Free Speech v. Sexual Deviance: French Cartoonist Accused Of Promoting Pedophilia And Incest

Bastien Vivès, a leading French cartoonist, is facing a petition to ban him for both drawings and comments that seem to justify pedophilia and incest. He says the world needs “transgression,” and that the more people tell him he can’t draw things, the more he will draw them.

From Charlie Hebdo to Xavier Gorce to R. Crumb, cartoonists in France have a history of provocation and courting controversy—and generally receive French public support in return. But the latest provocateur, Bastien Vivès, may have crossed the line on the limits of free speech and artistic expression.

The 38-year-old comic book artist from Paris is facing a sudden backlash to work from four years ago that has resurfaced, as well as more recent comments, that critics charge excuse, or even promote, incest and pedophilia.

A petition (78,000 signatures and growing) is calling on the prestigious Angoulême International Comics Festival to revoke Vivès’s invitation to participate in next month’s gathering.

A need for transgression?

Having authored mainstream comic books, including several that have been made into films (his 2011 Polina was adapted for the screen by Angelin Preljocaj, starring French actress Juliette Binoche). Yet one work is now the target of critics: Petit Paul, published in 2018, portrays a small child with disproportionate private parts, prompting critics to demand its withdrawal from bookstores and even its outright banning under a provision in the French legal code that prohibits the pornographic representation of minors.

Ultimately no legal action was taken. Defending himself, Vivès said, “How can anyone take Petit Paul seriously?,” calling his critics “regressive” and “stupid.”

“Our era needs transgression,” he said, “but it’s become complicated to do it.”

Still Vivès’ may go well beyond transgression, as French daily Libération cites one of the many recent critics, “He continues to be treated in the media as a virulent but talented teenager. When in reality, he’s a (nearly) 40-year-old reactionary whose work actively contributes to the normalization of pedophilia and rape culture.”

Yet Vivès’ allies continue to stand by him. “Bastien’s work, in its originality and complexity, cannot be reduced or destroyed by puritanist minds,” fellow comic artist Catel posted on Instagram.

And though the festival’s organizers are adamant that Vivès’s invitation will not be withdrawn, the controversy itself is revealing of the changing nature of France’s historic view on art, free speech, and the edges of acceptable sexual conduct.

Circling back to #metoo

In the past, the country has seemingly shrugged off high-profile scandals involving artists—for example, welcoming Roman Polanski, a fugitive from charges of child rape filed in the U.S. But in the last several years, a more critical light has been shined on sexual misconduct in the French artistic and literary worlds. In 2020 Vanessa Springora (who signed the petition calling for Vivès to be removed from the festival), published Consent, a memoir describing sexual abuse she experienced while she was 14, from writer Gabriel Matzneff, 49 at the time, who had done little to hide his attraction to and pursuit of underage boys and girls.

The #metoo movement, which took off in France under the hashtag #balancetonporc, led to the downfall of Eric Brion, a media consultant and former executive at the public broadcaster France Télévisions.

Still, it’s worth noting that there was a significant counter-movement at the time in France, which questioned whether the movement was an example of puritanism. Actress Catherine Deneuve famously co-signed an open letter in the French daily Le Monde criticizing #metoo as serving “the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom, the religious extremists, the reactionaries and those who believe — in their righteousness and the Victorian moral outlook that goes with it — that women are a species “apart,” children with adult faces who demand to be protected.”

Five years later, the French art world is once again facing uncomfortable questions prompted by Vivès’s drawings. How far can artists go in treating controversial themes in their work? To what extent should art, or pornography, be a place of expression for sexual fantasies that can’t be lived out in real life?

In a since-deleted interview with French media Mademoizelle, Vivès declared that “incest turn[ed] him on.” “Given that I cannot do incest in real life, and that I have no older sister to be able to do that to, I do it in my books,” Vivès said.

Some of Vivès’s contemporaries, like Penelope Bagieu and Joanna Lorho, have denounced their profession’s “resistance” to change and indifference “to the image of women in comics.” The illustrator Emma, known for her comic strip on the “mental load” that affects women, said on Monday that the world of art must “clearly, publicly and visibly denounce this person and his illegal productions.”

If that happens, it’s unlikely to stop Vivès. As he told French daily Le Point in 2020, “I give myself the right to draw everything. The more people tell me I don’t have the right to draw something, the more I want to draw it.”

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Well, I was a fan until the part where he opposed #metoo. Yes, politicians have used it as an excuse to back some bad policies, but politicians could find a way to use a dirty sock to strip people of their rights.

All things considered, sounds like the work accused of “promoting pedophilia” wasn’t even inherently sexual, just showed a body (and not even a realistic one at that).

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We’ve been over this ad nauseum! If simulated CSAM promotes real CSAM, then slasher flicks promote real serial murder and shooter games promote real violent gun crimes and warfare. This is the standard by which fiction ought to be judged: if slasher films and shooter games are allowed, so’s lolicon and such. It’s really that simple, y’all…

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How far can we go in dealing with controversial topics in fiction? The sky is the limit! I wonder what happened to France, home to Marquis de Sade, a writer whose stories graphically depict the sexual abuse of children to make a philosophical point about the universe being indifferent.

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Or to literally any survivor who writes about their abuse as part of the healing process.

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Like Ms. Fletcher from the U.S., from back in to mid-2000s. She wrote stories to deal with her own sexual abuse that she experienced, but she got targeted under the bullshit obscenity laws.

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“Noooo you can’t draw that! It’s normalizing x!!”

Proceeds to play violent video games, and watch epic fail compilations where kids get hurt and everyone points and laughs.

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Cancel Culture is despicable and deeply dangerous. It promotes the burning of individuals at the stake without giving them a fair chance to defend themselves. They become sacrificial lambs for the virtue signalling of superficial people that are unable to entertain ideas without committing to them, and who are too blind to realize that they may very well be the next person who gets cancelled once the whims of public opinion turn against them. It’s a form of avoidance, allowing people to dismiss ideas without having to seriously consider them, thus promoting group think and discouraging critical thinking.

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