Few things are more absurd or disturbing than watching the mainstream media defend the indefensible. Case in point: the Globe and Mail recently published (September 13, 2020) a piece by Barry Hertz entitled, “What Erin O’Toole gets wrong about the faux-controversy over Netflix’s Cuties” in which Mr. Hertz purports to defend Netflix, and the movie, against a tweet critical of Cuties by newly elected Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.
For those not familiar with the film, Cuties, it is the English title for Mignonnes, a French film set in a poor section of Paris telling the story of Amy, an 11 year-old French-Senegalese girl, and her struggles within a traditional Muslim family caused by the tensions between her parents’ values and the modern secular culture in which the family finds itself. To escape the restrictions of her family, Amy tries a number of avenues, including posting a naked selfie on the internet and joining a group of other young girls who perform hyper-sexualized dance routines, including “twerking”.
The filmmakers’ claim that the film is intended to criticise the hyper-sexualisation of pre-adolescent girls seems rather weak given the fact that the film uses the very technique it purports to criticize.
The defenders of the movie (and Netflix) argue that Cuties is, in Mr. Hertz’s words “a nuanced, tender and powerful coming-of-age story…[and] a clear indictment of the choices that contemporary society forces upon young girls.”
Mr. Hertz goes on to blame the “faux-controversary” on “right-leaning U.S. commentators” Republican legislators and the “QAnon conspiracy movement”—in other words, the Left’s usual suspects.
Hertz and his fellow travellers at the Globe and Mail and elsewhere in what pass for the media “elites”, are, not to put too fine a point on it, absurd. PERIOD.
The pushback against Cuties and Netflix is hardly a “faux-controversy.” Let’s be very clear here: Cuties is a movie that uses the sexual exploitation of children to tell a “story” about the sexual exploitation of children. There are lots of ways to tell coming-of-age stories without explicitly filming girls as young as eleven performing hyper-sexualized dance routines, including imitating an adult “twerking dance crew.” And just in case you don’t know what “twerking” means, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it “To dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner, using thrusting movements of the bottom and hips while in a low, squatting stance.”
Cuties has achieved a TV Parental Guidelines rating of “TV-MA – This program is intended to be viewed by mature, adult audiences and may be unsuitable for children under 17”. There’s a red flag right there—can someone please explain how it is acceptable to have a movie using children actors and yet it is not suitable “for children under 17” to watch?
Another red flag vigorously fluttered when Netflix apologized for the initial publicity poster, which Hertz’ notes “came under heavy social-media criticism for marketing that was creepily provocative, if not outright exploitative.” Gee, if the marketing was “creepily provocative, if not outright exploitative” maybe that’s because the content of the film being marketed is creepy and exploitive?
What we read in Hertz’s defence of Netflix and Cuties is the old canard of “it ain’t porn, its art, so leave it alone!” This “nothing to see here, move along” attitude is all too prevalent these days and is not healthy for society or individuals. It is emblematic of the moral decay in society, a decay for which the media and the entertainment industry both have much to answer for. Of course, the “nothing to see here” mantra entirely misses the point that it is wrong to treat children, indeed any human being regardless of age, as sexual objects. In addition, it offers a defence of the pornographic and the perverse as simply being a means to an end. In other words, if the end message is laudable, then who cares how you send the message.
Granted, social media platforms such as Twitter may not be the most optimal platform for a serious discussion, yet O’Toole’s tweet was hardly stoking “a culture war with misleading embers” as characterized by Hertz. O’Toole merely observed: “I’m a dad who is deeply disturbed by this Netflix show. Childhood is a time of innocence. We must do more to protect children. This show is exploitative and wrong.”
If anything, Mr. O’Toole’s characterization is rather mild.
Yet, Hertz has done us one valuable service, and that is to remind us that there is indeed a “culture war” going on. Films like Cuties do nothing more than desensitize us to the dangers of pornography, child sexual exploitation and paedophilia as they help to define deviance down to a new lower norm—remember, “nothing to see here, move along!”
Instead of taking a snide swipe at Erin O’Toole, Hertz could have used O’Toole’s tweet as an opportunity to consider the dangers posed by pornographic films masquerading as art or social commentary and ways to protect children from the corrupting influence of those dangers. But wait, such a consideration seems to be a bridge too far for many in our media today. We now live in an age where condemning paedophilia and child sexual exploitation only earns one snide criticism from the usual suspects: members of the Media-Entertainment Complex.
The condemnation of pedophobia and child pornography isn’t just a social conservative issue – it cuts across all party lines—protecting children from exploitation should be the business of decent people no matter what their political/professional affiliation. Basic human decency demands it. In this regard, the apparent silence from others in positions of power to do something is as disappointing as it is disturbing.
Instead of criticizing Mr. O’Toole, perhaps it would have been more newsworthy if Hertz had asked why hasn’t any Attorneys-General in Canada launch a criminal investigation into Netflix under s. 163.1 (3) of the Criminal Code for transmitting, distributing and advertising child pornography? Now, that would be something to write and tweet about!