Graydon Carter has a problem. How do you pose as a moralist while excusing your own history of peddling young flesh — and justifying the child-rape committed by your friend?

It’s a tall order.  Under Carter’s tutelage, Vanity Fair has acquired a strange fixation on certain types of photos of nude young women.  It’s simply weird how often the editor feels compelled to litter his pages with shot after shot of extremely youthful actresses in the buff surrounded by other people in clothes — also weird how vehemently and frequently he defends this basement-porn aesthetic in the magazine’s pages.  This tightrope act occasionally threatens to unravel beneath the weight of one too many coy verbal gestures toward the breasts of girls who could be one’s daughter, or rather grand-daughter.  But Carter just can’t seem to help himself.

Of course, the Vanity Fair editor has a dial-in justification for all of this, the very same justification he uses when sending camera crews around the world in private jets to shoot photographs of movie stars berating non-private-jet-flying-people for burning fossil fuel in Vanity Fair’s annual “Green” issue:

But these are celebrities raping children (or the planet).  Rules don’t apply to celebrities, do they?

Such a worldview is merely laughable when the product is giant-carbon-footprint eco-porn featuring Leonardo DiCaprio looking sad over melting icebergs, wedged between ads for luxury products that actually are accelerating the warming of the planet.  It’s less funny when Graydon Carter mounts the well-worn stairs of his bully pulpit to insists that there is nothing troubling about pressuring young actresses to pose nude alongside fully-clothed male actors, or nothing wrong with publishing topless shots of an underage Miley Cyrus: the photos were taken by Annie Leibowitz, so it’s OK that she pressured the child to take off her top because the end result was artistic.

The “artistic” stuff is harder to swallow when you see how the magazine packaged the photo shoot controversy, and I quote:

Sweet niblets, Annie Leibovitz’s photographs of Miley Cyrus sure have caused a stir. . . as this exclusive video shows, the nefarious photo shoot that has parents threatening to host Hannah Montana bonfire parties was actually a relaxed family event in one of the most picturesque settings imaginable: the green hills of Calabasas, California. Check it out!

Check it out, indeed.  The mag promises “candid images” from the shoot.  And the video still accompanying this cheeky proffer is a jarring, grainy back-shot of Cyrus swinging from a tree limb with her bare-skinned bottom coming out of her pants.

It resembles nothing more than the dirty playground snapshots a pedophile would take on the sly.

What message is Carter sending, framing the debate over his decision to publish “artistic” topless photos of an underage girl with a troubling photograph like this one?  What does it mean that he runs a photo so obviously resembling child porn with a blurb insisting, of all things, on the “relaxed family” atmosphere of the Miley Cyrus photo shoot?  I think one should always take people at face value, and the face Carter is offering is a belligerent one, defending his right to break the rules because of who he is, while slyly pushing the envelope even further.

Context matters, including ugly context (see here and here for more disturbing smirkiness on Miley Cyrus’ body by other aging VF writers).

You hardly need a rorschach to perceive Graydon Carter’s ethos of ethical exceptionalism for celebrities.  Here he is, in the current VF issue (not yet available online), writing about Roman Polanski’s rape of a drugged child.  After some creepy, predictable natter about Polanski being Jean Valjean to the Los Angeles Justice Department’s Inspector Javert, which if taken at face value undermines all that follows, Carter argues for leniency over holding Polanski responsible for his crimes, on the grounds that he is a talented film director and therefore should not be subject to the same laws that apply to the less aesthetically inclined.  You know, the Jack Henry Abbott defense:

Even during the trial in London, my affection for [Polanski] never flagged.  Perhaps many of his supporters are correct.  Perhaps he should be treated differently.  Perhaps, in this case, the punishment should fit the criminal rather than the crime.  Perhaps the act of penance that would do the greatest amount of lasting good would be for Polanski not to go to jail but instead to spend the next period of his life — perhaps the rest of his life — using his protean talents as a filmmaker to create an anti-rape feature, one that would show the brutality and consequences of this heinous act.

It’s sort of like jurisprudential carbon credits: rape a kid, make a movie about raping kids, clean the slate.  But important questions remain unanswered: what type of punishment is it, exactly, to green light a pedophile to shoot a movie about child rape?

And what happens if Polanski plans a sequel?  Does he get a second pass?

What Graydon Carter is suggesting here is grotesque.  It is a nauseating assault on the dignity of crime victims, a creepily shameless argument for unequal application of our laws.  All the bespoke tailoring in the world can’t turn such a piggish mindset into anything other than what it is: assertion of the right of certain elite people to rape less elite children, wedged on scented pages between ads for Dooney and Bourke purses and Louis Vuitton travel bags.

If I represented either of those companies, I’d be more than a little disgusted by the environs.  But that’s only the first article in the latest Vanity Fair that works hard to excuse the rape of a child.  Perhaps in a bow to the flagging economy, this month is a two for one.

Tomorrow: Child rapists are simply misunderstood aesthetes who feel too much, Part II.

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