gap between the rich and poor. It appears that for the richest and most powerful groups in American society youth represent one of their lowest priorities.
The most striking example of such callous indifference can be seen in the actions of the 1995 Republican Party congressional budget cutters who have promoted legislation that would add 1.2 million children to the poverty roles, eliminate basic health care coverage for 7 million young people, and disadvantage 14 million additional children as a result of cuts in federally funded food and nutrition programs. Even more disturbing is the fact that the largest growing population of homeless in this country are children and the average age of such children is nine years old. For white working class youth, prospects are also bleak; they can look forward to dead end jobs, unemployment without the benefit of health care, or perhaps, homelessness.
Black teenagers face an unemployment rate of 57% and unprecedented levels of poverty while impoverishment and hunger become the rule of the day. But what sets black youth off from their white counterparts is that the preferred method of containing white teenagers is through constitutional controls exercised through schooling where working class youth suffer the effects of school choice programs, tracking, and vocationalization. On the other hand, black youth are increasingly subjected to the draconian strategies of `tagging,' surveillance or more overt harassment and imprisonment through the criminal justice system. Recent statistics based on Justice Department figures in 1995 reveal the full scope of this policy by indicating that 1 in 3 black men in their 20's are either imprisoned, on probation, or under the supervision of the criminal justice system on any given day in America.
As the political tide has turned against the well-being, support, and happiness of working class and black children further weakening support for the very young in troubled families and social circumstances, a new form of representational politics has emerged in media culture fueled by degrading visual depictions of youth as criminal, sexually decadent, drug crazed, and illiterate. In short, youth are viewed as a growing threat to the public order.
Hollywood Youth and the Politics of Representation
Traditionally, the body for youth has been one of the principal terrains for multiple forms of resistance and as a register of risk, pleasure, and sex. It has been through the body that youth displayed their own identities through oppositional subcultural styles, transgressive sexuality, and disruptive desires. The multiple representations and displays of the body in this context was generally central to developing a sense of agency, self-definition, and well-placed refusals. The body as a potent marker of youthful resistance served to set youth off from the adult world and suggested that the body was outside of the reach of dominant forms of moral regulation and sexual containment. Many adults responded with trepidation to the youth resistance of the 1950s to what was viewed as the mutually reinforcing phenomena of juvenile delinquency and rock and roll. Hollywood and other conduits of media culture capitalized on such fears by constructing youth as both a social threat and a lucrative market. Redefining teen culture as both separate and in opposition to adult society, youth became the embodiment of alienation, anger, and potential danger. Meanwhile, Hollywood films in the 1950s provided a new youth market with romantic images of anti-heroes such as James Dean and Marlon Brando to both identify with and emulate. Films such as Rebels Without a Cause(1955), Blackboard Jungle (1955), and Rock Around the Clock (1956) portrayed youth as icons of defiance and rock and roll as the subversive space where sexual desire was explored and its excesses were repudiated. The social and political turmoil of the sixties was explored in films such as Easy Rider (1968), Alice's Restaurant (1968), Zabriskie Point(1968), and The Strawberry Statement (1970).
Following the sixties, Hollywood employed different representational strategies to portray middle and working class youth. Films such as Mean Streets (1972), Taxi Driver (1976), and Saturday Night Fever (1977) reproduced a representational politics in which the city was increasingly being viewed as a space of violence, pathology, and resistance inhabited largely by dangerous, white working class youths facing dead end futures. At the same time, as the exhaustion of the politics of the sixties had become manifest along with a growing conservative backlash, Hollywood resurrected white, suburban middle class youth in the nostalgic image of Andy Hardy and Frankie Avalon, but with a twist. In a historical rendering of youth in the fifties, films such as The Last Picture Show (1971), American Graffiti (1973), and Diner (1982) combined white bread angst with the comforts of the cool, ordered nostalgia of the 1950s. Hollywood's fascination with middle class youth was predicated on a claim to public memory that bypassed the radical politics of the sixties by portraying youth within a historical and sociological context that erased moral and political considerations while reducing the realm of the social to utterly privatized and personal narratives. Films such as Love Story (1971) and the Summer of `42 (1971) produced an image of youth in which ethical perspectives and public politics became unimaginable. At the same time, when youth engaged the political sphere, as in popular films such as Woodstock (1970), Harold and Maude (1971), and Hair (1979) considerations of power and domination were replaced by either a quirky cynicism or a fatuous rendering of youth resistance as turned on and tuned out. Erased from such representations were those diverse institutional spaces through which youth of the 1960s had linked a politics of meaning to strategies of engagement. In this scenario, youth appeared without a politics, and public memory in the service of a "past [that] appears as both pervasive and apparently irrelevant."
As the recession of the 1970s gave way to the conservatism that burst forth with the election of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, films such as Breaking Away (1979), Risky Business (1983), the Breakfast Club (1985), and Sixteen Candles (1984) provided a sympathetic portrait of white working class and middle class youth as confused but innocent, doing their best to come of age in a dramatically changing world. The anti-teen impulse that surface in Hollywood films in the late 1980s and early 1990s began to emerge in dramatic Hollywood style in slasher films such as Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), and Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). While a hateful misogyny swept through the horror genre films, a dismal and dystopian depiction of working class youth spread across the Hollywood screens in the late 1980s, and seemed to forecast a new politics of representation through which dominant media culture attempted to rewrite and represent the identities and social status of "youth in [communities] whose older local support institutions had been all but demolished."
If a crisis of representation regarding youth was to emerge in the 1990s, it was rooted less in a transformation of representational ideologies than in a host of complex national and global forces changing the face of the contemporary urban landscape: a downward spiraling economy, a resurgent racism, a diminishing allocation of funds for crucial public services, the creation of Tippi Gore's Parent's Music Resource Center, the hostile public response from many adults to Rap and urban contemporary music as it entered the mainstream. All of these factors, among many others, appear to register a shift in media culture's simplistic but sometimes sympathetic portrayal of youth as a problem through which to analyze social and political dynamics at work in the larger society to a more racist and brutalizing view of youth. Youth were no longer seen as a symptom of a wider social dilemma, they were the problem.
A representational politics began to emerge that strongly resonated with a growing neoconservative demonization of urban white and black youth in the commercially dominated sectors of media culture. In films such as A River's Edge (1987), My Own Private Idaho (1991), and Natural Born Killers (1995), white youth are framed and presented through the degrading textural registers of pathological violence, a deadening moral vacuum, and a paralyzing indifference to the present and future. On the other hand, Hollywood blockbusters such as Wayne's World (1992), Dazed and Confused (1993), and Dumb and Dumber (1995) project onto post-Watergate youth a long legacy of anti-intellectualism that has been a defining principle of American culture. In this script, idiocy and hilarity become a sign of what's in as Jim Carey portrays the teenager who will eventually grow out of a fascination with Beavis and Butthead and emulate the simple-headed but responsible Forrest Gump, who has become the conservatives' 1990s' model of family values, motivation, and patriotism. Needless to say, simplistic Hollywood portrayals of working class youth as either potential muggers or dead from the neck up, legitimates real futures that offers the horrifying images of the prison, mental hospital, or the local fast food outlet. As youth are conceived in images of demonization, sexual decadence, and criminality, the only public sites that appear available to them are unskilled work, highly policed public spaces, or the brute reality of incarceration.
Hollywood representations of black youth in the 1990s seem to be largely inspired by the dynamics of class hatred as well as the powerful resurgent racism in American society. In films that include Boyz N the Hood (1991), Menace II Society (1993), and the more recent Clockers (1995), black male youth are framed through narrow representations that strongly articulate with the dominant neoconservative image of "blackness as menace and `other'." Within these films, violence resonates with the popular perception that every day black urban culture and the culture of criminality mutually define each other. If white working class youth are seen as a problem to be contained, black youth are seen as a dangerous threat to be eliminated.
Fashioning Teenage Sexuality
Media representations of white and black working class youth in the 1990s differ from the portrayal of such youth historically in that the contemporary construction of youth appears to be limited to a politics of demonization through which sexuality is defined as either a commodity or as a problem. Within current representational politics, teenagers are largely defined in terms of their sexuality; What fuels their limited sense of agency and the brutality and violence it produces is an adolescent libido out of control.
Within the new representational politics of youth, the body is increasingly being commodified and disciplined through a reactionary, postmodern cultural politics. Within the terrain of such a politics, the struggle over the body and sexuality as a sign becomes as important as the more traditional practices of containing and disciplining the body as a threat to the social order. In part, the new crisis of representation erases the body of youth as a site of resistance, whether expressed through a transgressive sexuality, an appropriation of popular culture, or in the formation of underground cultural formations. The bodies of youth in the age of Newt Gingrich and the Christian Coalition signify one of the most unsettling threats to American society as an increasingly conservative agenda dominates the discourse about the rights of children and the nature of the social problems facing the United States. Surely there is more than irony at work in a conservative discourse that defines its notion of family values, in part, on an image of the completely pure and sexually innocent child (read white and middle class) while it refuses to acknowledge the "immense sexualization of children within consumer capitalism." The hypocrisy of such a discourse cannot be easily dismissed. As Marilyn Ivy points out, "For to think about the child as a sexual object in capitalism is already to have violated the pristine space the child must occupy to guarantee the crumbling social order, with its insistence on the sanctity of the nuclear family and standardized gender relations."
In what follows, I want to analyze the representations of teenage bodies in the controversial 1995 Calvin Klein designer jean advertising campaign and in the bleak depiction of urban youth in Larry Clark's film, Kids. These representations of youth need to be addressed as part of a broader public struggle over how "technologies of power produce and manage...the individual and social body through the inscription of sexuality" within consumer culture and the visual and pedagogical machinery of Hollywood culture. The primary issue is not whether artists, educators, and the general public should be condemned for finding pleasure in representations of youth as depicted in the Klein ads or in films such as Kids. Finding pleasures in sexually charged images of children does not make people morally culpable. At the same time, the emergence of a representational politics in which the bodies of youth are no longer seen as the privileged site of critical thinking, agency, resistance, or productive desires raises important questions regarding the moral responsibility and limits of one's pleasures at a time when subordinate youth are under massive assault by conservatives. In doing so, I want to illuminate how the Klein ads and Larry Clark's Kids function pedagogically within a broader discourse about youth, focusing specifically on how such representations resonate with specific conservative attacks on related issues of sexuality, race, and gender. Central to this analysis is a critique of a transgressive art that serves either to commodify appropriations of stylized youthful bodies or deploy teenage sexuality as decadent and predatory.
Related to this criticism is the call to challenge the current fascination by many cultural workers with forms of aesthetic and textual criticism and the ways in which such criticism ignores representation of children's culture and bodies as part of a larger debate about power, ideology, and politics. Textual criticism that celebrates the formal aesthetic principles at work in "realistic representations" of teenage sexuality often provides justification for flaunting the commodification of young bodies. Moreover, portraying teenage sexuality as decadent and predatory is neither critically transgressive nor worthy of being labeled as progressively transformative. Artists, critics, and others who respond to these representations by retreating to an ideologically "neutral" defense of aesthetics and artistic freedom often reproduce the very problems such representations legitimate. That is, by failing to engage in a broader public dialogue about the messy political realities of exploitation and social injustice that result from current attacks on poor, urban, white and black youth, such critics often legitimate rather than challenge the current conservative agenda for dispensing with those youth they view as disposable, if not dangerous, to the imperatives of the free market and global economy. I will conclude by offering some suggestions for a pedagogy that addresses popular culture and the representational politics of youth in a progressive way. Harlem Diary (1996) will serve as one example of a representational politics in which a politics and pedagogy of the popular make it possible to understand the ways in which working class youth attempt "to open social and cultural spaces in which to express themselves," as well as engage and transform the conditions through which they push against the constraints of poverty and racism.
Youthful Bodies and Dead-End Pleasures
American youth are unable to vote, are denied basic civic liberties, and face a world of increasing poverty and unemployment, and diminished social opportunities. They have few opportunities to make their voices heard as they witness a growing culture of violence, with its assault on public life, deteriorating cities, and a seeming indifference towards civil rights. At the same time, the collective image stands as a reminder of lapsed social responsibility, a disturbing sexual presence, and a symbol of powerlessness. As such, youth become an easy target for a public discourse in which the dual strategies of scapegoating and commodifying take on the proportions of a national policy and minor revolution in the media.
In the profit-driven world of advertising and fashion, the image and culture of youth are appropriated and exploited for the high pleasure quotient they evoke. The body in this fashionscape does not represent the privileged terrain of agency, but rather serves as a site of spectacle and objectification, where youthful allure and sexual titillation are marketed and consumed by teens and adults who want to indulge a stylized narcissism and a self that is all surface. In this public sphere of simulated yearning and sexualized images, advertisers inventively present the fragmented bodies of youth as the site where pleasure, desire, and commodification intersect in a commercial display "that fetishizes and marginalizes the body as the locus of spectacle."
A recent, highly publicized example of this is the controversial 1995 Calvin Klein jeans advertising campaign. In these images, photographed by Steven Meisel, young models are presented in various stages of undress, poised to offer both sensual pleasure and the phantasy of sexual availability. In a departure from the signature black and white photography and self-conscious artistry of Calvin Klein's high-end product advertising, the young models are set against a backdrop of dated purple carpeting and wood-paneled basement walls, rife with connotations of a particular class and lifestyle. In these advertisements, coquettish girls flash their breasts and white panties, and lounging boys display black nail polish, tatoos, and bulging briefs.
The images of these kids resonate with a cultural perception of the sexuality of poor, white, urban youth. In the televised ads, a low gravelly, off-camera voice prods the kids with questions such as "Do you like to take direction?" and "Ya think you can rip that shirt off ya? That's a nice body. You work out? Yeah, I can tell" evoking the dialogue of a low-budget porn flick. These present a romanticized vision of the dangerous and seedy world of desperate kids on the make; the youthful bodies portrayed suggest kids who are powerless and poor, perhaps forced to negotiate their sexuality as the only currency they have to exchange for profit or the promise of glamour. These images not only test the limits of using sexuality to sell jeans; their use legitimates a "hip" promiscuousness and invite the "most intrusive of gazes." I would argue that this advertising campaign is symptomatic of a broader representational struggle being waged against youth, one that needs to be understood for both the political and pedagogical lessons it can provide for artists, educators, and other cultural workers.
Participating in this romanticized vision of the dangers and seedy world of desperate teens on the make, Klein's models exude a decadent sexuality displayed almost exclusively through an eroticized privileging of the senses in which the body becomes the only terrain through which youth can express themselves. One wonders which social groups were considered the target market this suite of Calvin Klein's ads. Is it working class youth who are meant to find themselves in the images of the hustled--working class youth who can barely afford Calvin Klein's merchandise? Or is it a more elite social groups who might view the working class as an exotic other, that is meant to be titillated by the fantasy of sexual slumming? The ads resonate with a broader conservative politics in which representations of youth seek to erase the complex historical and social formations at work in the shaping of societal subjectivities, desires, and needs.
The controversial Calvin Klein advertising campaign was met with a swift and uniformly critical response. Angry critics--including parents, social welfare groups and conservative politicians, and President Clinton--called the images suggestive and exploitative, and condemned Klein for using children as sexual commodities. Other critics likened the ads to child pornography. The public outcry eventually prompted the Justice Department to launch a Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry to determine if the advertising campaign had violated any legal statue by using under age models (The FBI inquiry found no evidence that under age models were used). The investigation was eventually dropped, but the massive public criticism forced Calvin Klein Inc. to announce a halt to the advertising before its scheduled end.
Many critics, artists, and activists have rightly pointed out that displaying of semi-nude youth is not new, especially in Klein's advertising campaigns. After all, it was Klein's jeans and underwear commercials with Brook Shields, Kate Moss, and Marky Mark that helped to situate Klein's "corporate image right on the razor edge between propriety and titillation." Many of the same critics argued that the critical responses to the Klein ads are less about the rights of children than about the hypocrisy exhibited by right wing conservatives who rally around the sanctity of family values while attempting to enact anti-pornography legislation that would undermine First Amendment rights. In this instance, the attack on Klein's advertising campaign is viewed as a political strategy on the part of zealots such as the Christian Coalition and Donald Wildmon's American Family Association to undermine artistic freedom and promote political censorship.
Camille Paglia added another twist to the criticism surrounding the ads. Paglia took Calvin Klein to task for portraying the models as looking "caught and caged by manipulative, jaded adults" and for undermining the "pedophiliac homoeroticism [that] suffuses the Western high art tradition." Paglia complained that "if Klein and Meisel want to borrow the iconography of pedophilia, they should have the courage to step forward to admit it." Missing from this analysis is any mention of power, ideology, human rights, the historical legacy of child abuse in the interests of capital. Also absent is any challenge to representations of youth that reinforce a fragmented notion of the body, or any exploration of the limits of desire based on exploitation, degradation, and domination. On the contrary, Paglia sees aesthetics posturing as a liberated politics in defense of the homoerotics of pedophilia, but she has nothing to say about either the needs/rights of children or the glamorization in the mass media of a not-so-hip violence in which kids are sexually preyed upon by adults. By focusing exclusively on representations of children as the sexual, Paglia situates youth within a representational politics that links their bodies solely to the virtues of pleasure and consumption. This is exactly what Calvin Klein does but Paglia seems unaware of the convergence between her defense of pedophilia and Klein's cultural politics of depicting the body for voyeuristic consumption and financial profit.
Among Calvin Klein's defenders, Dave Mulryan, a partner at Mulryan/Nash Advertising, likened the campaign a moving target on which were being pinned the blame for all of society's ills. "People are concerned about teens having sex, but instead of focusing on the real problem, they're attacking the fictional portrayals in such movies as Kids and in advertising like Calvin Klein's." Michael Musto writing in Artforum proudly proclaimed that the ads "were the most delicious media event of the year. Bringing teenage sexuality to the front half of everyone's brains, they pushed buttons and made people livid, the way a great, nasty, confrontational ad campaign should....I considered them a major breakthrough in advertising in front of which I sat in awe." It seems that Musto defends the use of children's sexuality as a vehicle for commercialism through an appeal to the freedom of visual representations. Seemingly indifferent to the operations of power that hide behind advertising's use of images of children within a stylized aesthetics, Musto ignores how representations of sexuality work as part of a broader public discourse in which children's bodies are defined exclusively through "the commercial imperative of spectacle, commodification, and objectification."
My concern with the depictions of such representations lies not in deciding whether they are good or bad but to analyze them in relation to the pedagogical work they are doing. That is, what knowledge, values, and pleasures do such representations invite or exclude? What particular forms of identity, agency, and subjectivity are privileged, and how do they help to reinforce dominant reactions, messages, and meanings? What do they say about the representers, the context in which they are produced, and the meanings they circulate? What do such representations say about the relationship between children's bodies and the AIDS crisis, the use of drugs by young children, the disciplining of children's bodies by any number of authority figures, or the symbolic violence waged by Hollywood films that present in graphic detail the bodies of young inner city black youth steeped in violence and stylized gore?
Calvin Klein responded to criticisms of his jean campaign publicly by issuing an advertisement in the New York Times in which he argued apologetically that the ads were meant to convey a media generation of youth who are savvy, and "have a real strength of character and....strongly defined lines of what they will and will not do--and have a great ability to know who they are and who they want to be." One wonders how strength, character, and independence are represented in pictures of Marky Mark clutching his crotch, or bare breasted young women exhibiting their underwear while posing suggestively? In an interview in New York Magazine, Klein compared himself to Larry Clark, the photographer and director of the feature film, Kids. Klein justified the ads on the grounds that he, like Clark, used unaffected kids to represent to an adult world something that was both real and frightening; that is, a youthful sexuality that lacked artifice. Klein appropriates the goals and rhetoric of realism as a pedagogical tool to inform society about the supposed desires of and possibilities available to young teens. But Clark's claim to lack of artifice rings false. This is a realism that is all surface, without context, voyeuristic. It peddles a hollow aesthetic defiance rather than probe how kids might narrate themselves rather than yield to the power of adults such as Klein who markets kids in the image and fantasies of adult drives and desires.
In the slick world of advertising, teenage bodies are sought after for the exchange value they generate in marketing an adolescent sexuality that offers a marginal exoticism and ample pleasures for the largely male consumer. Commodification reifies and fixates the complexity of youth and the range of possible identities they might assume while simultaneously exploiting them as fodder for the logic of the market. This may not be pornography, but it has little to do with civic virtue or responsibility regarding how the identities of youth might be constructed as part of a broader project of substantive citizenship and civic responsibility.
When situated within the broader context of social and political life, Klein's transgressive images fail to challenge dominant, conservative codings of youth as sexually decadent, drug crazed, pathological, and criminal. Representations of youth in Klein's ads are reduced to aesthetics, style, and promotion; such images lack the mediating mechanisms of historical reflection or critical analysis and fail to challenge conservative depictions of youth. In fact, Calvin Klein has more in common with Newt Gingrich and the family values crowd than he realizes. Moreover, both Calvin Klein and Newt Gingrich privilege market values over human value. That is, human needs in both ideologies are subordinated to the laws of the free market with its endless drive to accumulate profit, and ignore, if not undermine, the notion of social responsibility and the reinvigoration of democratic public life. Those artist, educators, and cultural workers who defend Klein in the name of artistic freedom run the risk of simply retreating, as Andrew Ross argues, into a "safe haven [that] is really a quarantine zone, in which artists [and others] are not only immune from public accountability but are also excluded from public dialogue."
This is not, however, meant to suggest support for the right wing's empty call for censorship. For many on the right, attempts to censor the media serve primarily as a way of keeping the progressive social agenda (institutional, material, and political spheres) out of the discussion for social change. For progressives, discussing the limits of public representations, especially regarding children, would be a way of analyzing underlying economic, political, and social concerns while reinvigorating the possibility for public debate and political action. But if the objectification and exploitation of youth have found "legitimacy" within the logic of consumerism and the relentless search for new pleasures and sensations, the bodies of youth in the representational images and discourse of hollywood films has taken an equally ominous turn.
`Kids' and the Politics of Diminished Hopes
Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world within words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.
One of the most controversial films to appear about teenage sexuality and youth in 1995 was Kids, a film directed by Larry Clark from a script written by nineteen-year old Harmony Korine. Most of the characters in the documentary-like film are non actors and skateboarding friends of Korine. The film opens with a closeup of a teenage boy and girl loudly kissing each other. The image is crucial both aesthetically and politically. Aesthetically, the camera focuses on open mouths, tongues working overtime, a sucking noise highlights the exchange of saliva--the scene is raw, rubbing against the notion of teenage sex as "a scaled down version of adult couplings, glamorized and stylized." And it seems to go on forever positioning the audience as voyeurs watching sex explode among kids who look too young to be acting on their own passions. In voice over, Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), the 15-year-old known to his friends as the Virgin Surgeon, says "Virgins. I love `em." After seducing a young blond virgin in her bedroom, Telly bolts from the Manhattan brownstone and joins his friend, Casper (Justin Pierce), who has been waiting for him. Telly provides an account of his conquest in intimate detail, and so begins Clark's rendition of urban teenage youth in the 1990s.
After Telly's initial seduction, he and Casper head out to wander through the streets of Manhattan. Along the way, they knock off a 40-ounce bottle of beer, urinate in public, jump over subway turnstiles, and steal some fruit from a Korean grocer. They end up at a friend's apartment where they do drugs, talk sex, and watch skateboarding movies. The scene becomes more violent as Telly and his friends end up at Washington Square Park where they smoke some more dope, insult two gays who walk by, and viciously beat with their skateboards a black youth who Casper gets into an argument with. After stealing some money from Telly's mother, the youths break into the local YMCA for a swim. The day's activities culminate in a night of excessive drinking and drugs at a party given by a kid whose parents are out of town. The party degenerates into a haze of narcotized and drunken bodies, hands plunged randomly into crotches. Telly scores his second virgin. In the meantime, Jennie (Chloe Sevigny), appears at the party looking for Telly to inform him that she has tested positive for the H.I.V. virus, but she is too drugged to prevent him from infecting another young girl. Too numb to do anything, she falls asleep on a couch. In a grotesque and perverse reversal of the fairy tale plot, Clarke's sleeping beauty, Jennie, is not awakened with a kiss and the promise of living happily ever after. Rather, she suffers the brutal humiliation of a rape by Casper and will awaken to the nightmare reality of her eventual death and potentially his as well. The scene ends with Casper looking directly into the camera and asking "Jesus Christ, what happened?"
Irresponsible sex becomes lethal violence as it becomes clear that Jennie contracted the H.I.V. virus from Telly, who now emerges as the infector "the ultimate villain of American culture in the age of AIDS." If Telly's story is one of sexual conquest, Jennie's is one of tragedy and powerlessness in the face of a ruthless urban youth culture that celebrates reckless sexuality and violence while it reduces young girls to one of two sexist stereotypes. They are sexual objects to be taken up and put down at will or they are sex-crazed and on the make. When the girls come together in the film, they are sitting around talking about oral sex, titillating the guys or each other, or getting set up to be exploited, as in the case of Darcy, Telly's last sexual conquest, to become another AIDS statistic.
As for the younger generation of pre-teens, their future is foreshadowed as the camera focuses on a quartet of dope smoking eleven year old boys who watch the older kids drink and drug themselves into a stupor at the party. The future they will inherit holds no positive role models nor encouraging signs of hope. For even younger girls, there is the ominous and disturbing message that they will soon become sexual trophies for the predatory male buffoons who stalk them in the dangerous space of the city. Michael Atkinson captures this sentiment in noting that the camera "lingers on a stepside moptop 3 year-old girl as if to grimly intone, it's only a matter of time." The wholly gendered and sexualized bodies of young girls captured by Clark's gaze sustains "the representation of the female body as the primary site of sexuality and visual pleasure." Passivity and helplessness become the privileged modes of behavior as the girls in the film follow the lead of the male characters, silently observe their expressions of brutality, and plead tearfully when they become the objects of such violence. Predatory sexuality permeates the ruthless world of misogynist teenage males filled with a sense of themselves and their desire to prey on young girls who wait passively to be pulled into a ritual of seduction and possibly death.
Decontextualized Youth and the Swindle of Agency
Floating on the surface of a dead-end cynicism, Clark's film refuses to probe where identity resides for the urban youth he represents. The teenagers in Kids are portrayed as if they live in a historical, political, and cultural vacuum. Lacking any depth, memories, or histories, Clark's teenagers are drawn in personal and stylized terms. For example, he provides no larger context for understanding the cultural, social, and institutional forces working on the lives of these urban teenagers. In this severely decontextualized perspective, it is almost impossible to understand the absence of adults in the film, the at-risk sexuality, the rabid homophobia, or the random violence practiced by these teenagers. Representing teen life as if it existed outside of the forces of history, the dominant culture, or the powerful interpellative pull of dominant institutions too easily resonates with a dominant, conservative ideology that blames the psychological instability of poor and black urban youth for the social decay, poverty, and endless disruptions that influence their everyday lives. Not unlike the Klein ads, Clark's narrative about youth plays on dominant fears about the loss of moral authority while reinforcing images of demonization and sexual license through which adults can blame youth for existing social problems, and be titillated at the same time.
Clark's realism works too easily in the service of transforming the jolting experiences of the teenagers he represents from insightful historical and social considerations to those primarily defined through stylized evocations of shock and transgression. Failing to come to grips with considerations of politics, power, and ideology, Clark elides serious questions regarding how the viewer can account for the simultaneous aggression and powerlessness portrayed by teenagers in Kids, nor can he offer resistance to the brutality and limited options that define their lives. Lacking depth and detail, the teenagers who inhabit Clark's film are one-dimensional to the point of caricature. David Denby is right in insisting that Clark "turns the youth of his subjects into aesthetic shock. His teens have arrived at decadence without passing through maturity. They seem to have no dimensions--intellectual, spiritual, even physical--apart from carnality. They're all tongues." Clark's attempt to let the film speak for itself results in a stylized aesthetic of violence that renders the reality of violence voyeuristic, spectacular, and utterly personal rather than social and political. Kids avoids a central pedagogical lesson in dealing with any segment of teenage culture: unsafe sexual practices, violence, and drug use are learned behaviors that "society seems to be going all out to teach." Similarly, Clark seems unacquainted with the notion that any serious portrayal of teens in this culture "that wishes to force a shift in ways of seeing, feeling and perceiving begins by questioning established power." In the end, pathology and ignorance become the basis for defining the identity and agency of urban youth in Clark's world of casual violence, rampart nihilism, and incorrigible depravity. While Clark has been quick to defend his film as a cautionary tale about safe sex as well as an indictment of adults who either don't understand teenagers or are simply not around to provide guidance for them, he fails to understand-or at least represent-that it is precisely adult society with its celebration of market values, market moralities, and its attack on civil society that "undermines the nurturing system for children."
Realism and the Politics of Teenage Sexuality
Framing the film in pseudo-documentary style--an aesthetic rendition of representing the world directly as it is--serves to legitimate Larry Clark's claim that Kids provides a full-blown, "no holds barred" journey into the culture of contemporary urban youth. But the cinema verite approach and loosely structured narrative cannot salvage Clark's surface exploration of a typical twenty four hours in the lives of some drug and sex-crazed, morally rudderless adolescents, regardless of the aura of "truth" that structures Kids. Clark's use of and appeal to realism as a testimony to the film's authenticity obscures Clark's own political and ethical responsibility in depicting a brutal and bitter portrait of a specific group of young people. The invocation of truth that accompanies appeals to gritty realism serve to sanction the severity of right wing images of urban youth at work in broader popular representations.
Clark's reliance on the verisimilitude of documentary-like- narrative, playing on the audiences fears and anxieties, and the positing of sexuality and hedonism as the driving forces of agency among urban youth reveals the ideological conservatism that undergirds Kids. The consequences of portraying youth through the "transparent" lens of realism is a viewpoint marked by the absence of a reflective moral perspective, and one that offers critics and viewers a dose of media sensationalism that serves as an apology for a specific view of reality by making it appear natural, matter-of-fact and outside of human control. Teen sexuality in Clark's discourse becomes a metaphor for insincerity, crudeness, violence, and death. Missing from this perspective is a political understanding of the relationship between violence and sexuality as a daily experience for those who inhabit the places and spaces that promote suffering and oppression. The dangers of such a position are exemplified in a review of Kids by Amy Taubin, the film critic writing for sight and Sound.
Fascinated by Clark's use of light, shade, and color in Kids and its realistic portrayal of teenage sexuality, Taubin adds an ideological twist to Clark's chic aesthetic by suggesting that adolescent socialization is determined less by culture than by biology, high powered libidos out of control. For Taubin, it is precisely this high intensity libidinal energy that gives Clark's representations of teenage youth "their feverish energy, their mad humor, their extravagantly blunt language....[making them] mean, sordid, hungry and radiant at the same time." Taubin's fascination with the aesthetics of teen sexuality excludes ideological considerations even as they are invoked, betraying the conservative politics--or the perversion--underlying her analysis. This is particularly clear when she describes the horrible rape scene of Jennie at the end of the film. Taubin writes, "it seems to take forever, leaving one time to feel as helpless as the semi-conscious Jennie, and perhaps (if one is totally honest) slightly turned on." Not unlike Clark, Taubin is fascinated with teenage sexuality even when it legitimatizes voyeuristic titillation in the face of a ruthless and gruesome rape. What the perspectives of Clark and Taubin have in common is that teenage sexuality is not only a negative force in teen's lives, it also pushes the limits of an aestheticism that provides fodder for the celebration of stylized perversion and teen lust. What such thinking shares with current right wing attempts to demonize youth is the assumption that young people are primarily identified with their bodies, especially their sexual drives. Stripped of any critical capacities, youth are defined primarily by a sexuality that is viewed as unmanageable and in need of control, surveillance, legal constraint, and other forms of disciplinary power. Similarly, this reductionist rendering of sexually active youth is a short step from stereotypical portrayals of black sexuality in which it becomes a metaphor for disease, promiscuity, and social decadence.
Race Talk and Contaminating Youth
There is another disturbing aspect of Kids that has received little attention in the popular press. Though Telly and Casper are white, they talk in the accents of black street lingo and call each other `nigger.' Their clothes, walk, and street style mimic the black cultural fashion of hip-hop. Though the black characters in Kids are not central to the film, they are either the recipients of violence or serve as comic backdrop for sexual stereotyping. The role of blackness is not an incidental aspect of Clark's film because it articulates too strongly with the broader dominant view that black culture is responsible for the self-destructive journey that white youth are making through the urban land mines of drugs, sex, and violence. Marcus Reeves captures this sentiment explicitly.
Taken alongside the right's urgent moves to demonize and eliminate African American cultural influences in America and abroad (especially hip-hop music, language, and fashion) Clark's unyielding and `verite' focus on the summer-day transgressions of two hip-hop dressing/street slang-wielding/40 ounce-drinking/blunt-smoking/pussy-conquering white teenage males...provides a focus on what's making white American youth so crazy: Dey hanging out and acting like dem nasty, demoralizing niggas. That the race baiting is unintentional doesn't help.
While Clark's alleged racism and demonization of youth may be unintentional, it participates in what Toni Morrison calls race talk. "The explicit insertion into everyday life of racial signs and symbols that have no meaning other than pressing African Americans to the lowest level of the racial hierarchy....the rhetorical [and representational] experience renders blacks as noncitizens, already discredited outlaws." The pertinent question is not whether one can accurately declare Clark a racist, but whether the effects of his cinematic representations perpetuate racist discourse and practices in the wider society. Clearly his representations about working class and black youth hint at an ideological irresponsibility rooted in an over identification with the recklessness of the young.
Clark's own tortured childhood reveals in part his infatuation with teenage culture. Ignored by his father and forced to accompany and aid his mother who went from door-to-door peddling baby photography, Clark started using his own camera to shoot his friends, many of whom were petty hoodlums, speed freaks and thugs. Eventually Clark produced a number of books of photography, including Tulsa (1971), Teenage Lust (1983), Larry Clark (1992), and The Perfect Childhood (1993). The first two books secured Clark's image as a tough guy photographer. Despite his notoriety, Clark drifted around in the 70's and eventually spent 19 months in jail in Oklahoma on an assault and battery charge. After the jail stint, he headed for New York and became a professional photographer. By Clark's own account, he came into puberty too late and suffered a lousy adolescence for not measuring up to his peers. In part, this betrays his obsession with adolescence and the horror, excitement, and intensity it reflects. In a revealing comment to Terrence Rafferty, he says "Since I became a photographer I always wanted to turn back the years. Always wished I had a camera when I was a boy. Fucking in the backseat. Gangbangs....A little rape. In 1972 and 73 the kid brothers in the neighborhood took me with them in their teen lust scene. It took me back." Clark reveals more than nostalgia about his adolescence, he uncritically romanticizes the very violence he portrays in Kids. This is the disturbing quality in Clark's film. It suggests the erotic compulsion of the voyeur, a middle-age man whose infatuation with teen sex is more narcissistic than socially or politically revealing, more symptomatic than productively pedagogical.
Recovering Ethical Discourse for a Pedagogy of Representations
In the world of Hollywood films and big name advertising, children's sexuality closely resembles adult behaviors and privileges the adult male gaze. As the right wing wages war against sex education, condom distribution in schools, sex on the internet, and video stores that carry pornographic films, there is a curious silence from progressive and other radical cultural workers about the ways in which children and sex are portrayed in films, advertising, and media culture in general. The primary issue is not whether such images of children might be labeled pornographic or invite questionable pleasures in their audiences; on the contrary, I am more interested in how such media work to purge desire of its constitutive possibilities for productive agency, portray the bodies of urban youth as dangerous, and celebrate an excessive hedonism that rejects personal and social responsibility. What is refused in such representations is the ethical imperative to provide complex images, ideas, narratives, and sites of struggle that not only challenge conservative "common sense" notions of the real but also demand from youth critical self-reflection, moral commitment, and social responsibility, but always within a politics that questions its own authority as well as the authority of dominant ideologies and institutions.
But I am also concerned about a progressive cultural politics that refuses to cede the terrain of ethical and pedagogical discourse to right wing conservatives; at stake here is the need for artists, educators, and others on the cultural left to address popular representations in films and ads as social discourses grounded in public struggles and to recognize whose point of view is being legitimated, what pleasures are being mobilized and what the limits of such pleasures might be in terms of how they play out in public life. Within the visual and aural world of popular culture, cultural progressives must be willing to make judgments about how certain moral scripts are being narrated and linked to pushing back the possibilities of democratic public life. For too long, progressives have viewed the politics and pedagogy of representations as less significant than what is often referred to as the "real" world of politics, that is, the world of material suffering, hunger, poverty, and physical abuse. While such a distinction suggests that representations of rape and its actual experience cannot be confused, it is also imperative to understand how both modalities interact in providing the basis for constructing moral arguments as practices, recognizing how interpretations have a consequential impact regarding how people make discriminatory judgments about what is better or worse, and in doing so provide the grounds to act by addressing grave human problems in both their symbolic and material forms.
Pedagogically and politically, young people need to be given the opportunity to narrate themselves, to speak from the actual places where their experiences are shaped and mediated. This suggests more than letting kids have the opportunity to voice their concerns, it means providing the conditions--institutional, economic, spiritual, and cultural--that allows them to reconceptualize themselves as citizens and develop a sense of what means to fight for important social and political issues that effect their lives, bodies, and society. Writing in Spin, columnist Eurydice goes right to the heart of the matter in arguing:
Millions more kids are abused by silence than by leering pedophiles, and kids who are kept ignorant are kept exploitable. Our society retards the emotional growth of kids so their physical and psychological maturities don't coincide. Instead of scrambling explicit programming on cable and the Net, blocking the distribution of condoms at school, and in every way making it difficult for kids to act responsibly, we should give them charge of their bodies. In the nationwide discussion about protecting kids from the sickos who prey on them, the kids are missing. And by refusing kids our trust, we encourage them to refuse us theirs.
As artists and educators, we need to develop pedagogical practices in which discourses and representations of the adolescent body in its relationship to others are mediated through considerations of power, politics, and ethics. Media and popular culture increasing teach kids to gaze inwardly at the body as a fashionscape, a stylized athletic spectacle, or as a repository of desires that menace, disrupt, and undermine public life. Not only do young people need to become critical agents able to recognize, appropriate, and transform how dominant power works on and through them, they also need a pedagogy steeped in respectful selfhood, one that does not collapse social into personal problems, systematic oppression into the language of victim blaming. In short, they need a pedagogy that provides the basis for improvisation and responsible resistance.
But any pedagogy about youth must take as one of its central concerns how authority and power are wielded by adults. This is particularly true for those aspects of public space where teens and other youth learn how to define themselves outside of the traditional sites of instruction such as the home and the school. As I have argued elsewhere, learning in the postmodern age is located elsewhere--in popular spheres that shape their identities through forms of knowledge and desire that appear absent from what is taught in schools. The literacies of the postmodern age are electronic, aural, and image based; and it is precisely within the diverse terrain of popular culture that pedagogical practices must be established as part of a broader politics of public life--practices that will aggressively subject dominant power to criticism, analysis, and transformation as part of a progressive reconstruction of democratic society. In this instance, whatever possibilities get framed in the name of children serve as ethical and political markers for the world view that adults construct as they generate images, spaces, desires, fears, and resentments about who kids are and how they act.
Of course, popular culture is contradictory and responsible for unleashing a torrent of youthful creativity in the arts, public access radio, dance, video, film, underground journals, and computer bulletin boards. Pedagogy and politics can combine in a fruitful way to seize upon this creativity not simply as a hip aesthetic or ideologically-suspect, but as a creative source for recovering an ethical discourse in which cultural justice and rights become integral to expanding and democratizing popular forms and public spaces. In this instance, there is no politics without pedagogy, and no pedagogy without a politics of critique and possibility.
Similarly, reading Calvin Klein's ads and Larry Clark's Kids should not suggest that such texts have no value except for recognizing how they reinforce right wing attacks on subordinate teens in the broader culture. They are also texts ripe with potential for what Eve Sedgwick calls a "scornful, fearful, pathetizing reification of ignorance." For Sedgwick, such ignorance cannot be treated as passive or innocent. Rather, critics need to explore such ignorances both in terms of what knowledge, social practices, and power relations are repressed and absent from their legitimating discourses and in terms of their effects. Sedgwick's notion of ignorance also offers the theoretical possibility for constructing a pedagogy based on the exploration of both knowledge and ignorance. For instance, how might a pedagogy that takes ignorance seriously work to explore how such refusals to know reinforce right wing calls for censorship, the silencing of adult discussions of sexual desire, or the refusal to distribute condoms in schools, while simultaneously offering other productive pedagogical interventions into such politics.
Finally, educators, artists, and other cultural workers must address the challenge of developing pedagogies that teach kids how to use media as a mode of self expression and social activism. We need to find new ways in which pedagogy can translate into an activist strategy that expands the opportunity for knowledge and skills that helps young people extend their participation into and control over those cultural, economic, and social spheres that shape daily life (mass media, schools, media, workplace, policy making institutions, the arts). Evidence of such work can be found in films such as Jonathan Stack's, Harlem Diary (1995), which narrates the complexities, struggles, and hopes of nine black youth attempting to reclaim their lives within a destructive culture of violence and drugs. Stack is no romantic, but he lets the kids' voices capture the complexities of their lives, their courage, and strength by giving them video cameras to provide representations of their own experiences. These narratives become the basis for the students to engage in dialogue with others and to debate both the meaning and the ideologies that constructed their engagement with selected aspects of their daily lives and the implication such an engagement has for their future. This is a remarkable cultural document, full of complexities, tensions, and subtleties; moreover, it is acutely aware of its own politics and the dangers these kids face. At the same time, it refuses to romanticize resistance and the power of critical pedagogy and Stack holds firm in the belief that progressive pedagogical and political interventions might give rise to possibilities and real achievements for kids too often viewed as throwaways. Stack's film moves beyond the simplistic call for positive images of black youth; instead, it captures the complexities of how such youth are both produced within certain social, economic, and political circumstances while simultaneously working to transform such conditions. Stack's politics are clear and he refuses to hide behind the alleged "neutral" appeal to realism. This is film with an up front project that takes seriously the challenge of developing a language of critique and possibility, one that confronts both racist representations of youth, and a representational politics in which youth are blamed for society's failures. Harlem Diary is provides an example of a representational politics in which a politics and pedagogy of the popular make it possible for audiences to understand the ways in which black youth attempt "to open social and cultural spaces in which to express themselves," as well as engage and transform the conditions through which they push against the constraints of poverty and racism.
Harlem Diary is much less interested in "realistically" portraying domination than in revealing its contradictions, cracks, fissures, and how within such spaces teenage youth fight domination and racism rather than simply yield to it. This is a film in which the pedagogical inserts itself into a representational politics, and in doing so expands and deepens the democratic possibilities for producing films that resist rather than reinforce the current racist and demonizng portrayals of subordinate youth.
Similar pedagogical lessons can be found in the work of Lucy Lippard, Michele Wallace, Olivia Gude, Nicholas Paley, Richard Bolton, David Trend, Carol Becker, Suzanne Lacey, and others too numerous to mention. The point, of course, is that art, education, and cultural work needs to reinvent spaces for ethical, political, and pedagogical practices through which diverse cultural workers might create alliances and produce social practices and policies that rewrite the importance of what it means to treat youth with dignity. Unlike cultural workers such as Calvin Klein and Larry Clark, who offer children either the cheap satisfactions of stylized bodies and commodified pleasures, or the sensationalism of decadent sexuality, progressive educators and other cultural workers need to challenge such limited representations of youth through an "integrative critical language in which values, ethics, and social responsibility can be discussed in terms" of how youth are constructed within such images. In addition, artists and other cultural workers need to create pedagogical practices that provide the conditions through which young people actually learn about and understand their personal stake in struggling for a future in which social justice and political integrity become the defining principles of their lives.