‘Cuties’ Shows Conservatives Need a Will to Act
Lament and moralize all you want. Nothing will change unless you make it change.
Public life has reached a new moment of depravity, as conservatives scream in outrage and liberals get very defensive about a Netflix movie about pre-teen girls dancing like strippers. No decent person could pretend that children behaving this way is alright or to be encouraged. It’s immoral, it’s barbaric. It’s also humiliating to see that morality, even the morality of the main character’s family, treated like a joke.
American culture, we all know, is run by liberals, and liberalism is not about decency, but about liberation, which they call. Indeed, to humiliate decency, which liberals think is mere prejudice, patriarchy, and possibly white supremacy, might be exactly what social justice requires. You can be a stripper at 18? How about 16? Then 14? Then 10? Who knows? Who’s to stop it? Us? Does anyone believe we can do it?
Conservatives are outraged, but also humiliated, because they remember their defeats in every new outrage. Take a longer view of things, go back to the mid-century—conservatives who prophesied that liberation would lead to terrible evils were considered crazy, reactionary, lacking sophistication or humanity, even by many Republicans in their day. Yet the things they warned about have come to pass, whereas the reassuring, reasonable voices have been proven wrong. Still, liberals won, conservatives mostly lost.
There is a lesson here—people who tell the truth but are terrible at politics might end up not only losing political quarrels, but also discrediting the truth they are telling. How have conservatives reacted to this tragic problem? Instead of mastering the fundamentals of politics, conservatives have learned to retreat, abandon popular culture, and complain from the outside, while abandoning their children to that culture.
The world isn’t what liberals today want it to be or what 1960s liberals predicted. If social predictions mattered, the mid-century moderates or centrists would have been discredited. But predictions don’t matter—institutions do. Despite crisis after crisis, liberalism has not been refuted and defeated, but instead taken over more authoritative institutions in America, from pop culture to the Supreme Court.
Since we’re taking the long view, let’s also rehearse these crises, the results of liberal triumph: crime waves, the abandonment of marriage, and an increasingly barren society—we don’t love ourselves enough to make more of ourselves. These crises point to the increasing separation of what we all understand to be moderate behavior from what liberals claim is expert, scientific knowledge, their title to rule and remake America.
Liberals would never surrender control of academia and expertise, so they have instead learned to use immoderation to their advantage. They can make madness work! Maybe the civil peace isn’t as useful as race riots when it comes to winning elections. This is about the ugliest thing we can say about liberals in 2020: madness is not what they want out of life, but they’ll take it, use it, and maybe win.
As liberals have become immoderate, so have conservatives—they complain about things they won’t act to change. To arrogance, they answer with ignorance. Conservatism on the social front means abandoning pop culture, talking up high culture while doing nothing to promote it through universities or founding other institutions, and talking about morality and patriotism while abandoning public schools.
Compared to many conservative intellectuals, think tanks, politicians, and other leaders, the people you’ve never heard of who homeschool their kids or found and run a charter school are practical, daring, and intelligent. They also put their money where their mouth is rather than mouth off for the money. They lament their weakness, but they do something good within their powers, whereas rich, influential, elite conservatives do next to nothing.
Nothing is more depressive in life than the spectacle of powerless morality. It teaches people that you have to be immoral to get what you want. Worse, it subtly suggests that we really have no public spirit left—conservatives can be outraged about the wicked things liberals do in the quest for liberation, but we’re not going to do anything, because we only care about ourselves.
Think about America as a terrible marriage headed for divorce, with liberals and conservatives arguing in front of the kids. The next generation is dispossessed, already in debt and without much hope for decent work, and without any serious education. Even if the kids are as outraged or at least shocked as we are by movies that corrupt children, they cannot but also notice how powerless we are.
We have to learn to fear that we’re teaching the young that in America the bad liberals win and the good conservatives lose. So let’s not indulge our decent moral instincts overmuch, nor our willingness to speak up—cancel your Netflix account, tweet about it, etc.—if that’s all we mean to do.
It’s time we learned from the woke: the time of libertarian corporations is over, the future is very moralistic and America will either be about an all-American agreement or it will be about elite liberals and their woke mobs demonizing the majority of the country as racists. Every time you hear a respectable conservative obfuscate or hesitate, remind yourself that wokies are imposing their moralism everywhere from the federal government’s bureaucracies to your children’s schools.
If we believe that the vast majority of Americans don’t want children to be treated like sex objects, we should do a lot more about it. We can either organize the silent majority, the core of the middle-class republic, so that outrages will be punished and decency upheld—or we can advertise that, however shameless liberals get, they’ll win.
America once had self-imposed censorship that the nation was alright with and which profited liberals, who became more sophisticated storytellers. Do you want to wait for the next outrage or do you want to remember the old Hays Code and see about how we might imitate that great American concordat. It can start with a combination of private initiatives and state GOPs using elected offices to compel corporations like Netflix to respect moral boundaries.
It’s human nature to praise good things and damn evil things. America is now in the middle of a quarrel about the character of our morality. Liberals are defending sexualizing ten-year-olds as good. Conservatives need to damn this evil and defend, and thus mobilize, the silent majority. We have liberals to blame for their wickedness, but only ourselves to blame for our weakness—and that is the worst humiliation, the worst outrage, the worst failure. The only solution is to return from exile and press all the Republican parties and conservative institutions in America into supporting a new moral consensus.
Titus Techera is the executive director of the American Cinema Foundation and a contributor to National Review, The Federalist, Law & Liberty, and Modern Age.