Thursday, March 3, 2011

Piss Christ and Cornflakes: Swedish attitudes towards nudity and boundries

I'm pretty sure that there have been many books written on the subject of differing attitudes towards sex in Scandinavia versus the US. The differences are abounding, and striking. Just walk into your local Swedish bathing hall. In the beginning I felt a bit like Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist. 'Here we see the elder Swede preening in the Sauna habitat.'

But one of the things that still manages to strike me are the shocking sexual images they often print in the morning newspapers. I'm not talking about your typical British Page 6 girl, or whatever page they keep the boobies on these days. Whenever a shocking art exhibit comes to town, several of the pictures are published in the paper.

I don't consider myself a prude person. I often go and visit these art exhibits, and even if I don't always enjoy them (I'm not a big fan of art for shock value) I do like to see an exhibit that seems so powerful it pushes people to violence or vengence.

Sometimes, however, I am a bit put off by seeing these images while I am eating my bowl of cornflakes in the morning. Not to mention, I mean, yes I am actually going to say it 'Think of the children.' Should these shocking images be considered so 'normal' that they are placed where children are bound to see them?

I couldn't find the article of a more recent example that triggered these thoughts, but the exhibit of Andres Serrano and his infamous Piss Christ made the rounds of Sweden a few years back. And not only did Piss Christ land on my breakfast table, but a picture of a 70 year old woman kissing a young man's penis did as well. I am not putting this photo up here, but you can follow the link to a similar Swedish morning newspaper, with the NSFW photo, here.

I also spend a lot of time wondering what happens when art considered 'shock art' becomes so innocous that it can end up as a part of the daily newspaper. What does this mean for artists like Serrano?

And just for the record I do have a similar 'sick to my stomach' response to really gory war photos, and dead animal photos as well. But I do think there is a social value to showing true images of war – when you are engaged in war- in the media. The shock art, I'm not so sure of.


  1. Just as well I don't get a Swedish paper, then!

  2. Eh, I think the art photos are there for the same reason the gory war photos are: how can expect the audience to understand without seeing it? A description only does so much. I dislike those a million times less than the exploitative boobgirl pictures.


  3. I think it's a good thing; the Swedes aren't scared of sex, and here in Britain we are, and our teen pregnancy rates speak for themselves. I'd rather see more nudity on TV than violence.

  4. Thanks for the feedback - I'm of two minds about this, so I'm really curious how others feel.

    On one side I realize at one point in history a woman showing her ankle was considered shocking and over the top.

    On the other side I find shock for simply the sake of shocking to be mostly just obnoxious and unnecessary.

    And on the third side, there remain some things I really don't want to see before I have had a cup of coffee and something in my stomach. Mostly these include pictures of dead things, but also sexually exploitative photographs (so I agree with you there Anna, I don't think much more of boobgirl, except that I know to jump over that page in advance)

  5. I am also of two minds. My nine year old daughter has Asperger's Syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism. She is not typical in that she doesn't know about sex. It's not the nudity in the photo that bothers me, it's the sexuality. I know that seeing that photo would upset her.

    I also don't like violence for the sake of violence. I don't watch bloody horror movies, either.

    I think I'll buy my newspapers at the kiosk from now on ...

  6. Good point Theresa, to be honest I don't think this type of photograph would be easy to explain to any nine year old, even one who understood the basics of sex.

    On a completely other note, one thing I found interesting as I thought more about this subject was that I saw the above mentioned exhibit in a museum in 2007. I found it rather boring and not shocking at all. In fact, I found it very dated.

    But when I saw that picture in the newspaper, I had the shock that I think this exhibit was meant to induce. I am interested in how space effects art and vice versa. And I found this kind of interesting.

    But despite all that, I really don't think this type of photograph is appropriate for newspapers.

  7. You gotta love the rational Americans comparing seeing gory war pictures with seeing a penis. I really feel for you. My guess is your kids will actually survive the massive trauma of seeing a penis.

  8. The woman in the pic isn´t kissing his penis. It is potrayed in a way that it is possible that she will. The beauty of the image is clearly lost on you; It portrays an old woman being intimate with a pierced man of a different race. It may appear as shock value at first, but when you look at the pictures and think on your own, it is a commentary perceptions of sexuality. Young, old, white, black, handicapped etc. - we all have a sexuality, and the need to express it isn't for shock value! It's a fucking civil right!

    /Love from a Swede