Lets Talk About Cuties…
Most of us think of childhood as something that’s defined by age, but it hasn’t always been that way. In the book “The Disappearance of Childhood” by Neil Postman he discusses how the idea of childhood is a necessary social construct that is primarily based on our access & ability to understand the information in a society. He discusses how prior to the printing press children were often treated as miniature adults as soon as they had a grasp on language & could physically move like adults. Children worked & took part in regular adult conversations & activities, including sexual activities, prior to the age of ten. Marriage by 16 was also common.
The printing press created a world where adults had access to more information, which not only led to a more informed society, but children started to be treated differently based on the gap in their intellectual ability to read & write like an adult, which kept a sphere of information out of the reach of children. Over time this led to a wider gap forming between acceptable adult and child behaviors, which led to child labor laws, compulsory education and laws that protected children as a special class of citizen. The idea that a kids primary work should be play became the norm, and a gap developed that protected the innocence of childhood from the ills of adult culture.
This gap narrowed a bit when radio gave kids access to adult audio themes similar to what was heard around the dinner table in a pre-printing press world. The gap shrunk even further with the advent of television, which gave kids access to the visuals of the adult world. Today due to the sheer bombardment of information from media, video games, the internet, etc the gap hasn’t just shrunk further, the spheres of adulthood and childhood are overlapping to a damaging extent. This is the central thesis of Postman’s book. Modern media is causing childhood to disappear for two reasons:
1) Kids have too much access to information from the adult world
2) Adults are not respecting childhood as its own unique culture and are co-opting it as their own by giving them access to this information
Our cultural perception is that kids always want to be more grown up, but that’s inaccurate. The exact opposite is true. Children seek to be an adult from the perspective of childhood, but they don’t seek to become part of adult culture. Adults selfishly encroach on child culture seeking to make children more like adults. Postman’s book was originally published in 1982, but in it he suggested that as the barrier between childhood & adulthood began to erode and overlap adults would take advantage of it & we’d see changes in fashion where adults dressed their children like mini-me’s (Gap kids), that kids music would resemble mainstream music (kids bop), youth entertainment would be more adult friendly than adult content would be kid friendly (Twilight, Animated adult shows) & that we’d see a trend where models & pop culture stars would be sexually objectified at younger & younger ages.
My all time favorite movie is Little Miss Sunshine because the entire movie is a metaphor for Postman’s concept. In the film a little girl named Olive is accepted into a kids beauty pageant. Olive is a very pure version of childhood. She’s messy, imperfect, imaginative & appropriately naïve about the world. After she’s accepted into the pageant she travels across the country with her dysfunctional family (The Hoovers) in an old VW bus as they deal with failure, anger, drug abuse, sexuality, suicide & even nihilism. You feel like her family is an irredeemable mess as they struggle with how to protect Olive from the blunt reality of their struggles & just when you think it cant get any worse her foul mouthed perverted heroin snorting grandfather teaches her a stripper dance for her talent routine.
Then they get to the pageant & something strange happens. In the midst of the contrived perfection & sexual objectification of the pageant world the Hoovers seem…normal. It’s the other families at the pageant that seem abnormal because the line between the adults & kids in the sexually objectified world of the pageant is completely gone. Olive gets on stage and performs her version of a stripper dance, and the audience is appalled despite her dance being child like and silly because she isn’t aware of how her grandfathers adult world has infiltrated her world. She’s just having fun, and it’s the adults in the audience oblivious to their own children dressed like miniature porn stars who are reading the adult world into what Olive is doing. Sensing what is happening her “dysfunctional” family gets on stage and dances silly with her to shield her from the ills of the adult world.
It makes you question what is really dysfunctional. Is it the dysfunctional family struggling to protect their daughter from adult dysfunction? Or the families forcing dysfunction on their kids because they no longer recognize what they’re doing is dysfunctional?
If you haven’t heard about Cuties by now, congratulations on having a life! Cuties is a French film that is being distributed by Netflix about a young teenage Muslim girl who rebels against her traditionalist family by joining a sexually provocative dance group. Karen’s nation wide are clutching their pearls in a butt hurt tizzy claiming this film encourages pedophilia. The question is…are they justified in their concern?
This movie is also about Postman’s premise of media from the adult world swallowing childhood, but there’s an interesting paradox in that this film uses the sexuality of children to make its point. For this reason, I do think the Karen’s protesting this film have a point… however there’s a deeper issue that I think people should consider before dismissing this film.
Adults outright boycotting this film without seeing it is ironic because its based on adult political views in today’s adult world from an adult perspective. It selfishly ignores the entire point of the film which is to see the world from the perspective of the teen girl struggling to cope in today’s youth culture as its being suffocated by adult culture. Adults ignoring the perspective of child culture is what created the problem that they’re boycotting this film over.
The childhood of the girl in this movie is basically non-existent. The adults in her life enforce a rigid Muslim traditionalist lifestyle which robs her of the spirit of childhood on one side. She escapes that pressure by going on social media where she sees the adult hypersexualization of young girls, which robs her of her childhood innocence on the other. Walking on a narrow tightrope of what’s left of childhood she meets some girls in her neighborhood who are part of a dance group called the Cuties & they decide to enter a dance contest where in order to stand out they sexualize their routine based on what they see on social media.
The story is provocative & there are scenes that illicit a disgust reaction, but I think we may need to be disgusted, because being judgmental and condescending isn’t really getting us anywhere. This isn’t just a movie seeking to disturb you by sexualizing young girls. This is a movie targeting the entirety of adult culture for not being disturbed about how we’re sexualizing young girls. We shouldn’t just be disgusted by this film. We should be disgusted by the culture that’s making films like this a necessary reality.
So yes…let’s talk about Cuties
Let’s talk about the young kids dressed in miniature versions of adult fashion with cuts & fit that are designed to accentuate sexuality. You were dressing your kids in those clothes before Cuties. I’ve seen them in my classrooms, in therapy, and on my social media feeds.
Let’s talk about the family photos posted on social media with 5–7 year old girls posing with their hand on their hip and their knee raised just like mom. A pose, once again, intended to accentuate sexuality. Someone had to show their daughters how to pose like that.
Let’s talk about how much time kids spend on a tablet & how you really have no idea what they’re watching or what they absorb looking over your shoulder when you’re on the tablet.
Let’s talk about the music your kids listen to because you “couldn’t handle listening to the Wiggles anymore,” & the shows that you let them watch on TV because you “can’t stand Cailou.” Chances are good you’re aware what they’re consuming isn’t appropriate but you let them listen & watch because you enjoy it more than the content that is appropriate.
Let’s talk about how the vast majority of American women became consumed with the Twilight series despite it being about highly sexualized high school kids. Lets talk about how those books are still considered “youth fiction.”
Lets talk about the plethora of Riverdale, Dawson’s Creek style television shows that revolve around the sexual lives of teenagers. Lets talk about how these shows are open portals for kids into the sexual world of adult culture that’s projected onto child culture for adults who are both entertained and attracted to the teen sexuality in the show.
Lets talk about how we have an entire industry dedicated to toys and cartoons for adults that are sold in the same isles as children’s toys, and on the same channels as children’s shows.
Lets talk about how the reason these industries exist, and how shows like Mr. Rogers were replaced by Power Rangers and Powder Puff Girls because we deregulated the media in the 80s, because age appropriate educational content for children “wasn’t profitable.”
Let’s talk about how 1 in 5 searches from mobile devices is for porn and “teen” is one of the most searched terms.
Let’s talk about how it’s not democrats, republicans or Hollywood creating a pedophilic culture. Lets talk about us. Lets talk about how it’s our own greed creating the demand, and our own selfishness creating the supply.
We’re the ones consuming childhood.
We’re the parents at the beauty pageant in Little Miss Sunshine who have blurred the lines between adulthood & childhood so far we don’t even recognize our own dysfunction. Cuties is just the film that showed up at the pageant to shine a light on what is truly dysfunctional by having kids do a stripper dance.
So yeah let’s talk about Cuties, because that’s exactly what the creators of the film want you to do before it’s too late and childhood disappears entirely.