The “red line” of behaviour that once preserved the ethical foundations of society seems to be rapidly eroding before our eyes. Social media and film have become the primary progenitors of our culture, so when they endorse and celebrate certain practices, the ripple effect penetrates far into the subconscious of the culture, for better or—as is more often the case—for worse.
In that light, Netflix has pushed the boundaries of acceptable social commentary to a new and frightening place with its film “Cuties.”
The film has been the subject of considerable backlash since it was first teased as a trailer and even more so after its full release. It has since remained under fire for its overt sexualization of preteen girls. Think twerking and far, far worse.
Netflix describes the film as a story of an 11-year-old girl rebelling against her family after she meets a “free-spirited dance crew,” defending it as “social commentary” against sexualization of young children”—which is ironic considering that much of the film depicts preteen girls performing highly sexualized dance routines, including crotch-grabbing. Does Netflix’s rationalization justify the child-exploitation content of the film? I suggest not. The premise is actually ridiculous.
Decay of Decency
Taking any religious trappings out of the equation, there are certain cornerstones of human morality that are generally embraced by people of all races and creeds. Protecting the innocence of our children is one of those preeminent moral virtues, imbued as it is with the natural parental instinct. The fact that we are now evaluating the necessity of those virtues in light of “Cuties” is indicative of how far the decay has progressed in Western society.
Television, social media, and even the education system have been steadily encroaching on the inherent innocence of our children. Exposure to hyper-sexualized ideas is pervasive, promoted, and normalized by the mainstream disseminators of culture. Hollywood, streaming services, and social media platforms like TikTok are pushing the norms of decency to new lows with few critical voices to keep them in check.
Subversion is lauded as progressive and edgy—celebrated for its audacity and overthrow of long-held, principled norms—while anyone who dares to criticize or question it is labelled as right-wing and phobic. The rapidity with which the erosion of these norms has happened in the past decade is nothing short of shocking.
Society is in dangerous territory, something we may not fully realize, blinded as we tend to be when on the precipice of a crisis. But here we are, on the cliff, headed ever closer to the edge.
This is not a political cliff but a cultural one, far more permanent and destructive. Much emphasis is placed on political battlegrounds; however, the culture war is where the most important crusades are taking place. After all, politics is downstream of culture, not the other way around.
Not So Cute
The sexualization of children and youth is a subject that is fair game for exploration and commentary. Kids are exposed to adult-oriented material at earlier and earlier ages, shaping their pliable and developing psyches in ways unfathomable in prior generations. The long-term effects of this trend will have impacts on generations to come, and the damage done will be hard to undo. It’s a real problem that needs to be addressed, and if “Cuties” is the lightning rod then so be it.
There are uncomfortable elements of truth in the film that should alarm us, and for that “Cuties” has very rightly struck a raw nerve. But the film itself fails drastically by incorporating such gratuitously explicit material that even its legality should be questioned. The very fact that “Cuties” is available for mass consumption on a key media platform indicates how our checks and balances have failed to protect the exploitation of our kids. There is no need to watch the entire film. There are enough clips available on YouTube to raise the ire of any rational-minded person. Context is not necessary when the context is unequivocally explicit.
No matter the rationale, portraying 11-year-old girls this way onscreen is a moral failure of epic proportions.
The film’s hypothesis that hypersexualized dance routines are somehow an antidote for the turbulence of adolescence feeds into the narrative that the only way to navigate adolescence is through the total abandonment of every moral constraint enforced by family, religion, or society.
As a novel, “Cuties” would perhaps be valid and the subject matter digestible, but the gratuitous cinematography undermines everything the film purports to represent. It’s an irony that seems lost on Netflix and the filmmaker.
All Is Not Lost
Some measure of morality has to be maintained if we are to continue to live in relative harmony. The thoughts we harbour and the media content in which we indulge affect not only ourselves but the overall character of our society. Some things, now relegated to the fringes, have been put there for good reason.
The widespread criticism of “Cuties” may appear alarmist and unwarranted to some, but this is not an anomalous event. It is indicative of a broader social trend. Child-sized sex dolls are being manufactured in Japan and pedophiles are rebranding themselves as Minor Attracted Persons, or MAPS for short. They are seeking recognition and inclusion, as well as normalization of their inclinations. At this critical juncture it is more appropriate to act decisively than allow the trend to continue unchallenged.
If there was no outcry over this film’s embrace by a major media platform it would betray an utter decline in acceptable morality on a mass scale. But not all is lost. The fact that the film has elicited such a potent negative response shows that there’s still a collective conscience working among us to awaken the silent majority to action.
The advocacy group Parents Television Council points out that the film’s sexualization of its child characters eclipses its message about social media danger and the negative effects of sexual images in popular culture on children.
As of Sept. 20, the official trailer on YouTube had 2 million dislikes and 50,000 likes, and the comment section is characterized largely by revulsion.
#CancelNetflix has been a top-trending topic since the film’s release and data shows a huge increase in subscription cancellations, resulting in substantive fiscal loss to Netflix. If morality won’t dissuade Netflix perhaps the almighty dollar will.
Homogenous adherence to a strict moral code is not possible or even beneficial in a free and evolving society, but the trend should be such that we encourage our better natures. There must remain uncrossable lines—without them we are doomed to anarchy and chaos where impulse is no longer checked by restraint and the very worst of human inclinations are encouraged.
Those questioning the place of “Cuties” in society should ask themselves: If we let this pass, what, if any, red line will remain?
Ryan Moffatt is a journalist based in Vancouver.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.