Thursday, May 21, 2015
Stealing their souls
The place, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The time, last February. The museum consists of a number of various buildings and courtyards and, coming out of one, we encountered this installation of yellow plastic string— Jesus Rafael Soto's 1990 "Penetrable"—with children happily scampering through it. It seemed a picture. I whipped out my cell phone.
"That's creepy," my teenage son said.
"It's creepy to take photos of other people's children," my wife agreed.
I was taken aback, surprised, indignant. Yes, I knew where they were coming from—fear of perverts—but didn't agree that this was an intrusion.
I gestured to proud parents, standing around, also snapping pictures, one assumed of their kids, who were supposed to play in the thing (One critic called it "part geometric abstraction, part day care.")
"Nobody knows that I'm not the parent of one of these kids," I said.
Or, now that I think of it, the grandparent.
It was a sour moment, that left a bad taste in my mouth for an hour, one that came back to me when reading about an incident earlier this month in Australia. A man took a selfie in front of a Darth Vader poster at a mall, and said some benign comment to a group of nearby kids, waiting to take a picture as well, something along the lines of, "I'll be done in a minute." Their mother caught the exchange but not what was said, instantly decided her children were being approached by a would-be molester, snapped his picture, and posted it online identifying him as "a creep." The post was shared thousands of times, the man's complete innocence established, and soon the mom was getting death threats and issuing "a groveling apology" through the Daily Mail.
Fear spreads instantly but rationality takes its time. Being kidnapped by strangers is a risk, but a minute one. Far greater is the risk of overprotective parents warping their children'a lives by living in a state of constant fear, or blaming innocent persons doing unobjectionable things. I don't consider the above an inappropriate picture, nor the taking it, in a courtyard at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, an act of questionable judgment. Or was it?