Innocence

Pondering the immense popularity of young starlets such as Deanna Durbin and Shirley Temple, Grahame Greene (1993) declared in 1939, “Innocence is a tricky subject: its appeal is not always so clean as a whistle.” While Temple’s charm ostensibly lay in her perfect purity, he argued, in fact she functioned as a highly eroticized figure. Indeed, Temple’s first films were a series of shorts known as “Baby Burlesks” that placed tiny children in compromising positions. “Boy, she’s hot stuff!” remarks one of Temple’s male admirers in one of these shorts (War Babies [Lamont 1932]), and her later films likewise situate her as an object of intense desire. Building on and extending Greene’s argument, James R. Kincaid contends in Erotic Innocence (1998) that “our culture has enthusiastically sexualized the child while denying just as enthusiastically that it was doing any such thing.” He piles up compelling proof that the physical …

This essay may be found on page 121 of the printed volume.

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