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All Hail The Masturbating Middle Schooler!

Maya, a 7th grader in the new Hulu show 'PEN15' (Screenshot from show trailer)

American popular culture in 2019. Amanda Hess at the NYT writes about a new series of shows:

It begins innocently enough. In the third episode of the Hulu comedy “PEN15,” the seventh grader Maya is playing with two My Little Pony dolls, mashing their pink plastic faces together in a fantasy make-out session, when her face flushes pink, too. For maybe the first time, she sticks a hand down her underwear, and for the remainder of the 30-minute episode, that hand rarely re-emerges. Suddenly Maya’s suburban middle school existence is pulsing with masturbation triggers: a pencil hole drilled into a purple eraser; a classmate’s ear hair; the curve of a sand dune in a nature documentary. A switch has flipped. Now everything is sex.

In the middle school of the American collective imagination, packs of filthy-minded boys stalk the halls, snapping bras and howling at the cliff’s edge of puberty. The sex-obsessed adolescent girl is a rarer breed. More often girls are positioned as victims of raging male hormones, or else they are styled as preternaturally mature, rising above the boys and their juvenile misadventures. Now — in “PEN15,” the film “Eighth Grade” and the Netflix animated comedy “Big Mouth” — the lustful adolescent girl is having her moment.

Let joy be unconfined, truly.

You know who is the majority shareholder in Hulu? Disney, which owns 60 percent. Mickey Mouse is bringing masturbating middle schoolers into American households. [UPDATE: I’m told that Disney only holds 30 percent of Hulu now; when it’s Fox deal goes through, it will own 60 percent … but it does not own that yet. — RD]

I have a daughter in seventh grade. The idea of allowing these scummy Disney people access to her imagination turns me into Papa Bear.

The Benedict Option means seceding, as much as possible, from this degraded and degrading popular culture. This is not about moving to the country. It’s everywhere. We have to refuse it, and refuse to be part of communities that accept this stuff. 

Let the lustful adolescent girl have her moment. Let the priests marry each other at the altar with the Pope’s blessing. Let the beggars raffle banknotes, let the Giant enchant Jack. Let the rotten empire fall. Let it all go straight to hell.

UPDATE: Reader Xenie:

This is the form the pedo agenda is taking. It’s being cheered on by feminists in the name of “female sexuality having its moment,” here, and that’s representative of how the script will play out. But under all the woke buzzwords what is depicted is strictly a deranged adult fantasy. I have been a tween girl and I have raised them. I am not saying that we are asexual after puberty. But I am saying that it does not take this form unless something is done to us to harm and corrupt our innocence. This is the Penthouse version of “adolescent female sexuality,” not the authentic version. Of course plenty of adult women writers–especially feminist ones–will chime in to say they were just like this, that they made their Barbies have BDSM orgies and whatever, too. No doubt some of them are even telling the truth (though by no means all of them.) But what gets left out is how they got there, which by and large is abuse and corruption handed down from feckless Boomers who exposed them to porn, media debauchery, and sexually exploitive and abusive situations before they were old enough to make any sense of it and not internalize it. Scratch a “sex positive” feminist and you’ll find a pre-pubescent sex crime victim, far more often than any of them would like you to note. The problem is that they are collaborating to make this appear normal, they are normalizing it, to make way for the next phase of the revolution.

Now I shall submit this comment for moderation and check back later to see all the dirty old liberal men (the usual suspects) telling us there’s nothing to see here and that this is all perfectly normal.

UPDATE.2: Reader Jonah R.:

The mixed messages here are interesting, too. Defenders of this show will argue its documentary nature: “it’s just dramatizing what kids already do, and how they are!” But if you did the same show depicting what a white adolescent who’s a casual fan of Trump does naturally in the course of his day, we’d be told such a show was “normalizing hate” or some such. It’s funny how popular culture is didactic and moral when its defenders need to to be, but a detached vision of verisimilitude and “realism” at other times as needed.

Remember how last week, Esquire was denounced by the Woke for normalizing a white male kid in the Upper Midwest who kinda like Trump?

UPDATE.3: Erin Manning:

Rod, this is part of a bigger movement to push darker and edgier content toward younger and younger children. I think Xenie is right in that some of it is being propelled by pedophiles. But I also think that there’s a real push to erase altogether the idea that children can stay innocent and childlike beyond the day-care age.

Consider this article from *three years ago* about the push to expand middle grade fiction to include topics once found only on YA shelves:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/70304-middle-grade-books-take-on-mature-topics.html

This quote is particularly telling, for those who don’t have time to click the link:

“Ultimately, Gephart’s passion for the topic trumped her hesitation, and now, Lily and Dunkin (Delacorte), about a boy who is transitioning to being a girl and the new kid in town who befriends her, looks uncannily prescient, arriving at a moment when the idea of what’s appropriate reading for tweens is rapidly expanding. Though the YA category continues to explore darker and more difficult topics, books for upper-middle-grade readers are increasingly tackling subjects once considered almost exclusively the province of books for teenagers: sexual awakening, sexual identity, mental illness, suicide, eating disorders, terrorism, and war and its collateral damage. All of these issues are routinely cropping up in the plots of books aimed at eight-to-12-year-olds or for those 10 and up.”

(For those who don’t know, 8-12 is all MG, and 10 and up is considered “upper MG”. So if your ten-year-old brings home a middle-grade fiction book there may be content in it that you might not think he or she is ready for.)

Child psychologists and sociologists in the past have said again and again that exposing children who are too young for it to certain types of sexually explicit content can be damaging to them from a mental and emotional health perspective. We have ratings on movies and video games to alert parents to adult or older teen content, but there is no such rating system for books. Parents tend to think that “chapter books” or “intermediate” or “middle grade” all mean content that is suitable for their child’s reading level AND his or her emotional level, and that only the YA books have to be investigated carefully for their suitability for children, but this is not true. A book that has been on the NYT bestseller list for quite some time in MG fiction features, as part of the plot, a middle-school girl sending a racy selfie to her boyfriend and being puzzled about why people are trying to make her feel bad about this picture since she like it very much herself (which gets back to Xenie’s theory, actually, since no middle-schooler I have ever known even owns a black lacy bra or would be at all happy with her appearance in one).

Now we have TV, via Hulu, presenting children with this very unbalanced idea of a young girl’s sexual development–and how many middle-schoolers have the Hulu app on their smartphones and may be watching this show without their parents’ knowledge?

There’s an agenda here–that’s for sure.

UPDATE.4: Reader Kate:

It’s telling that this reviewer considers Kayla, the young protagonist of “Eighth Grade,” to be a “lustful adolescent girl.” What that film depicts is a desperately lonely, painfully and touchingly awkward adolescent girl who is having a hard time finding her place in a social-media-besotted culture that seeks to force her into a role for which she is patently unready. The whole point of the movie is that she has *no idea* what she wants. The girl’s Google search (about how to perform oral sex) that this NYT reviewer paints as some sort of liberating exploration of adolescent lustfulness is actually a pretty realistic depiction of the way that adolescent girls’ “consent” is manufactured by our sick culture. Hence a sexual act that is all about the gratification of male sexual desire is perversely repackaged as female empowerment. The writers of “Eighth Grade” seem to understand that this is a “problematic” dynamic, but that point seems to have eluded this NYT reviewer — so much so that she aligns herself with the groomers and perverts of our culture by insisting that Kayla represents “lustful” female adolescence. Kayla is a sad, lonely, and awkward girl seeking human connection; this NYT reviewer seems to have no qualms about throwing her to the wolves in the name of female sexual liberation. I find that chilling and disgusting.

UPDATE.5: Reader Rob Gardner — here he is on his film production company’s webpage — comments:

There is something comical about conservatives getting their shorts in a knot every time the most recent example of cultural degradation happens in the national media, as if there were some dark malevolent force pushing a secret agenda into the minds of unsuspecting Americans.

This is late market capitalism at work in your neighborhood. I worked in television for 30 years and here is the truth: national media is a series of big bureaucracies, like the Soviet Bureau of Information, except instead of political ideologies at the center, there is the demand and expectation for short-term profits with no concern about the wreckage this might cause.

There are vice presidents and program directors and program executives, and marketing directors and so on and like all bureaucracies they are driven by a basic motivator and that is profit. There is no humanity in it, no moral compass, no ethical structure, no concern for families or children or communities, just a relentless grinding effort to make more money for the corporations and the share holders, no matter what the damage caused. Just like the cigarette industry or the pharmaceutical companies or the oil companies or the folks who make fighter jets.

Look at the advertising for women and girl’s products. Are they sexualized? Of course they are. Movies, television shows, publishing, music, are all generally sensationalized and sexualized. And the reason they are is that it is profitable for them to do that. The marketing devision told them so.

There are no secret pedophiles or liberal feminist monsters hidden away in these bureaucracies calling the shots, just a lot of drones grinding away at a machine that has been going on for hundreds of years, now in its most refined multi-national form. None of these companies have offices in the places where the work is done. None of them care about the damage or suffering—spiritual or otherwise—that is the byproduct of what they do. They are like the blind worm, ever turning to the light that is profit.

Disney is no different than Pfizer Pharmaceutical or Exxon or any of the rest of them. They are here to take your money and that is the beginning and the end of it.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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