A Critical Analysis of Mouchette.org

Eryk Salvaggio eryk at maine.rr.com
Tue Nov 19 09:53:09 CET 2002

A Critical Analysis of Mouchette.org

After a request from an artist claiming to be responsible for 
Mouchette.org in regards to my recent statements on the syndicate 
mailing list concerning the site, I intend to address how the web site 
http://www.mouchette.org can be seen as a glorification of sexual abuse 
and a celebration of pedophilia against young girls. For those who 
aren't familiar, the premise of the website is that a 12 year old girl 
by the name of Mouchette is going to commit suicide on her 13th 
birthday, and the website is a collection of her art work.

I want to be careful in explaining that I am not intending to accuse the 
artist responsible for Mouchette.org of being a pedophile, nor that 
Mouchette.org advocates sex with children, merely that the art can be 
read as a glorification of youth sexualization. It has been mentioned to 
me that pedophilia against young girls has been a component of 
"legitimate" and "acceptable" art for centuries, including the 
obligatory references to Lolita, although I tend to think that we are 
not encouraged to feel sympathy for Humbert, whereas with Mouchettes 
website, we are directly encouraged to participate in virtual 
interactions against a young girl. I see this as an attempt to evoke 
"the inner pedophile" and to relate child sexuality with "normal" (for 
lack of a better word) adult sexuality, something that Nabokov's text 
inherently condemns. Nor do I believe that because mankind has a 
tradition of fetishizing young girls, it makes an acceptable case for 
perpetuating it. The oppression of women has been a component of 
fundamentalist religion for centuries and I don't feel like this makes 
an acceptable case for sects that glorify female genital mutilation.

http://www.mouchette.org/touch/plush.html is a piece in which we are 
encouraged to look through a plethora of childrens toys to find "a pink 
open mouth" [which resembles a vagina] and a "striped penis." I am 
wondering what we are supposed to interpret the message of this piece to 
be? I find very little evidence that Mouchette is exploring anything 
except for the territory of sexualization in this piece, nor do I find 
any explicit or implied condemnation of the practice. Is there an 
alternative reading of this piece? Another piece is: 
http://mouchette.org/music/index.html where we hear either "whimpers" or 
"moans" depending on your interactions, specifically, where you put your 
mouse icon. This takes on sinister new meanings when combined with the 
idea that your mouse is your hand, as described in this text:

"The arrow ...turns into a little ........... .......... hand
It feels like there's something behind the page
if you .....just press the mouse
the little pointed finger will.... penetrate ......
the secret link"
-from http://mouchette.org/secret/secret.html

I can't really see any other interpretation for "music" that is made 
with the sounds of little girls crying or moaning depending on where you 
"penetrate" the screen with your "finger." There are also numerous 
pieces where the Mouchette character encourages the viewer to engage 
with her through the screen. In one piece, "flesh and blood", at: 
http://www.mouchette.org/flesh/tong.html for example, we are invited to 
tell the 13 year old girl what her tongue tastes like. When we do- with 
a button that says "come closer," we are treated to a close up of those 
lips sucking on a finger.

The punchline of sorts to this project, and the central underlying 
narrative, is Mouchettes suicide to happen at her 13th birthday party. 
If this is presented as some sort of redemption for the abuses that 
Mouchette has been implied to endure, it is a poor one that serves no 
function, aside from the further titillation of the audience and the 
degradation of the fictional child. The final act of Mouchette's life is 
still that of a victim. Once she has committed to suicide, there can be 
no redemption; and Mouchette lives permanently as a martyr to the 
predatory lust that created her. It is a perfect resolution to this 
threadbare narrative, since this ending merely glosses over the actual 
effects of sexual trauma. As if to say that a child, once used, is 
worthless, and so it is made to disappear. This convenient elimination 
of concern for consequences to the adult psychology of the victim keeps 
the child in perpetual youth. This is an extension of basic pedophiliac 
fantasies, an eternally innocent child to be used without consequence 
and therefore without remorse. (The same impulse which drives most child 
molesters towards children who live in poverty and are considered 

One might ask why it matters if a website includes an "acknowledgment" 
of sexual instincts in children, but it's not as clear cut as that. 
There is a rampant tendency among pedophiles to defend themselves with 
the argument that their victims wanted to have sex; that children can 
and will deliberately seduce adults as a result of "hormones" or some 
misguided desire for affection. Because of this, the idea has made in 
roads in our culture; usually attributed to "liberal values" though they 
are, in fact, simply a defense tactic to garner what little public 
support pedophiles can muster. For just one example, in the case of 
convicted pedophile Kenneth Barrett, who began raping his girlfriends 
daughter when she was 12, his defense included this statement: "After 
she started getting cuddly, you know, that's when I started touching 
her. She wanted me to touch her body." [source: 
http://abcnews.go.com/onair/2020/2020_000511_texasjustice_feature.html ] 
Might we see this same streak of thought in a web project where a twelve 
year old girl invites the viewer into a series of sexually evocative 
situations? Is Mouchette trying to seduce us? What does this say about 
the cultural acceptance of such predatory instincts?

I point to the Barrett case because it is also a horrifying example of 
what happens in a culture of acceptable exploitation. Although convicted 
by way of confession, Kenneth Barrett, convicted of child rape, has 
married the victims mother, who believes that her husband was "seduced." 
Concerning her daughter, she states: "I don't feel she was permanently 
injured." If one is tempted to place this situation into a simple matter 
of "fucked up family life," you may want to take notice that a local 
Christian School has offered Mr. Barrett a teaching position as soon as 
he is released, an interesting flip take on the hard right's attempts to 
portray Male Homosexuals as child molesters. (Yet, when a "straight" 
child molester takes advantage of a female, he's not only vindicated, 
but offered a teaching position.)

It is interesting to note that this same double standard also applies to 
Mouchette when it comes to criticism of the web site. I've noticed how 
other critics of net.art address the issue of Mouchette.org's content 
based on their gender. While Josephine Bosma, a female critic, makes the 
case that Mouchette is "based on staggeringly repulsive male fantasies" 
[from http://rhizome.org/object.rhiz?1156 ], a male critic, after 
discussing at some length the pieces in which we are asked to taste 
Mouchettes tongue, makes this statement:

"What's more, we're talking here of someone who goes by the name of 
Mouchette and who has given her age as thirteen for a number of years 
already... But one doesn't have to believe all that in order to enjoy 
participating in her project." [from http://rhizome.org/object.rhiz?1842 ]

I'm not going to argue that this writer literally "enjoyed" the pieces 
sexual overtones, but at the very least, the entire text proves that 
such net.art criticism can be focused on the idea of technology and 
theory so much that it blinds us to the actual content an artist creates 
with it.

As I've mentioned, one of the biggest concerns I have is the 
"mainstreaming" efforts by pedophile organizations such as NAMBLA 
towards a concept of "acceptable pedophilia." At the same time I am 
aware that work can be misinterpreted and that some "checklists" for 
sexual abuse are capable of making almost any individual into a 
pedophile. One website defending the notion of pedophilia has a list of 
oaths that pedophiles should take that read like the ambitions of anyone 
who "respects kids". I don't think that looking at Mouchette.org will 
breed a generation of child molesters. I want to be perfectly clear: the 
subject is not whether the creator of Mouchette.org [who remains 
anonymous] is a pedophile, but simply whether or not the site can be 
read as mainstreaming, putting out the idea that children are capable of 
seducing adults, an extension of the classic "she was asking for it / 
dressed for rape" defense by male rapists. My conclusion is that this 
can be read as the primary message within the work.

I am not attempting to censor any artists, nor do I believe that art 
addressing the real impacts of sexual abuse would be problematic; nor 
that explorations of sexuality are "immoral". I am not a defender of 
policies which aim to child proof the world, nor do I believe in a world 
of 100% political correctness. I believe that we have to begin to look 
at net.art as a real art form that is interested in ideas and messages, 
and that we begin to evaluate such work on the merits of these 
intentions. To do this, we must look at the ideas and messages that 
artists are putting across in the work, for better or for ill.

-Eryk Salvaggio

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