Last week, I wrote about how the success of the obscene new “song” WAP by Cardi-B has exposed the near-total inversion of truth and moral values in our culture. While the song objectifies women in the worst way, and features lyrics so obscene and pornographic that they beggar belief, it has widely been praised for advancing women’s “liberation.” Now, we are seeing precisely the same inversion of moral truth in the controversy over the new Netflix movie Cuties.
There is no question that the film hyper-sexualizes children. Yet it is being hailed by the critics as a great artistic achievement (the film enjoys a very high 90% approval rating on the film-rating site Rotten Tomatoes) that somehow exposes and opposes the sexualization of children.
Child Pornography is NEVER OK
Inevitably, there are those who will claim that people who haven’t seen the film don’t have any right to weigh in on the controversy. Two points can be made in response:
1) There is literally no context that I can think of that would justify even the first 20 seconds (I couldn’t stomach any more than that) of the two-minute dance clip from the movie making the rounds widely on social media. There is simply no excuse, ever, for filming children in that way, no matter how ostensibly good the reason for doing so might be.
Indeed, what all those critics who are praising the film seem to have forgotten is that the young actresses portraying these mixed-up characters are real children. They really had to learn how to dance in the way shown in the film; they really had to memorize and speak the obscene lines that were given to them; they really had to have the camera linger on their young bodies, and then to have that footage displayed for the whole world to see.
As someone (I now forgot who) posted on Facebook: imagine someone making a movie about how animal cruelty is bad, but then torturing and killing several puppies in order to make it. That’s Cuties.
2) Reasonable people (as opposed to jaded, desensitized, and amoral critics) who have subjected themselves to the film with an open mind have decried it as just as grotesque as the publicly-available clips suggest (see, for instance, Rod Dreher’s review here).
Cuties: The Tip of the Iceberg
I don’t wish to dwell any further on the details of the film. The fact that there are so many critics willing to defend it, or that there even exists a “debate” about whether the film is acceptable or not is, to me, but one more sign of how far our standards have fallen.
However, there are two points I wish to make in relation to the film.
The first is that Cuties is merely the tip of the iceberg, or perhaps the culmination of a long, sinister process of the sexualization of children. If the imagery in Cuties is deemed acceptable by our critics and many viewers, it is only because we have been gradually desensitized to the loss of innocence of our children.
Some critics have defended the lurid dance sequences in Cuties by pointing out that the reactions of some people in the audience are negative. Supposedly, the point of these scenes is to show that the girls’ sexually provocative behavior is not as socially acceptable as they thought. Of course, even if this is the intent of those scenes, it still doesn’t justify their explicitness. However, what strikes me is the dismaying fact that when children do behave like this, in the real world, their behavior is often greeted not with disapproval, but rather with the cheers and adulation of adults (tragically, even at times by their parents).
Remember this appearance by the 11-year-old “drag queen” Desmond on Good Morning America? The young boy strutted up the aisle dressed in drag, and then sprawled sensuously on the floor. Instead of being horrified (as any decent person should be), the largely middle-aged audience laughed and cheered, while the show hosts fawned over him, praising him for his “bravery.” On another occasion he performed a drag act in a gay bar, while patrons handed him money. This was strenuously defended by many media outlets and progressive activists.
Then, there’s the bizarre Drag Queen Story Hours, in which children are exposed to the seedy world of adult drag queens, who take a break from their job of sexually titillating adult audiences in gay bars in order to read stories indoctrinating children into the LGBT ideology. This, too, is praised by nearly every mainstream newspaper in the country.
Parents, Please Protect Your Kids
Statistics show that children as young as 10 or 11 years old are increasingly immersed in a world of hard-core pornography, which is readily available on the smartphones that their parents unthinkingly give them. And when they aren’t viewing hardcore porn, they are watching and listening to (and, naturally, imitating) mainstream entertainment that is pornographic and violent to a degree that their parents often utterly fail to grasp.
A friend of mine told me recently how he visited a friend’s home and while there mentioned his dismay at the success of WAP. His friend’s 13-year-old daughter was also at the table, and immediately mentioned that she and all her friends at school knew the song. In the past, 13-year-old girls would have known only the most basic facts about the birds and the bees: now, however, they are being bombarded with the minute details of grotesque sexual behaviors.
Behind much of this, or at least severely exacerbating the problem, is the growth of so-called “comprehensive sex education,” in which children as young as five or six are gradually introduced to highly explicit sexual information, including about sexual practices that their parents and grandparents probably would never have even heard of. This is all justified under the rubric of reducing teen pregnancies and STD rates.
In reality, the only result is to reduce children’s sexual inhibitions, and to prematurely thrust them into the confused adult world of promiscuous sex. In many cases, it all ends in the premature pregnancies, abortions, and diseases that the sex-ed programs were supposedly designed to prevent.
It’s Time to Unplug
The second point I wish to make is related to the first: Christians who live in this culture need to seriously re-evaluate their relationship with the popular entertainment culture.
Parents, especially, need to take an extremely hard look at what their children are watching and listening to. If your child has an unfiltered smartphone, tablet or computer, or a TV in his or her room, then you are courting disaster – moral, spiritual, psychological, and physical. It is not a matter of whether your child will discover obscene material far beyond your worst imaginings, but when.
Consider this quote from the opening of Pope St. John Paul II’s Letter to Artists:
None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.
Now, ask yourself, does just about anything that you see on TV, or on Netflix, or hear on the radio, resemble what the saintly pope is describing here? When you watch most popular TV shows and movies, or listen to the latest top-40 hits on the radio, do you catch a glimpse of beauty, or “the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands?”
While there are some exceptions, in general the answer is a resounding “no.” Over the past few decades, popular art and entertainment have become increasingly obscene, violent, nihilistic, and often outright pornographic. In many cases we have failed to notice, because we are the proverbial frogs in boiling water, and because it’s what everyone else is watching and listening to.
Change the Channel, Change Your Life
Well, maybe it’s time that we stopped being part of the crowd. The amount of time the average person spends watching TV or streaming video services is astonishing. Most of what they are watching is anything but morally uplifting. Imagine if we took only a third of that time, and spent it instead truly being present to our children, spouses and loved ones, or pursuing meaningful hobbies (gardening, learning an instrument, woodworking, painting, etc.), or in spiritual reading and meditative prayer? It could be life changing.
We Christians are in the world, but as Christ instructed us, we are not to be of the world. If we are filling our hearts and minds with precisely the same obscene entertainment as the world, are we really living our Christian vocation in a meaningful way?
Remember the words of St. Paul: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Let us take the success of WAP and Cuties as a warning sign, and a wakeup call. According to some reports, the number of people cancelling their Netflix accounts in the wake of the release of Cuties shot up eight-fold. Good. Maybe it’s time each of us considered doing the same thing.
Unplug. And then reorient our minds and imaginations towards higher, better, purer things.