The internet erupted in furore on Thursday when news broke of a film called ‘Cuties’ being published by the online streaming service Netflix. The film is billed as an empowering story of a young girl who defies her ‘conservative family’s wishes’ (yes, this is the description on Netflix) and joins a ‘dancing group’ – the girl (and members of the group) in question is eleven. The promotional poster for the film shows these girls dressed in outfits that would not be out of place in a strip club, and the trailer released thus far includes explicit and erotic dance moves, such as twerking and gyrating that – again – would make the most seasoned erotic dancer blush.
If this were not enough to turn your stomach, the film is designated as an ‘NC-17’ by US standards which, for a UK audience, is the equivalent of an 18. Let us just reiterate the issue at stake here for anyone who is not seeing this clearly: a film, with eleven-year olds dancing provocatively and sexually, can only be viewed by an adult audience. If this is not a normalisation of soft-core child pornography, what on earth is?
What is worse is this film is merely a sign of the times, of the grotesquely libertine culture that recognises no limits to behaviour and admits no decency or sense of awareness. The film proudly declares that ‘Amy’, the eleven-year old child, discovers her ‘femininity’ through ‘twerking’; in a world where Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion can mumble their way through vulgarly explicit lyrics that encourage young women to objectify themselves, ‘Cuties’ seems to be par for the course. When a petition calling for the removal of Cuties reached nearly 140,000 in a day, Netflix’s response was the most back-handed of apologies, amounting to little more than ‘we’re sorry you were offended’. It seems offence only carries currency when it is the libertine who is offended.
This is not an isolated incident with Netflix. Increasingly their shows include explicit sexual content, either as the main focus of the show, or as a vehicle for lazy story telling. Take two recent shows: Big Mouth, and Sex Education. Big Mouth, alongside being one of the ugliest cartoons available, is a show dedicated to pubescent children, who ‘discover’ their bodies and sexualities in a caricature of the sexual culture of young twenty-somethings. Eleven- and twelve-year olds jazz-hands their way through upbeat numbers about masturbation, sexual promiscuity, and the other things that eleven-year olds simply do not do.
Then there is Netlix’s crowning glory, Sex Education. A little older this time, and certainly not a show that is unheard of in the modern day; much like Skins, Sex Education is a tale about coming of age and realising what sex is. Of course, Netflix can’t just let it be that – this is a show only about sex; strange pseudoscience like non-binary gender identity goes unquestioned, abortion is the ‘natural’ response to pregnancy (and discussed once, when a character undergoes the procedure, and then never again), and children lecture parents on the virtue of ‘sex positivity’.
And the sad reality is, none of this is actually for children. Instead, it is for the adults who peddle these strange, twisted messages of sexual liberation for their own selfish ends, merely using children’s innocence as a shield from behind which they can lecture the rest of us for being ‘prudes’, as if we are the evil ones for wanting children to have their innocence just that bit longer.
So, I will be cancelling my Netflix subscription. I encourage everyone to do the same.