Pooja G. Rangan (Section 01)
“So innocent!” may be the phrase most frequently heard and reflexively uttered regarding children. This phrase signals the universality of the child as a symbol of innocence in the modern West, where childhood is often understood as a blank slate set apart from the complications of labor, politics, history and sexuality. Yet, there is nothing innocent or apolitical about the representations of children that circulate through advertising, children’s literature, films, and photography. In them, children are expected to remain innocent of sexual desires, yet they are assumed to be heterosexual. Furthermore, their innocence is associated with whiteness. Indeed, these representations abound with paradoxes, imagining children as simultaneously human and beast-like, innocent and perverse, imperiled by and a peril to society.
Taking these paradoxes into account, this course will consider a difficult question: far from being innocent, what if the child is a decidedly queer figure–one whose liminality reveals the fragility and instability of sexuality, humanity, and of the social order itself? We will consult historical and contemporary writings that help us grapple with this question, such as Sigmund Freud’s theories of children’s sexuality, contemporary queer scholarship on the place of the child in the modern family, and human rights debates about child labor. Our conversations will be anchored in representations of children in media forms ranging from animated, documentary, and fiction films to reality TV, fairy tales, human rights media, and reproductive and gay rights videos.
Fall semester. Professor Rangan.