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Children Become Adults — Stop the Presses!

Daniel_radcliffe_1As you may have heard, Daniel Radcliffe, the 17-year-old actor who’s been playing Harry Potter in the movies, is about to do a London stage production of Equus (the psychodrama about a young man who has a sexual obsession with horses), and he’ll have some nude scenes and sexual scenes in the play.

I’m not going to talk about the actual news, which I find only mildly interesting in a “What a smart career move” way. What I find more interesting is the reaction to this news in the media and the public.

Daniel_radcliffe_2So far, much of the reaction I’ve seen has fallen into two camps. One is the juvenile snickering and nitwit penis joke category. (Even Keith Olberman, who I usually like a lot, was falling into this, with stupid jokes about magic wands and broomsticks.)

The other is the shock/horror/dismay category: “But… but… he’s Harry Potter! He can’t be naked! Won’t someone please think of the children?”

And I think both these reactions come from the same place — a discomfort with the fact that children become adults, with adult sexuality.

Young_daniel_radcliffeWe know Radcliffe primarily — and quite famously — as a child and a young adolescent. He is now becoming an adult (if I’m not mistaken, 17 is the age of adulthood and consent in England). And this rather obvious fact of life makes many people extremely uncomfortable.

There’s a strong taboo in our society against thinking of children as sexual — a taboo that in many ways is very understandable. But it’s a taboo that we go seriously overboard with. It’s a taboo that twists our experience and blots out our reality. It makes us refuse to acknowledge that children have any kind of sexuality of their own. And it makes us have conniptions over the transition between childhood and adulthood… and the ripening of sexuality that this transition involves.

Daniel_radcliffe_3And I think that’s what the snickering and horror over a naked Daniel Radcliffe is about — the transition, and people’s discomfort with it. When a young person, one who we’re most familiar with as a child and who’s still fairly close to childhood, begins to claim their adult sexuality, I think it makes people feel like pedophiles. This person is still in our minds as a child, but now they’re also in our minds as a sexual adult — and that’s a category error that can cause some serious short-circuiting.

Lindsay_lohanI think this discomfort is aggravated by the fact that, while our society sees childhood as a time of complete asexual purity, it also sees young adulthood as the pinnacle of sexuality and sexual desirability. Children are supposed to somehow magically transform from innocent sexless sugar-babies into ripe, dishy sex bombs — and they’re supposed to do it overnight, with no awkward transitional stage in between to make us feel like creeps.

In a way, I get it. I’ve had crushes on teenage actors before they were legal (Christina Ricci comes to mind), and it made me pretty damned uncomfortable. It gives me the willies to have the hots for people who I think it would be unethical for me to actually have sex with. And it gave me the willies to be having impure thoughts about this dishy teenage goth chick who I first got to know as Wednesday Addams.

Daniel_radcliffe_4But I also think we need to chill the fuck out about it. Children become adults. Childhood sexuality becomes adult sexuality. It’s not news. As Ingrid said when we were talking about this, “What did they THINK was going to happen?”

(P.S. To be completely fair, the reaction to this news hasn’t been entirely snickering and conniptions. A fair number of people are responding much the way I am, with a combination of “Hm, interesting career move” and “Will you all please relax and let this kid grow up?”)

Comments

  1. Vanessa says

    For what it’s worth, Daniel Radcliffe created an intermediate transitional role for himself on the latest (as I write this) episode of the HBO series Extras. In this episode he plays a version of himself who constantly comes on to older women in an extremely inept and juvenile fashion. Then when his efforts fail and his mother comes looking for him, he affects shock at how his elders are attempting to corrupt him.
    I’ve never seen an entire adolescence crammed into half an hour before.

  2. says

    Well, the first thing I thought was, “Damn, NICE nips!”
    Then I scrolled down and thought, “Wow, she’s really a fox, too!”
    But then, I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie. Strange but true.
    –Bill

  3. says

    “For what it’s worth, Daniel Radcliffe created an intermediate transitional role for himself on the latest (as I write this) episode of the HBO series Extras.”
    I saw this! It made me fall off the sofa, I was laughing so hard. The bit where he’s trying to prove what a stud he is with the ladies by pulling out the condom he carries around — already unrolled and ready to use… well, if any of you have HBO, you have to see this. It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen all week, and this has been a good week for funny things.

  4. Stephen says

    America. only in a nation with it’s head this far up its ass could people who have no difficulty identifying a zygote as a human being have so much trouble dealing with the sexual maturation of the same human being.
    Americans seem to be the only nationality that reacts in this manner. shock and horror that puberty arrives and departs for children. I have tried to raise my daughter with the clear idea in my head that one day she would be a woman. This is more complicated even than it seems, at least for me. It strikes me that very few people admit to themselves that one day their children, or any children for that matter will be adults. I mentor for adolescents and see this all the time. the only solution I can come up with is don’t bullshit them, and you will have less trouble bullshitting yourself. unfortunately along with heavy industry equipment and entertainment, bullshit is America’s primary export.

  5. Beth Terry says

    It’s no surprise that the actor who played Harry Potter is debasing himself further in this latest role. I’m sure Becky Fisher, the director of Kids on Fire Summer School of Ministry, would not have been surprised. As she says in the movie, Jesus Camp, “And while we’re on the subject, let me say something about Harry Potter. Warlocks are enemies of God. And I don’t care what kind of hero they are, they’re an enemy of God. And had it been in the old testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death.” So really, what’s a little nudity for an enemy of God?

  6. Jane Shaffer says

    This conversation actually reminds me of an episode I saw of Dr. Phil once. (No, I don’t watch Dr. Phil regularly, but I was with friends who are parents to a young child). Some mother was whining about how she had to bribe her child to get him to do what she wanted and Dr. Phil responded, “What kind of person is she going to be if you keep that up? (turns to camera) Remember, you are not raising children, you are raising adults.” I thought that was kind of cool.
    Our (American) culture condones the blaming of everything, but the parents, for the corruption of our children. Raising a child (or an adult) well is extremely hard work, particularly in these days without only one working parent and a nanny. People, who are not up to the task, tend to have them anyway. Then it becomes Disney’s fault for having gay nights at their parks, or Daniel Radcliffe’s for making a brilliant career move, that their child ends up without any understanding of personal responsibility.
    I also know many amazing parents (mostly people who had them in their mid-30s, when they were mature enough) and have watched them become so exhausted that I was seriously worried about their health, but those kids are going to be very cool people one day. Perhaps people should start freezing their eggs and sperm when they are teenagers, so they can wait until they are either ready or realize they don’t want children.

  7. Rebecca says

    Yesterday, I heard a joke:
    “My dick hangs down two inches…from the floor!”
    It’s a lot funnier if you hear it told by a 4’10″, 13-year-old girl. Really.
    That was right before she tried to give another girl a lapdance.
    And a week before, I heard a ten-year-old boy I know tell his brother that he was going to shave his balls.
    It seems to me that the myth of childhood innocence is only believed by those who don’t actually know any kids. Except that some of these “won’t somebody think of the CHILDREN?” freaks claim to have children who they claim to be protecting.
    Which leaves me with just one question:
    “Have you MET your kids?”

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  9. Anonymous says

    He is now becoming an adult (if I’m not mistaken, 17 is the age of adulthood and consent in England).
    For the record, the UK age of consent is 16, but full legal adulthood is generally seen as being 18; that’s when you can vote, and in more personal terms, it’s the age you can marry without your parents’ consent – you can marry at 16 or 17, but they have to agree. (You can marry without parental consent at 16 in Scotland, but Radcliffe’s English.) So 17 is over the age of consent, but not fully adult.
    I say this not to weigh in on any particular side, but just in the interests of accuracy.

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