Home/Rod Dreher/What ‘Cuties’ Really Is

What ‘Cuties’ Really Is

There has been a lot of talk about the perverse Netflix film Cuties since I posted my remarks about it a couple of nights ago, after watching it (see “Pretty Babies”). One thing I want to clarify for you readers who will not see the film — and I recommend strongly that you skip it — is that the claim that this movie is meant to  condemn the sexualization of adolescent girls ought not to be taken seriously.

I mean, the filmmaker may say that she intends it that way, but if she is being sincere, then she is lying to herself.

I apologize, but I have to be blunt here. I blacked out the offensive word in that screenshot above. It’s a screengrab from a scene in Cuties, in which the protagonist, Amy, is in the stall in the girls bathroom at school, listening to the Cuties — four other 11-year-old girls — describing in detail a porn clip they are watching and giggling at. Here they are when Amy emerges from the toilet:

 

 

Now, there is no reason at all to believe that these child actors were watching a porno. But they had to speak the lines. This charming discourse includes these lines:

Jessica: “Look at the girl’s face. I bet it’s rape.”

[Girl 3]: “Rape?”

Yasmine: “I heard if it’s rape, it goes right through your whole body. The guy puts it in and it [deleted].”

And so forth. That’s Cuties. These children had to memorize this dialogue and perform it on camera. They also had to learn how to stroke their crotches, twerk, put their fingers in their mouths suggestively, and move like strippers mimicking vigorous intercourse.

The actors are children. Simply to play their roles, they had to have their innocence taken from them by the filmmaker — no doubt with the consent of their parent or parents. It is hard to imagine fathers and mothers allowing their little girls to be exploited in this way, but people will do anything for fame.

My point is that the intention of the director, even if noble, does not obviate the fact that for these children to play these roles, they had to say filthy things (and to imagine visually the things the script had them saying), and do filthy things with their bodies for the camera.

I am not surprised to read reviews from film critics and writers who are appalled at all the philistine normies who find this disgusting. One of the most shocking moments in my life as a professional film critic came at the Toronto Film Festival in 1998, at a screening of the Todd Solondz black comedy Happiness. If you read the plot description on Wikipedia, you will understand why I call it one of the most perverse and disgusting films I’ve ever had to sit through. The most evil thing about it is how it manipulates the viewer into rooting for a suburban dad to succeed in raping a boy, a friend of his son’s who is sleeping over at his house. I wish I had gotten up and left, but I felt it my professional obligation to stay through the end, because I was writing about it for the New York Post, and this was one of the most highly anticipated screenings of the entire festival, which is one of the world’s most prestigious. Owen Gleiberman, then a film critic for Entertainment Weekly, later reflected on that screening; this was the consensus of critics present:

One of my fondest memories of Toronto is back in 1998, when I first saw Todd Solondz’s Happiness. It was one of the most exhilaratingly unnerving movies I’d ever watched — a scandalous comedy of desperation that seemed to draw back a curtain on the sexual and romantic lives of its characters, revealing the secret things they did, some of them kinky, a few of them criminal, a lot of them just…private. The movie forced you to confront the continuity between the lust and despair it showed you and what was going on off-screen, maybe even in your own life.

The New York Timesreported on the bleakness in Toronto that year, and said:

Yet it was the darker American films — some successful, some not — that seized the attention of many filmgoers here. Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax, whose films here included Roberto Benigni’s ”Life Is Beautiful,” a gentle and haunting drama set in a concentration camp, said he did not fully understand why there were so many ultraviolent and dysfunctional-family movies.

”Like a year ago, it seemed to be optimistic,” Mr. Weinstein said. ”What’s in the air? There’s this new freedom to explore dangerous subject matters. People are trying to top themselves. They’re asking: ‘What’s next? What’s new? How far can you widen the envelope? How far are we really going to go?’ ”

Yeah, well, how far indeed, Harvey Weinstein.

Happiness received an uproarious standing ovation, which continued for a while when director Solondz took the stage in the hall. I got the hell out as soon as I could. On the way out of the building, I ran into a critic for a major Midwestern newspaper. We traded can you believe what the hell we just saw? looks, and he said only, “I just had to call my wife to make sure we were still on planet Earth.”

By the end of my film critic years, I understood why this happens to critics. They love novelty. They love shocking the squares. They see so many movies that they quickly become dead to the moral force of what we see on screen. Look, a movie that tries to make its audience pull for the pedophile to succeed in drugging and raping a little boy. … How about that, a movie that features little girls giggling as they describe a rape they’re watching in a porno movie? What’ll they think of next? Four stars, folks, and damn the hicks for hating this!”

As I said in my previous comment, I think the eroticization of children — boys and girls — via our pornographic culture, the Internet, and the ubiquity of smartphones, all happening because we are too cowardly as a culture to ban this poison, is a massively important story, and certainly worthy of art. But it has to be approached with extreme caution, and may not be possible to do on film without crossing moral lines that nobody should ever cross. A novel describes something that has to be created in the imagination of the reader. A film ordinarily has to show the thing directly that a novel symbolizes in words. That’s the aesthetic difference, and in films like Cuties, it makes a moral difference.

How would you feel watching your 11-year-old daughter saying those lines in a film? Dancing like these erotically charged children dance in this movie? How do you get your little girl to unlearn how to mimic rough intercourse in a dance routine after filming is over? How do you unring that bell, mom and dad?

UPDATE: A reader left this comment in the previous Cuties thread, but Disqus, in its infinite wisdom, decided that it was spam. Because that thread is so far down the queue now, I’m going to put it here:

Over the last couple months my very good friend “lost” his niece to what we thought was going to be a sex-trafficking ring. She had some issues at home, certainly daddy-issues, and she found value in her looks. She posted explicit stuff on social media and had a lot of grown men following her (in the thousands…). Well, it turns out she moved in with my friends family in Dallas not to start fresh, but because she wanted to find a sugar daddy (there was more action here than her smaller hometown). There’s literally a website for this, and she quickly found a match.

The late-30 year old guy spent $800 on clothes for her the first day they met. Then he bought her a one-way ticket to Reno. Everyone was convinced she was walking into a living hell. She’s been living with this weirdo-perv for a couple months now. He may not be the sex-trafficker we thought, but she’s still basically his long-term hooker. And who knows if this is a slow grooming process for something worse.

The real kicker for me was when my friend told me he found out that this is what she planned on doing for years leading up to her 18th birthday. And, she has a little sister who may end up doing the same. You can’t tell me that movies like this, no matter the ending, don’t have a negative effect on our youth. You better believe my daughters will not be on social media and will not have smart phones.

UPDATE.2: Reader MichaelGC:

It looks like an unexpected culture war skirmish is underway, another one that pits grassroots populists (who have the numbers and tradition on their side) against the managerial and professional class of elites (who have the money, the power, and the “right side of history” going for them). The elites are used to winning, having racked up victory after victory over grassroots Americans since Prop 8 and Obergefell when the judiciary, also of the elite class, gave them what they could not get at the ballot box. Then there was Indiana and North Carolina, the cartel of titans and their media cohorts racketeering against states to kill social legislation that they did not like.

On the judicial front, the elites continued to advance and consolidate their gains. Bostock amended Titile VII to recognize transgender metaphysics and compel employers to acknowledge the same, encouraging lower courts to begin a major rewrite of Title IX so as to completely undermine its legislative purpose.

Then, from out of nowhere, Cuties happened. In a study of depravity and stupidity, Netflix aired an ad for Cuties, got a strong backlash of condemnation, apologized. Then it aired the pedo-prurient content that the ad only hinted at. Nine billion dollars of Netflix market value suddenly went poof, its reputation swirling the drain.

As with Trump’s election, the elite were shocked. Hadn’t the smallfolk, the grassroots populists/traditionalists already been subjugated under our boot, at least on the social issues? We can’t let them win this!

Wagons are circled. The media contrives the usual gaslit narrative — prudish, obtuse, throwback conservatives versus the enlightened trying to move humanity forward (Slate — The Creepy Conservative Obsession With Netflix’s Cuties, Explained.

But something is different than before. For one, thing, it isn’t just conservatives who are appalled. Nancy Pelosi’s own daughter has tweeted a sharp rebuke of Netflix. Doubtless, many liberals and conservatives are together on this. For another, roles are reversed. It is not states and their legislative bodies that are feeling the heat; rather, it is a member of the corporate clique that is under intense economic pressure. So far, it looks like Netflix is prepared to die on this hill. For what? To completely redefine what the moral high ground is?

Many of us have been saying for years that Cuties and the darkness beyond it (God forbid) is the end of this “right side of history” ride that our misguided elites have been taking us on. It doesn’t take much imagination to know that when a teen gets surgically castrated and it is part of TV entertainment, not much is left. If children can already make adult decisions like this with their bodies, then states will sanction them being raped in short order (check out California SB 145, signed by Governor Newsom). If federal judges can redefine marriage from being between a man and a woman, then redefine what being a man or a woman is, they can certainly redefine what an adult is, what rape is. Wanton, barbaric cruelty and abuse will befall many vulnerable innocents lest we fight with resolve and rage and fury, as we are now learning how to fight Netflix, one of the titans thinking itself immortal and invincible.

UPDATE.2: Ahem. Smoking, no; twerking 11-year-old girls, yes.

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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