Laura Hollis / Sep. 17, 2020

The Problem Isn't Netflix. The Problem Is Us.

A culture that presents children as sexual objects is a culture that exploits them for adult gratification.

Netflix, the video streaming giant, is in hot water with at least some segments of the American public because of a French film it is currently showing called “Cuties” (“Mignonnes” in the original French).

The film is about a group of 11-year-old girls in Paris who form a team to enter a dance competition. But this isn’t ballet or jazz. It’s twerking.

The initial negative reaction was to promotional images Netflix used: the four young girls posed provocatively in their clingy, midriff-baring tops and tight shorts. But once people watched the film, shock turned to outrage. During a performance, the girls simulate sexual intercourse; bump and grind their hips; bend over in front of the audience; and touch their crotches while they sigh, look skyward and suck on their fingers. And that’s just one scene.

If some Americans were shocked by “Cuties,” they were even more taken aback by the reactions to their reaction. The “right versus left” cultural divide in the country has grown so deep that there’s no longer even a consensus on something as serious as child exploitation, which would have generated broad agreement just a few years ago. Instead, the cultural elites came out in force to snub and insult the rubes who just don’t understand great art.

An insufferable opinion piece by Sam Thielman on the NBC News website proclaims that criticism of “Cuties” is just “a cynical ploy in the culture war.” Thielman describes the film as “a sweet-spirited French coming-of-age drama” about an 11-year-old girl “looking for friendship among the competitive dancers” at her school. The twerking prepubescent girls are just rebelling as “conservative kids have done from time immemorial.” (Come on, weren’t we all simulating sex onstage in front of audiences in major cities when we were 11?)

Thielman says “there is no sexuality” in the film; it’s just about friendship between girls; again, as if all little girls watch porn together, blow up used condoms like balloons, grind their rear ends in each other’s faces, and take pictures of their genitals and post them on the internet.

He also chides us, saying that we watch adult women do this all the time. And, hey, “making your butt cheeks slap is hard” (I’ll take his word for it), so they must have started practicing as preteens.

Probably. And that’s a big part of the problem. Director Maimouna Doucoure has defended her film as a feminist cautionary tale about the sexualization of girls in today’s society. But it was only Cardi B and other “adult women” twerking just a few short years ago. If we take director Doucoure at her word, that “art” has now filtered down to children. So how long before we have 8-year-olds singing about their “WAPs”? Will we be asked to believe that’s just a “statement,” too?

The problem here isn’t Netflix; the problem is a culture that celebrates the sexualization of everything — including and especially children. And American culture sexualizes children at just about every opportunity.

For example, sex education in schools used to be about teaching human reproduction but has morphed into advocacy for gender confusion, lesbianism and homosexuality, desensitization to vulgar slang and detailed explanations of explicit sex acts — in early grade school and middle school. Planned Parenthood is responsible for a lot of this “educational” material.

Teen Vogue — whose readership, we are told, is the 11- to 18-year-old demographic — has featured articles on how to have anal sex and what gift to get your bestie after her abortion.

And let’s not forget Drag Queen Story Hour. Videos of some of these events — sponsored in many cases by the local public library — show men dressed as women cavorting around, twerking (of course), stripping and spreading their legs in front of toddlers. One such performer in Houston was a convicted sex offender.

People are promoting their children as little drag queens. Desmond Is Amazing is the stage name of a slender prepubescent boy who made national news last year when he dressed as a girl and danced at a gay nightclub, with grown men throwing money at him. Just last week, California passed a law reducing the criminal penalties for “consensual” anal or oral sex between adults and minors no more than 10 years younger. If you don’t think that a 14-year-old boy (and, yes, the law anticipates children that young) is capable of “consenting” to oral or anal sex with a man in his mid-20s, congratulations: You’re out of touch.

A culture that presents children as sexual objects is a culture that exploits them for adult gratification. This is not limited to adults receiving sexual gratification from children. More often, it is about making the adults feel better about the sexual choices they themselves have made, regardless of what this does to the children.

Claims to be “protecting the children” or “trying to start a conversation” are specious. I accept that the director’s intention was to criticize the commodification of females in Western culture, but that won’t be the result any more than “13 Reasons Why” didn’t glorify teen suicide. You can’t say you want to discourage X and then make stars out of beautiful people who do X on film, become famous, make tons of money, go to glitzy parties and pose for glamorous magazine shoots. You may think you’ve fooled the public, but you haven’t fooled the children. They get the real message.


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