A Critical Analysis of Mouchette.org

A Critical Analysis of Mouchette.org by Eryk Salvaggio
Tue Nov 19 09:53:09 CET 2002

After a request from an artist claiming to be responsible for
Mouchette.org in regards to my recent statements on the syndicate
mailing list concerning the site,   I intend to address how the web site
http://www.mouchette.org can be seen as a glorification of sexual abuse
and a celebration of pedophilia against young girls. For those who
aren't familiar,   the premise of the website is that a 12 year old girl
by the name of Mouchette is going to commit suicide on her 13th
birthday,   and the website is a collection of her art work.

I want to be careful in explaining that I am not intending to accuse the
artist responsible for Mouchette.org of being a pedophile, nor that
Mouchette.org advocates sex with children, merely that the art can be
read as a glorification of youth sexualization. It has been mentioned to
me that pedophilia against young girls has been a component of
"legitimate" and "acceptable" art for centuries, including the
obligatory references to Lolita, although I tend to think that we are
not encouraged to feel sympathy for Humbert, whereas with Mouchettes
website, we are directly encouraged to participate in virtual
interactions against a young girl. I see this as an attempt to evoke
"the inner pedophile" and to relate child sexuality with "normal" (for
lack of a better word) adult sexuality, something that Nabokov's text
inherently condemns. Nor do I believe that because mankind has a
tradition of fetishizing young girls, it makes an acceptable case for
perpetuating it. The oppression of women has been a component of
fundamentalist religion for centuries and I don't feel like this makes
an acceptable case for sects that glorify female genital mutilation.

http://www.mouchette.org/touch/plush.html is a piece in which we are
encouraged to look through a plethora of childrens toys to find "a pink
open mouth" [which resembles a vagina] and a "striped penis." I am
wondering what we are supposed to interpret the message of this piece to
be? I find very little evidence that Mouchette is exploring anything
except for the territory of sexualization in this piece, nor do I find
any explicit or implied condemnation of the practice. Is there an
alternative reading of this piece? Another piece is:
http://mouchette.org/music/index.html where we hear either "whimpers" or
"moans" depending on your interactions, specifically, where you put your
mouse icon. This takes on sinister new meanings when combined with the
idea that your mouse is your hand, as described in this text:

"The arrow ...turns into a little ........... .......... hand
It feels like there's something behind the page
if you .....just press the mouse
the little pointed finger will.... penetrate ......
the secret link"
-from http://mouchette.org/secret/secret.html

I can't really see any other interpretation for "music" that is made
with the sounds of little girls crying or moaning depending on where you
"penetrate" the screen with your "finger." There are also numerous
pieces where the Mouchette character encourages the viewer to engage
with her through the screen. In one piece, "flesh and blood", at:
http://www.mouchette.org/flesh/tong.html for example, we are invited to
tell the 13 year old girl what her tongue tastes like. When we do- with
a button that says "come closer," we are treated to a close up of those
lips sucking on a finger.

The punchline of sorts to this project, and the central underlying
narrative, is Mouchettes suicide to happen at her 13th birthday party.
If this is presented as some sort of redemption for the abuses that
Mouchette has been implied to endure, it is a poor one that serves no
function, aside from the further titillation of the audience and the
degradation of the fictional child. The final act of Mouchette's life is
still that of a victim. Once she has committed to suicide, there can be
no redemption; and Mouchette lives permanently as a martyr to the
predatory lust that created her. It is a perfect resolution to this
threadbare narrative, since this ending merely glosses over the actual
effects of sexual trauma. As if to say that a child, once used, is
worthless, and so it is made to disappear. This convenient elimination
of concern for consequences to the adult psychology of the victim keeps
the child in perpetual youth. This is an extension of basic pedophiliac
fantasies, an eternally innocent child to be used without consequence
and therefore without remorse. (The same impulse which drives most child
molesters towards children who live in poverty and are considered

One might ask why it matters if a website includes an "acknowledgment"
of sexual instincts in children, but it's not as clear cut as that.
There is a rampant tendency among pedophiles to defend themselves with
the argument that their victims wanted to have sex; that children can
and will deliberately seduce adults as a result of "hormones" or some
misguided desire for affection. Because of this, the idea has made in
roads in our culture; usually attributed to "liberal values" though they
are, in fact, simply a defense tactic to garner what little public
support pedophiles can muster. For just one example, in the case of
convicted pedophile Kenneth Barrett, who began raping his girlfriends
daughter when she was 12, his defense included this statement: "After
she started getting cuddly, you know, that's when I started touching
her. She wanted me to touch her body." [source:
http://abcnews.go.com/onair/2020/2020_000511_texasjustice_feature.html ]
Might we see this same streak of thought in a web project where a twelve
year old girl invites the viewer into a series of sexually evocative
situations? Is Mouchette trying to seduce us? What does this say about
the cultural acceptance of such predatory instincts?

I point to the Barrett case because it is also a horrifying example of
what happens in a culture of acceptable exploitation. Although convicted
by way of confession, Kenneth Barrett, convicted of child rape, has
married the victims mother, who believes that her husband was "seduced."
Concerning her daughter, she states: "I don't feel she was permanently
injured." If one is tempted to place this situation into a simple matter
of "fucked up family life," you may want to take notice that a local
Christian School has offered Mr. Barrett a teaching position as soon as
he is released, an interesting flip take on the hard right's attempts to
portray Male Homosexuals as child molesters. (Yet, when a "straight"
child molester takes advantage of a female, he's not only vindicated,
but offered a teaching position.)

It is interesting to note that this same double standard also applies to
Mouchette when it comes to criticism of the web site. I've noticed how
other critics of net.art address the issue of Mouchette.org's content
based on their gender. While Josephine Bosma, a female critic, makes the
case that Mouchette is "based on staggeringly repulsive male fantasies"
[from http://rhizome.org/object.rhiz?1156 ], a male critic, after
discussing at some length the pieces in which we are asked to taste
Mouchettes tongue, makes this statement:

"What's more, we're talking here of someone who goes by the name of
Mouchette and who has given her age as thirteen for a number of years
already... But one doesn't have to believe all that in order to enjoy
participating in her project." [from http://rhizome.org/object.rhiz?1842 ]

I'm not going to argue that this writer literally "enjoyed" the pieces
sexual overtones, but at the very least, the entire text proves that
such net.art criticism can be focused on the idea of technology and
theory so much that it blinds us to the actual content an artist creates
with it.

As I've mentioned, one of the biggest concerns I have is the
"mainstreaming" efforts by pedophile organizations such as NAMBLA
towards a concept of "acceptable pedophilia." At the same time I am
aware that work can be misinterpreted and that some "checklists" for
sexual abuse are capable of making almost any individual into a
pedophile. One website defending the notion of pedophilia has a list of
oaths that pedophiles should take that read like the ambitions of anyone
who "respects kids". I don't think that looking at Mouchette.org will
breed a generation of child molesters. I want to be perfectly clear: the
subject is not whether the creator of Mouchette.org [who remains
anonymous] is a pedophile, but simply whether or not the site can be
read as mainstreaming, putting out the idea that children are capable of
seducing adults, an extension of the classic "she was asking for it /
dressed for rape" defense by male rapists. My conclusion is that this
can be read as the primary message within the work.

I am not attempting to censor any artists, nor do I believe that art
addressing the real impacts of sexual abuse would be problematic; nor
that explorations of sexuality are "immoral". I am not a defender of
policies which aim to child proof the world, nor do I believe in a world
of 100% political correctness. I believe that we have to begin to look
at net.art as a real art form that is interested in ideas and messages,
and that we begin to evaluate such work on the merits of these
intentions. To do this, we must look at the ideas and messages that
artists are putting across in the work, for better or for ill.

-Eryk Salvaggio






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