It’s amazing how far words can stray from their original meanings. Take “Lolita.”
Vladimir Nabakov‘s novel of the same name opens with Humbert Humbert’s introduction of the title character:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”
According to him, she is a “nymphet”:
Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (demoniac); and those chosen creatures I propose to designate as ‘nymphets.'”
Such are the rationalizations of 37 year old Humbert when explaining (excusing?) his desire for and later despoiling of a 12 year old girl.
But as the name moved from the pages of Nabokov’s novel to Stanley Kubrick’s film (where she was no longer prepubescent), . . .
. . . and beyond, its meaning somehow flipped. Taking the unreliable narrator’s obfuscation at face value, “Lolita” has come to mean a very young girl who seduces an older man. It is exactly this attitude that leads to inexcusable acts such as Montgomery County, Maryland, Judge Durke Thompson reducing the sentence of a 23 year old molester, saying of his 11 year old victim, “I don’t think [she] is free of fault. I think the old adage that it takes two to tango is true here.”
The Lolita image is often used to promote young female pop stars.
Lana Del Rey has described her image as “Lolita got lost in the hood.” Her debut album (well, under that name) features a song called “Lolita” (nhishmily made videos of this and the similarly titled Sky Ferreira track below by intercutting shots of the singers with images from the two film adaptations of Nabakov’s novel, Kubrick’s and Adrian Lyne’s):
And while Ferreira has subverted the Lolita image (is it really a subversion to return to the original meaning?) on her album cover and in her creepy video of the title track . . .
. . . she has also played the image straight. Note the heart-shaped sunglasses from the Lolita film poster that she wears in this Petra Collins photo shoot:
Early in her career, the then underage singer even recorded a demo called “Lolita” (co-written by Nicole Morier, who has also written for Britney) in the model of 1960s “yé-yé” (yeah-yeah with a French accent) pop music:
Iconic French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg seemed to delight in slipping innuendos and double entendres into the many French bubblegum songs he wrote for various yé-yé girls.* Supposedly France Gall did not recognize the phallic implications of “Les Sucettes,” which licked the lollipop metaphor decades before Lil Wayne, until long after she recorded this video to promote the song:
Gainsbourg was a big fan of Nabakov’s novel, returning to its theme many times in his music. In fact, his masterpiece, Histoire de Melody Nelson, tells a similar story, with his young wife, Jane Birkin, serving as his Lolita. He filmed the complete concept album as a long form video:
* Not that US bubblegum was any less suggestive, take Ohio Express’s “Yummy, yummy, yummy/I got love in my tummy and I feel like a-lovin’ you/Love, you’re such a sweet thing, good enough to eat thing/And it’s just a-what I’m gonna do.”