Story by Heather Matley
The monster always seems the most frightening when you’re sitting in the dark.
This, to me, is an accurate description of the growing fear of pedophilia in America, because perhaps the scariest thing about pedophilia is sometimes not being able to identify the danger until it’s too late.
This deep-seeded fear has led to entire cultural changes and improvements in the county, including Amber Alerts and stranger danger safety taught to school children, but it may also be causing a detrimental view on adult/child relationships for millions of other people.
This became apparent after the release of popular artist Sia’s music video for her song, “Elastic Heart” on Jan. 7. The video, which stars Shia LaBeouf (28) and Maddie Ziegler (12), has since gone on to gain over 260 million views and over 150,000 comments.
In the video, LeBeouf and Ziegler are dressed in dirt and nude leotards, interpretive dancing together in a large metal cage. Sia later explained that the two actors represented two different “warring self ‘Sia’ states,” but interpretive dance often lends room for individual interpretation, and this video was no exception.
Within the first 24 hours of its release, the video had gained 2.6 million views and its comments section turned into the forum for a debate on pedophilia.
One such comment said, “OK this is my favorite song but the man with the girl lying down together and stuff… Yeah I'm frightened.”
Another read, “Whoever thought that having a barely-clothed 28 year old and a 12 year old in gymnast clothes, both covered in dirt and dancing together in extremely close proximity, was a good idea needs to look for a new career path. This isn't art. It’s disturbing.”
All related comments seemed to carry a similar reasoning: because the two actors were of vastly different ages, different genders, were not fully clothed, and were dancing, the video was too closely related to pedophilia to be acceptable for society. While I agree that these aspects, while paired with other warning signs, could be grounds for legitimate concern, this video is nowhere close to meeting those grounds. To me, the video beautifully and accurately depicted the relationship between youth and maturity, or as Sia put it, “warring” states.
What was concerning, was what the earlier commenters unintentionally hinted toward about our growing cultural fear for pedophilia. Why were those four qualifications all that were needed to make a claim of pedophilia?
Yes, the two were of different genders and ages, but so are fathers and daughters, uncles and nieces, grandfathers and granddaughters, and sometimes brothers and sisters. Yes, they were not fully clothed, but just because our culture has an expectation of modesty doesn’t mean that nakedness is a sign of lust or sexuality; it also carries connotations of innocence and freedom. Yes, they were dancing, but since when is dance only an expression of intimacy and desire? For as long as humans could dance, the art form was used as an outlet for all sorts of expression of emotions, whether it be joy, pain, frustration – most of which are represented in this video.
One commenter said, “I really don't see anything pedophile in this video. It's a 12-year-old girl dancing with a man of 28, yes, so what?”
Exactly. So what?
As mentioned before, many viewers had their own interpretations of the video, including one who said, “This video has no pedophilia and pornography. This video shows a relationship between a daughter and a father, this to me shows how separate they were and how they became closer at the end of the video.”
And this is possibly the scariest of all of interpretations: because if some people watch a video and see pedophilia while others view the same video and see a loving relationship between a father and his daughter, the line that splits the wrong from the right on our culture’s moral compass has to become far too gray.
If our culture isn’t careful about being too careful, it threatens the very ability for lasting, loving, and nurturing relationships to build between young children and men.
It would be a sad world if a father is afraid to take his kid to the park or a grandfather is unable to pick his grandchild up from school because they’re afraid of judgment and societal assumptions, and certainly not one I would want to raise my child in.