Arts & Entertainment

The Nirvana Baby’s Lawsuit Asks Us a Tough Question

I’m generally skeptical of the claim that today’s culture is less puritanical than that of past times, as opposed to merely being an expression of a new form of puritanism. And the old puritanism and new puritanism overlap in many ways.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed there seems to be a contemporary set of moral panics related to sex abuse (eg Pizzagate, Qanon), sexual assault (#metoo), and sex trafficking that resembles the moral panics over supposed underground satanic cults engaging in human sacrifice in the 80s, or Reagan’s War on Drugs/Just Say No crusade. Also, the “social justice” fanatics of today with their hysteria over various microaggressions and triggers is reminiscent of the PMRC’s moral crusading against sex, drugs, violence, and occultism in pop music lyrics.

By Brooke Sample, Bloomberg

“Lascivious” or “edgy”? That’s the question raised by the lawsuit filed by Spencer Elden, now 30 years old, who as a baby was featured on the cover of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album, swimming naked after a dollar bill that dangles before him on a fishhook. Elden argues that the image is pornographic and that, as an infant, he was forced to engage in commercial sex.

I admit to knowing little about popular music, even popular music from three decades ago, and until the lawsuit was filed, I’m not sure I’d ever so much as glanced at the iconic “Nevermind” cover. On the merits, I tend to side with the many lawyers who are skeptical that the album cover is pornographic. But I could be wrong, not least because over the past 30 years, the balance between edgy and pornographic has swung quite radically.



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