Money grab from the money-grabbing Nirvana baby

Haley Beardsley, Opinions Co-Editor

When released in 1991, “Nevermind” by Nirvana climbed the charts to hit number one in the matter of two months—even topping Michael Jackson. Back then, it was selling 300,000 copies a week. Today, it has sold 30 million copies worldwide. 

Despite its revolutionary impact on rock, most people recognize the album cover before the music. Pop-culture is littered with the iconic image of the naked baby, in a pool, reaching for a dollar bill. We have all come to recognize and appreciate the art, with the exception of one person: the baby.

Spencer Elden, the man photographed as a four month old for the cover, is now suing the band under an allegation of sexual exploitation. At 30 years old, Elden explains that his parents had never signed a release for the band to use the image; however, his case rests on the nude image constitutes as child pornography. According to him, Nirvana knowingly produced, possessed and advertised commercial child pornography with his image, and they knowingly received value in exchange for doing so.

Personally, he expounds that his “true identity and legal name are forever tied to the commercial sexual exploitation he experienced as a minor” and “has suffered and will continue to suffer lifelong damages,” including “extreme and permanent emotional distress.” He is asking for damages of $150,000 from each of the 15 defendants, who include surviving band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, the managers of Kurt Cobain’s estate, Cobain’s former wife Courtney Love and photographer Kirk Weddle. Elden is evidently demanding money from anyone remotely connected to Nirvana. 

However, the image was not intended for sexual exploitation, which would place it under the umbrella of child pornography. To be clear, child pornography does not describe just any picture with naked minors. It means any visual depiction of “sexually explicit conduct” where the production involves the use of a minor engaging in such conduct; therefore, Elden’s claim is rather redundant. 

Also, Elden’s claim of emotional distress is rather contradictory to past statements and actions. When Elden was 23, he notes that “this story gave me an opportunity to work with Shepard Fairey […] when he heard I was the Nirvana baby, he thought that was really cool.” Elden’s inclusion in the monumental album allowed him to build a reputation and career, which questions his “lifelong damages.” Elden also chose to participate in recreation photoshoots for the 10th, 17th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries of the albums release, all of which he was compensated for. Elden has actively deepened his connection to the supposedly harmful “commercial sexual exploitation he experienced as a minor” rather than distancing himself. 

His feeling about the cover began to change when “just a few months ago, when I was reaching out to Nirvana to see if they wanted to be part of my art show.” The sudden change in demeanor after being denied artistic support makes clear that Elden’s only intention is revenge and a lackluster money grab. 

Elden’s lawsuit is a rather fragile case that can barely stand on its own, let alone against the legal teams of 15 extremely wealthy, famous defendants. Elden should forget his case, and ride the surge in recognition to make a name for himself other than “the baby from the cover of ‘Nevermind’.”

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