I’ve written here a couple of times about the idea of “pernicious persistence”: the idea that the media that is created today may persist in ways that “old” media artifacts — newspaper stories, photographs, home videos — did not (mainly because of the “new” creation, distribution and search abilities enabled by the Internet). In my chapter on the subject, however, I missed out — perhaps importantly — on how the new media effect can take what was “old” media and make it new. Scanners, for example, take old media and make it new.
This has happened to me: I very quickly learned how to make sure no one could see photographs of me on my profile on Facebook that others had “tagged” with my name when an old high school band mate posted some shots of me in spandex pants, no shirt and a denim vest (no, I won’t post them here, it’s not a pretty sight). The problem is not limited to digital media, but includes analog media made digital.
In an article entitled, “Artist’s Daughter Wants Videos Back,” the New York Times’s Kate Taylor tells the story of Emma Tamburlini, the daughter of “proto-Pop artist Larry Rivers. According to the article:
Ms. Tamburlini said her father filmed his daughters every six months over at least five years for a body of work he titled “Growing.” If she objected, she said, she was called uptight and a bad daughter. When she confronted her father as a teenager about the films, she said he told her “my intellectual development had been arrested.”
In 1981 Rivers edited the footage into a 45-minute film that he planned to show as part of an exhibition. The girls’ mother, Clarice Rivers, who also appears in parts of the film, intervened and stopped him.
In the film Rivers tells the girls to take off their clothes and then zooms in on their breasts from various angles. He interviews them about how they feel about their breasts and whether boys have started noticing them. In some scenes Clarice Rivers appears with her daughters, displaying her own breasts and talking about them.
The videos are now part of the Rivers archive, which soon shall be held at New York University, and the Foundation’s director refused to destroy them before selling them. This leaves us with videos of a young girl, naked, forced to discuss and show herself and her “development” on video, and who then — primarily because of the choices of copyright law — has no control over what happens to those videos.
My proposal, currently being developed in a piece for the “I/S” journal and based on my presentation at this conference at Ohio State past spring, is that minors who appear in videos or photographs have a right to either assent object to — and thus allow or prevent — distribution of the video or photographic artifacts in which they appear. Today’s NY Times article convinces me that, while the idea still needs some work, I’m at least traveling down the right path. This just can’t be right.