The world of high fashion is strange. For example, at the 2021 Met Gala singer-songwriter Frank Ocean carried a green, robotic baby wherever he went, gymnast Simone Biles wore a crystal-studded dress so heavy it took six men to help her up the stairs, and Kim Kardashian wore a head-to-toe black body suit that even covered her face.
Turning heads and calling it “art” is nothing new, but there are lines that even the edgiest refuse to cross. In November, the Paris-based fashion brand Balenciaga released back-to-back ad campaigns featuring blatant references to child pornography, violence, and sadomasochism. One featured a toddler holding a stuffed animal dressed in sexual clothing. In another, a child lies on a couch surrounded by wine glasses. To remove all doubt about Balenciaga’s intentions, a final photo featured a purse partially covering a printed Supreme Court opinion from United States v. Williams, a case that dealt with child pornography and the First Amendment.
To say that Balenciaga is an important player in the fashion industry is an understatement. They’ve dressed everyone from the Kardashians to Rihanna to Nicole Kidman to Justin Bieber. The most charitable interpretation of this ad campaign was that they hoped to sell more clothing. Given the various elements placed in these ads, not to mention the hyper scrutiny typically afforded ad campaigns for luxury companies, the more likely interpretation is far more disturbing.
And, for a group so outspoken as champions of social justice, the silence from celebrities was deafening. Only after Tucker Carlson covered the story did Kim Kardashian speak out, tweeting, “As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images,” adding that she would be reevaluating her relationship with the company. Still, considering that reevaluating and canceling are different things, Kardashian remains among the minority of Balenciaga’s clients to say anything.
In fact, much of the media response to the shocking images can be characterized as naive surprise, as though this was a genuine anomaly for the fashion industry, completely unconnected from movements in the wider culture. For example, Vogue’s Raven Smith asked incredulously, “I wonder if anyone truly believes we’re in danger of normalizing pedophilia?”
To Ms. Smith, I say that even if this particular ad campaign had never seen the light of day, the answer to that question is so obvious that only those neck deep in so-called high culture could fail to see it.
Someone at the center of the controversy over Balenciaga’s campaign is stylist Lotta Volkova. Her Instagram is crowded with gory, violent, even Satanic imagery, frequently featuring children and items suggestive of childhood: dolls, school uniforms, and stuffed animals. While she’s not worked for Balenciaga since 2018, Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia repeated a joke in a 2016 interview with VICE Magazine that he, Volkova and fellow designer Gosha Rubchinskiy were all raised on “child pornography and radiation from Chernobyl.” Battered stuffed animals are another ubiquitous part of Balenciaga’s brand, appearing as recently as Paris Fashion Week in October.
And yet, even if none of these obvious excesses infected the world of high fashion, the answer to Ms. Smith’s question in Vogue about the advance of pedophilia in the real world would still very much be “yes.” “Drag Queen Story Hour” is welcome at local libraries across the United States, but over 50 so far have turned down story time with Kirk Cameron. In public schools, there are teachers who announce their intention to sexualize children and advance ideas about gender and sexual behavior on social media channels such as TikTok. School programs hyperlink children to websites featuring pornography and supposedly “consensual” sexual violence. In Virginia, a Loudon County school board finally fired a superintendent who allowed a male student who raped a female in a restroom to transfer to another school where he assaulted another female student. Even then, the superintendent is receiving over $300,000 in pay on the way out. Finally, as The New York Times reported in 2019, the amount of child pornography on the internet had doubled in the course of just one year.
In other words, anyone who didn’t see this coming just wasn’t paying attention.
At the root of all the should-be warning signs are bad ideas about sex and the human person—the bad ideas of Freud, of Kinsey, of Foucault, and others. Their thinking long ago saturated academia and has been trickling down into the popular imagination ever since. The most dangerous of their ideas are not the ones about sexual behavior, but the ones about sexual identity. Those are the ideas that threaten to uproot human souls.
Throughout history, Christians have fought for the protection and wellbeing of children, quite often from sexual exploitation and abuse. Our task today is no different.
Today’s Breakpoint was co-authored by Kasey Leander. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to colsoncenter.org.
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