Normalizing child sexualization did not start with ‘Cuties.’ The defensive reaction to it, however, just clarified the stakes for the future.
A “story of a girl’s outrage at, and defiance of, a patriarchal order.” Those are words from The New Yorker’s glowing review of “Cuties,” a ghastly French film under fire for scenes depicting the sexualization of 11-year-olds.
The review argued that, as the film was directed by an African-French woman, voicing disgust about it is racist. Sadly, in this criticism-of-the-criticism, The New Yorker isn’t alone. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg is livid that “Cuties” faced such a massive pushback from conservatives, tweeting, “Two things are simultaneously true: #Cuties depicts disturbing, age-inappropriate behavior by young girls, AND it unequivocally views that behavior as sad and harmful to the girls involved.”
Taking the cake was Tim Robey, critic for The Telegraph, who argues that “Cuties” was designed to “push buttons.” Robey shares that affliction with several critics, who, out of pure coincidence, have given “Cuties” glowing reviews. The one spot of good news in all of this is that viewers appear to vehemently disagree with the assessment of filmgoing “experts.”
America 2020: pic.twitter.com/Ig223u5UIH
— Jeremy McLellan (@JeremyMcLellan) September 14, 2020
So, what is the movie about? This description alone tells all you need to know: it is vile.
It should go without saying, but apparently, it needs to be explained that all of this tut-tutting of critiques of “Cuties” isn’t worth much. Take Rosenberg’s argument, for example. You don’t need to make a snuff film by publicly hanging a few pedophiles to depict murder and poetic justice onscreen, just as you don’t have to skin a kitten alive to portray cruelty to animals, or have preteens grab their crotches and twerk to show how children are being sexualized.
Of course, things of this nature may be allowed in a controversial book simply because of the medium. In a book depicting pedophilia, you do not need an actual preteen (or someone posing as one) to act it out. The issue of consent, however, gets blurry in a visual medium.
Artistic freedom, like every other form of freedom, has limits, as every society needs some established taboos. Ultimately, if the choice is increasingly between a strongly ordered society that safeguards children or a society whose “liberty” churns out fodder for closet pedophiles, a majority of sensible, normal people would fall on the side of the former.
The greater question, however, isn’t about this particular film. The reaction to “Cuties” looks disproportionate due to the simple reason that we have become numb and desensitized to a continuous assault and chipping away of any form of hierarchy and morality in the name of sexual freedom.
Netflix showing a film that might provide fodder to deviants, in that regard, is the logical extreme. In 2018, TED Talk hosted a speaker who claimed that pedophilia is an “unchangeable condition” and some people are simply attracted to children.
Two years later, in 2020, a Los Angeles LGBT advocacy group called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign the controversial Bill 145, claiming that it was discriminatory to LGBT people. The act was duly signed to law. Why was the bill controversial? The bill, authored by a Democratic state Sen. Scott Weiner, decriminalized “consensual” sex with teenagers.
Kids in drag were celebrated when they danced and stripped in front of a crowd throwing cash. They were celebrated when they sat in front of a murderer with the word “Rohypnol” (a date rape drug) written behind him. The entire debate over drag queen story hours for children has developed into its own front in the culture war, with many conservatives seemingly too complacent and reticent to use any legislative power of the state to curtail or reverse.
So, one can be satisfied that everyone is suddenly outraged against “Cuties,” but it didn’t start with “Cuties.” One look at drag culture, and California legalizing “consent” by “minors,” and you can find out a lot about people, regardless of their politics, by observing who’s defending and who’s opposing this.
The question is what comes next. My friend Aaron Sibarium notes the whole fiasco involves broad swathes of society, including liberals, who have suddenly realized — to their horror — that we have reached a level of moral and social rot and deviancy that was unthinkable even ten years ago. “The conservatives attacking the film worry the worst is yet to come. The liberals defending it worry secretly that the conservatives are right.” Quite true. But it is also extraneous at the point we’re now at.
The debate over “Cuties” points out, more than anything, many people are — justifiably — still capable of being outraged over things that are abhorrent and repulsive. The locus of this scum is dominated by an elite core of professionals, reminiscent of the late Romans, or the animistic libertines of the worst periods of Revolutionary France.
Under the layers and layers of enforced socially liberal norms lies a reactionary core within the masses, which feels the pangs of desire for a cleaner, normal society, a connection that is far deeper and more metaphysical than one explained by contemporary academic theories. Yet they are also helpless and lack leadership.
Conservatives are good at harrumphing over how one should yell “stop” standing athwart history, but when a moment in history beckons to them, they have far too often taken a step back due to their natural inclination to oppose dramatic change or drastic measures. Unfortunately, “Cuties” remind us, we are fast reaching a cliff, beyond which is an utter abyss.