Essay:The Vagaries and Changes of Perception
A recent post on the GirlChat [GC] forum brought to my attention, by a round about way, the history of an album cover for a group called Blind Faith. I can't link to the picture here, but it shows a topless 11-year-old girl holding a model that is supposed to be a spaceship.
What is curious is that I found three or four accounts of the origin of the photo: two almost identical accounts by the photographer, one by the model at age 36, and another by the model at age 50, just 3 years ago. Add to this the biases of the reporters in the last two instances, and we get three accounts of what happened with some very important differences.
I find this rather instructional in how people think, and how they change their views over time to match prevailing social attitudes; and also to see how a third party can give new meaning to old facts.
First, a few points that are in agreement: The photographer, Bob Seidemann, encountered 12-year-old Sula Goschen on a train, told her he would like her to pose for a photograph, gave her a phone number, and asked her to call him. She later called, Seidemann went to visit her parents, and Sula's 11-year-old sister Mariora ended up posing instead. There was some talk about Mariora receiving a horse as payment, but different recollections as to whether that payment was made.
That said, compare and contrast:
- He went to visit the family, and Sula "would not be the one, she was shy, she had just passed the point of complete innocence and could not pose. Her younger sister had been saying the whole time, 'Oh Mummy, Mummy, I want to do it, I want to do it.'
- "We asked her what her fee should be for modeling, she said a young horse. Stigwood bought one for her."
Then, a reporter's synthesis of events in The Independent UK of 29 May, 1994, when Mariora was 36 years old, with an 11-year-old daughter of her own:
- "He visited [Sula's] parents. [...] They gave their consent. In the end, it was Sula's 11-year-old sister, Mariora, who posed. She asked for 'a young horse' as payment but instead received £40 from Stigwood, Clapton's management organization."
Thirty-six-year-old Mariora said:
- "I have only just started to find the thing amusing. At the time it was a nuisance, being recognized in the street."
- "The nudity didn't bother me. [...] Now, when people tell me they can remember what they were doing when they first saw the cover, and the effect it had on them, I'm thrilled to bits."
Finally, Mariora's view at age 50, from The Sunday Times, 11 November 2007:
- "Mariora Goschen [...] recalls that she was coerced into posing for the picture. 'My sister said, 'We'll give you a young horse. Do it!' We already had loads of horses; we lived in the country, in Suffolk. [...] The photographer had persuaded us that I should do it because it was art.' The fee for appearing on this No. 1 album was £40, and Mariora didn't get the young filly or stud she had been promised."
Note the differences:
According to Seidemann, he was there when 11-year-old Mariora insisted she wanted to pose for the photo; 36-year-old Mariora does not comment on this point but says that posing nude never bothered her; and 50-year-old Mariora says her sister told her she should do it. Finally, either 50-year-old Mariora or the reporter introduces the word "coercion" to describe the event.
There is, of course, a huge difference in perception between Seidemann's account of Mariora's eagerness to pose and The Sunday Times reporter account of "coercion" - which itself is a bit confusing, because this reporter appears to confuse the offer of payment with coercion, which are two very different things.
There is also the question of whether Mariora got the horse she was promised, with Seidemann saying she did and Mariora saying she did not - however, given inflation and exchange rates £40 might have been enough to buy a young horse at the time, and if Stigwood paid the money for a horse and her parents spent it on something else, Seidemann would have (wrongly) presumed the horse was purchased. This does not implicate Seidemann's perception, as he received his information secondhand.
Seidemann reports having visited the family at their home in Mayfair (in London), but Mariora says they lived out in the country (in Suffolk). There are several possible resolutions to this: Mariora's wealthy family may have had two homes, or she might not recall the date of a move. Still, the account of Seidemann meeting her sister on a train, and his location in London rather than Suffolk, suggest that Mariora's memory here is wearing a bit thin. It is notable, however, that this difference in memory is used to support a new narrative of blame, in which Mariora implies that since she already had access to many horses such an offer was inadequate, and she posed because "the photographer had persuaded us that I should do it because it was art." By the time of this interview in 2007 it appears that word had reached Mariora that she, as a child, could never have consented to being photographed nude, so she implies that she was fooled by the photographer into believing that "it was art," and that was the reason she posed. It should, however, be noted that in this last interview it may have been the reporter who put this spin on the narrative. Selective quotation can work wonders.
Thirty-six-year-old Mariora says that one thing was a nuisance: being recognized on the streets - but she also says that 25 years later she was very pleased to have posed. Fifty-year-old Mariora, or the reporter, don't go quite so far as condemning her having posed, but they certainly put the events in a bad light, i.e., "coercion," told to "do it," she didn't receive what had been promised.
Human memory is a very frail thing, and can be influenced by the culture around us. We know how "repressed" memories that seem very real can be manufactured, but they are far more common than we generally recognize. In real life, I have several acquaintances that claim to remember things that I am equally sure did not happen. Generally their false memories about me are quite flattering, but I know them to be untrue. Their high regard for me has caused them to remember our shared past in an insanely positive light - and I also know several women whom I know for a fact had a reasonably happy childhood, but who have been persuaded by the victimistas that their childhood was horrible, which causes them present day distress.
How many others have been wounded by this poisonous culture of blame?