Lolita is undoubtedly a highly controversial work of literature.
Discourse over the text has extended to the point of debating whether or not its distribution should be permitted in any case. While the argument of whether or not the suppression of freedom of speech via book banning is ethical remains divisive, it is entirely understandable why some would harbor such vehement repulsion towards Nabokov’s novel.
Narrated by the highly unreliable Humbert Humbert who is in his late 30s, the book follows the mental gymnastics that he undergoes to alleviate his internal guilt as he attempts to garner understanding for his obsession with 12 year old Dolores Haze through writing under the guise of “love”. However, despite his best efforts, it is undeniably clear to the general public that Humbert Humbert is an extremely disturbed individual whose actions cannot be dismissed — withstanding his self-justifying tone. Still, the consensus of the social majority rarely, if ever, seems to hold enough power to change the perspective of those who are dead set on cherry picking the text to support their literary misinterpretations. For Lolita, it seems that those who do this most often are those who consider themselves nymphets — underage girls who believe, and wish, themselves to be sexually desirable in the eyes of older men.
Due to the illegal and predatory premise of the book, the tag “Lolita” has been blocked on all major social media app search facilities including, but not limited to, Tik Tok, Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest. However, the demographic that was intended and expected to be blocked may be counterintuitive to the one that finds itself, albeit minorly, hindered in actuality.
It is generally agreed upon in the academic psychological field that humans are inclined to search for community, often finding fulfillment of this need through familial, communal, religious, or political groups. However, in search of “developing a sense of meaning and purpose”, some turn to crime groups to feel as if they “belong”, finding encouragement and enablement in these factions (Hogan). Similarly to the effect of gangs on an individual scale, it is inferable that the sense of community granted through online spaces, “wherein their…beliefs are strongly reinforced” further encourages people to continue in their moral compromission, in this case pedophilia (Berman). With this in mind, it would seem that the demographic most affected by the tag blockage would be the pedophiles themselves as social media companies attempt to make their digital congregation, and thus criminal enablement, more difficult.
However, on the misspelled “Lolita” tags, there seems to be an absence of men posting in search of girls to groom or for like-minded folks, but rather an overwhelming presence of underage girls in suggestive poses donning short, white, frilly skirts and red heart-shaped sunglasses, a motif popularized by the 1962 film adaptation of the book. Often in the tumblr mood boards under this tag, there are pictures of much younger women holding hands with or otherwise physically embracing older men, in turn figuratively embracing, and romanticing, pedophilia. Typically there is also a quote from the book to accompany the images, showcasing Nabokov’s beautiful prose in an attempt to portray the narrative as a love story as opposed to seeing the true horror of Humbert Humbert’s actions and recognizing how easily crimes can be dismissed when in the hands of those unable, or unwilling, to see this underlying message.
Alongside the elusively spelled “Lolita” tag is typically the “Dolores Haze” tag. Not only has the term “Lolita” been defined as a “precariously seductive girl” by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, but Dolores’s own name has become synonymous with girls who portray themselves as intentionally seductive and coquettish. Her name was taken from her and disregarded by her, albeit fictional, abuser in favor of the nickname “Lolita”, only for her name to once again be taken from her to be interchangeable with real girls who wish to be in her position of victimhood.
While creative liberties were certainly taken, Lolita finds its basis on that of real life Sally Horner who was 11 years old when she was kidnapped and repeatedly taken advantage of by a man 39 years her senior. Sarah Weinman, author of Horner’s biography, calls society to remember her story for the sake of “all women and all girls who have suffered” similarly to Sally and Dolores (Enright).
The importance of remembering Horner’s life and the terrible reality of rape culture in modern day America is that the effect of Lolita on young and impressionable demographics is real — with real effects. While these girls who label themselves as “nymphets” may not see it now, their actions hold extreme amounts of potential for danger and future trauma. The normalization, excusation, and justification of rape and grooming through these social media posts can encourage even more highly impressionable young girls to objectify and sexualize themselves similarly, an occurrence that must be stopped for the sake of bettering humanity. This is precisely why media literacy is so important; in a society where rape is continually made to be joked about and disregarded, it is imperative that the potential victims in the equation are aware of the true consequences of traumatic events so they may stop encouraging this behavior from perpetrators of violence.
Photo Credit: Ellen Lupton