I did not see the movie, Cuties (2020). However, having heard that it was mired in controversy, I wanted to read up on what the movie was about and why it caused so much uproar.
In poring over the dozens of articles and reviews online, I expected to get a clear-eyed view of what had gone wrong. Instead, I couldn’t find one well-written, objective review or opinion piece about the movie or the ensuing controversy. What’s more, the more material I tried to track down, the worse the content became.
By the time I came across the dozenth poorly written review and op-ed, I was left more angry by what they were saying about the current cultural zeitgeist, the insidiousness of Globalism and the poor state of film criticism than the controversy itself. Below, I’m going to do my best to explain what I noticed, and why it made me so angry.
The Furor Exposes the Absurdity of a Millennial and GenZ-Dominated “Tear Down” Zeitgeist
I’ve said this in a previous post but it bears repeating again–as a GenXer, I have tried as much as possible to stay away from generational wars on this blog. However, there are times when the flaws of a generation are so integral to a particular problem or issue, there’s no avoiding that they are integral to why it’s happening.
Let me explain how this is coming into play regarding Cuties. Once upon a time, when old people and dinosaurs roamed the earth, we used to have a finely-tuned pipeline of distribution when it came to releasing movies to the general public. It would go something like this:
- The studio would prescreen the movie for audiences, as well as run it by what used to be known as a focus group.
- Based on audience and focus group reactions, the studio would carefully craft a trailer and promotional material to make sure that the movie was targeting the right audience and nobody would get any wild ideas of what it was about.
- There would be a critic’s screening of the movie.
- The critics would have their say on television or in a newspaper column.
- Interested movie goers would watch or read the critic’s reviews to get a better idea of what the movie was about, as well gauge whether it was worth seeing or not.
- Of the ones who did see it, they would talk about it to others and promote it via word of mouth.
Being old myself, I’m going to tell you exactly how Cuties would’ve been released in, say, 1995:
- Focus group: “What did you think this film was about?” “It seemed to be a coming of age story.” “Who do you think would like this movie?” “Maybe the art house crowd.”
- Movie trailer: “From the winner of the Sundance festival…playing in select theaters across the country…”
- Siskel and Ebert: “The movie was shot by a French woman of Senegalese descent who wanted to explore what it’s like for a young immigrant girl caught between the extremes of Muslim and French culture.”
- Word of mouth: “Hey, did you see this movie?” “Yes, I did.” “What was it about?” “It’s a French movie about a girl who wants to fit into Western culture, but in the worst way possible.” “That sounds cool.” =OR= “Sorry, think I’ll pass. I’m not a fan of foreign movies.”
Given how this pipeline worked in the past, do you think that there would’ve been any real uproar over Cuties back in 1995? No, because by the time it was been released, everyone would’ve had a clear picture of what it was about, who it was for and whether they would’ve wanted to see it or not.
GenZs, millennials–and to a certain extent, xillennials (millennials + borderline GenXers)–who in their infinite lack of wisdom insist on destroying all the carefully laid out foundations of the past, decided that this very tried-and-true method of distribution was no longer needed. Why? Because old people are stupid doo-doo heads who couldn’t help coming up with this overwrought, convoluted way of distributing films for lack of digital technology. But GenZs, millennials and xillennials, they’re oh, so smart and with it, compared to dinosaurs and their stupid analog ways.
So, don’t need no stinkin’ critics (that’s stupid old people shit). Don’t need no stinkin’ reviews (because that’s what the old stupid people did). Don’t need no focus group or anything else to ensure that by the time a movie gets released, everyone’s pretty clear on what a movie is all about and whether it was for them or not (old, old, old, burn, burn, burn). Just shit out a hastily-made poster and trailer of scantily-clad, booty-shaking 12 year olds, change the name to “Cuties”, drop it on a popular internet streaming service, and BOOM–that’s all it takes. No harm, no foul.
The Outrage to the Outrage Exposes Globalism as a Dominant Voice
Ever since we could travel and explore other countries, we’ve always had people who were fascinated with other cultures. This is what’s known as “internationalism.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with internationalism. It means getting outside your comfort zone by looking at the different ways that other cultures see and do things. It also means getting past your own prejudices by respecting the vast differences that may exist between your culture and another’s. For example, internationalism understands that the color white in one culture (such as Japan) can be associated with grief, whereas in another culture, the color most associated with grief is black. Internationalism understands and respects the fact that some types of humor–for example, British or American humor–might not translate well in a place like Germany or France.
Lastly, internationalism also understands and recognizes the psychological differences between cultures, as well as the amount of historical and cultural baggage that each one contains that might make it difficult for something in one country to be received well in another. For example, internationalism is recognizing that an American movie praising the bombing of Hiroshima wouldn’t go over well in Japan, since it was such a traumatizing experience on the Japanese end.
Globalism, on the other hand, is another ball of wax. This is not so much an appreciation of other countries but a refusal to recognize the differences between them to the extent that some countries are deemed ignorant, stupid, etc. for not getting another country’s culture or point of view. In some cases, Globalism is nothing more than an expression of self-loathing or rank xenophobia masquerading as internationalism. It’s the self-hating twerp saying, “I hate my country’s culture because it’s not as cool, exciting or worldly as Chinese, French or British culture.” It’s the xenophobe ranting, “I hate Arab, Asian and Latin American culture because it’s not as cool, intelligent or interesting as Asian or African culture.”
An example between a Globalist and Internationalist mindset? In Japan and other parts of Asia, there is what’s known as “Nazi chic.” For whatever reason, Asian youth started an entire subculture around Nazi Germany, seeing the flags, emblems and uniforms as “cool” but in a very childish that-looks-hella-cool sort of way. It got to the point where they’d dress up in the uniforms and have Nazi-themed bars and parties.
Now, imagine someone from Asia wanted to open a “cool” Nazi Chic bar in Israel and it drew outrage there. An Internationalist might go, “Of course there’s outrage. A Nazi-themed bar dredges up horrible images of the Holocaust in Israel, so opening one there is the worst thing you can do.” On the other hand, a Globalist might fume, “There go those stupid Israelis playing the professional victim again,” or, “Israelis need to understand that the Asians mean no harm by Nazi Chic,” or, “Geez, the Holocaust happened three lifetimes ago. They need to get over it.”
Regarding the huge American backlash to Cuties, something similar has been happening: Globalist voices have been using the movie as a way of denigrating American culture instead of truly examining why Americans would’ve become angry and outraged over the movie. To show how this is the case, let’s look at the real reasons why Cuties created an uproar here, instead of listening to Globalist goons using the film as an excuse to bash Americans.
The very first thing Cuties did was commit the cardinal sin of incorporating twerking as part of its story line. The reason why I say this was a cardinal sin is that the twerking craze was a huge controversy that Americans had already dealt with and successfully buried years ago, to the point where it was almost becoming a forgotten flash-in-the-pan phenomenon, like streaking from the 1970s.
Fast forward a few years after twerking was shamed out of existence in the United States. Along comes a mass-marketed movie resurrecting the hell out of it. Imagine how upsetting and even threatening it must have been for parents to come across a movie that not only seemed to be raising the specter of this stupid trend all over again, but–regardless of intent–posed the danger of exposing a new generation of American girls who were too young to know about it the first time.
On top of all of this, there’s another more important reason why Americans freaked out over Cuties and immediately accused it of being pedo-bait and child porn, one that is tied specifically to a huge problem going on with American media and pop culture right now.
What is this problem? It’s that in the United States, people with sinister agendas have often used TV shows, movies and music in a sneaky way to either spread propaganda or promote something negative. A perfect example of what I mean is the movie Bonnie and Clyde (1967), about real life bank robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. On one hand the film sent the message that crime doesn’t pay. On the other hand, it romanticized the couple as folk heroes who were sticking it to the banks and got a raw deal when they were ambushed. So, while the movie was saying that “crime doesn’t pay; don’t do it”, it was also saying, “Worship two murderous sociopaths as heroes, because they attacked the banks who were responsible for The Great Depression.”
Another real life example that cuts more to the heart of the matter is the movie, Léon: The Professional (1994). This movie has often been touted as a quirky tale about a professional hit man who finds a little girl who was forced to grow up too fast and teaches her how to act her age again. However, scenes of a dolled up Natalie Portman in sexualized clothing–plus a joke in the movie where her character, Mathilda, says that she and Léon are lovers–pretty much exposed the movie as pedo-bait passing itself as quirky heartwarming “coming of age story.”
People calling the movie out as pedo-bait were soundly ridiculed; however, they were vindicated when it turned out that director Luc Besson had not only based the character Mathilda on a tween he later knocked up as a teenager, there was originally supposed to be a sex scene between Mathilda and Leon that never made it into the film. It didn’t help matters much that Portman herself, who played Mathilda, later revealed the traumatic experiences she had at the age of 13 as grown men sent her rape fantasies in the mail or talked about her in a sexually suggestive manner.
This kind of sleazy tactic–of passing a movie off as one thing while really doing it in the service of something sinister–is par for the course here in the United States. Because of this, Americans are extremely sensitive to and cynical about anything that seems to be sending mixed messages or comes across as duplicitous. With movies like Léon: The Professional being typical of what Hollywood has been doing for decades, why would Cuties–in the eyes of Americans–have been any different? In other words, why couldn’t that have been another cynical movie pretending to be against the sexualization of little girls while at the same time really using that as a way to mainstream pedo-bait?
A person could argue all they wanted that Americans were stupid and ignorant for not knowing the difference. But that would be missing the point of the Nazi chic-bar-opening-in-Israel example I gave earlier. Cuties inadvertently stepped into a cultural minefield by bringing back the twerking controversy in America. On top of that, it looked exactly like the same type of cynical enterprise that a sleazy filmmaker wanting to mainstream pedo-bait would have put out. That’s why Americans jumped to conclusions about the movie. As we say, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck…”
Yet far be it from Globalists to realize this. Instead–according to them–Americans are reacting this way because they’re stupid, Puritanical moron snowflakes who can’t handle a sophisticated foreign movie tackling a controversial issue. This is the subtext that I came across repeatedly online when I was trying to track down articles about the Cuties controversy. I saw so much of it that if I had a nickel for every time I read a review or op-ed that used the movie to attack Americans, I’d have enough money to own Jeff Bezos’ ass–literally.
An example is the Washington Post’s obnoxious article, ‘Cuties’ sparked outrage in the U.S. The reception in Senegal was vastly different. Initially, the headline seems innocent enough. Your initial reaction is, “Well, duh! Of course a French-language film from a Senegalese director played well in Senegal, but it didn’t in America. It was meant for Senegalese!” But the article is loaded with snide subtext that implies that because Cuties played well in Senegal and didn’t in America, that’s just proof how ignorant, stupid and Puritanical Americans are compared to the rest of the world.
This kind of nonsense is what’s called a “leap in logic.” Logic dictates that if a French-Senegalese movie played well in Senegal, it’s because that’s who the movie was for. But if you’re a Globalist hack like Danielle Paquette and Borso Tall (who wrote the aforementioned Washington Post article), a French-Senegalese movie playing well in Senegal doesn’t mean it spoke to the demographic it was made for; it means that Senegalese are so much smarter and braver in confronting issues of sexualization than stupid Puritannical snowflake Americans ever could be–child brides and female genital mutilation notwithstanding.
Not only is this a huge leap in logic, it’s evil. The reason why it’s evil is that film criticism has always been well-regarded because it was one of the few art forms that emphasizes critical thinking and sharp analysis. What’s happening now is that Globalist hacks–knowing how trusted this form of writing is–have weaponized film criticism and analysis to spread xenophobic agitprop on the internet. Readers, still having faith in film criticism, are now unwittingly taking in the good with the bad, like a patient taking a dose of life-saving medicine laced with small traces of cyanide.
An example that shows this situation in a more clear light is Quillette’s Don’t Listen to the Outrage. ‘Cuties’ Is a Great Film. This piece of Globalist agitprop effluvea does critique and analyze the movie…eventually. However, you have to wade through countless paragraphs of Russian troll-style whataboutism about American culture and films before you get to it. The entire thing practically boils down to, “I’ll praise this movie in less than a minute but before I do, let me spend the next half hour ranting about all the Hollywood movies that were pedo-bait, American child beauty pageants, etc. and so forth. Americans, Americans, Americans…Oh wait. I’m supposed to be talking about this French movie, right? Never mind. As I was saying in my review about Cuties, this movie is right because Americans are oh, so wrong. The End.”
That the Washington Post’s ‘Cuties’ sparked outrage in the U.S. and Quillette’s Don’t Listen to the Outrage articles are nothing more than xenophobic agitprop masquerading as film criticism is highlighted by the comments section of The Washington Post. Read it and what do you see? Nothing but a steady outpouring of hatred and scorn against Americans:
Curious how in an article that’s supposed to be talking about how Cuties was received in Senegal, readers couldn’t wait to post a steady stream of scornful anti-American or self-hating comments about American culture in general. Hmm, funny that! An article about a French movie inspiring over a dozen comments about how much Americans suck. Gosh, wonder if any thinly-veiled subtext has anything to do with it!
What’s oh, so adorable about all of this America-bashing is how in the end, an actual Senegalese commenter called the article out for its intellectual dishonesty, explaining that the movie was screened at a venue that doesn’t represent Senegal at all because it’s patronized by mostly ex-pats. The commenter added that the movie was also poorly received in Senegal:
By now, some readers may feel that maybe I’ve let a few extremist examples taint my perception of how far Globalism has become the dominant voice on the internet. The thing is, though, is that even in crap articles where this “fuck stupid, Puritanical, Rightwing/Leftwing SJW American morons” message isn’t as blatant, the subtext is there nevertheless, but in more passive-aggressive ways.
For example, a common passive-aggressive defense of the movie I’ve seen is that Americans are violently reacting to Cuties because they don’t want to look closely at the sexualization of girls in their own country.
What is wrong with that argument? Sounds reasonable enough. But there is something wrong with it. The problem is that although sexualization does happen in multiple countries, it doesn’t play out exactly the same way in each country for the same reasons. Therefore, arguing that Americans are just being triggered into denying this issue happening in their own country is another more subtle brand of Globalist-style xenophobia.
Take, for example, femicide (the murder of women). This is an issue that happens in every country in the world and has happened without fail throughout human history. However, as universal as it is, women get killed in different ways for reasons that are so specific to certain cultures that some types of femicides only exist in specific parts of the world. Therefore, a movie exposing a specific type of femicide in, say, The Middle East and Asia could never be applicable to the types of feminicides that we see in the US or Latin America.
Case in point–honor killing. Say that a foreign-language movie came out about honor killing and for whatever reasons, Americans didn’t like or objected to it. Would it make even a lick of sense to argue that Americans are rejecting this movie because they don’t want to confront femicide in their own country? No, because honor killing is not an American-specific type of femicide. Therefore, a movie about honor killing could never shed light on femicide in America.
Now, a foreign-language movie about women getting stalked and killed by an obsessed admirer? That’s a whole other story, because this is something that happens in the United States all the time. If Americans rejected this movie in spite of it doing a good job of exposing this problem, then you could argue that they’ve lapsed into denial. Ditto a movie about abused housewives who successfully acquire a restraining order and get killed by their exes anyway. These are types of femicides that Americans can relate to and therefore derive some insight about from a movie that tackles them.
Going back to Cuties, I’ve been seeing a lot of sanctimonious bullshit from Globalists ranting about how Americans “need” to understand this movie, because it sheds light on the sexualization of girls in the United States. But my response is so fucking what if the movie is tackling the sexualization of little girls? So. Fucking. What? It takes places in France, and the entire thing is seen through the eyes of an African Muslim. Girls are getting sexualized in a different way in France and Senegal than they are in the United States. A French-African movie about this topic has as much relevance to Americans and our own sexualization issues as a Japanese movie exploring the sexualization of little girls in Japan by way of lolicon and moe. A movie like this could never give American audiences anything but a very superficial, surface-level awareness of the problem, because it couldn’t provide any insight into the specific ways it is happening in the United States.
So, when people argue that Americans are being in denial about this issue by rejecting a French movie about it, this is just a more passive-aggressive form of xenophobic Globalism. It’s refusing to acknowledge that Americans have a culture and mindset separate from the French and the African, and that because of this, they should be bashed as stupid, hypocritical, or cowardly for not getting a foreign national film that, when you get down to it, doesn’t speak to them and their particular issues of sexualization.
The Furor Exposes Modern Day Film Criticism as Incompetent and Untrustworthy
One of the reasons why I started Films, Deconstructed is that I noticed an alarming trend in film criticism. Ever since The Old Guard either died or retired (Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, etc.), film criticism has fallen into a bottomless pit of mediocrity. Apparently, any hack with an opinion and the ability to write at a fourth grade level can become a film critic or analyst. No need to actually learn the art. Just have an “opinion” and you’re good to go.
Once again–I emphasize–I didn’t see the movie, Cuties. However, the rave reviews praising this movie have ironically given the game away as to how far down the rabbit hole film criticism, commentary and analysis has fallen. It’s so low that even the notorious Armond White–a film critic who made a name for himself with troll reviews–would be a sight for sore eyes.
Case in point: a consistent defense of Cuties that I’ve been seeing among the hacks defending this movie is that, yes–the outrage brigade are right to be outraged because it does show little girls twerking, grabbing their crotches, making lewd gestures and giving “come hither” glances into the camera. However, the outrage brigade are stupid morons for not getting that the evils of sexualization is the point.
The best counter-argument I saw to this persistent talking point was someone asking in so many words what difference an anti-war movie would make if it made war itself look sexy and exciting? In other words, say you shot a movie in which the whole point was to turn people against war, yet you shot the battle scenes in such an exciting, thrilling and sexy way that audience walked away with proverbial hard-ons wishing we had a war on that they could participate in.
If people were upset with this movie because it did such a good job of glamorizing war, could you argue that they missed the point, since that wasn’t your intention? Of course not. That would be ridiculous, because your glamorization of war spoke louder than whatever message you were trying to convey to the audience.
In Cuties apologia, this is by far the most persistent argument I’ve been seeing among defenders–you’re an idiot for getting outraged over the sexualization of the girls in the movie because that was the point of it all (to show you how outrageous it all is). But you see, no matter how articulately you express this viewpoint, to argue something like this merits a big fat FAIL in film criticism 101. The reason why is that undermining one’s message or intent is an actual thing that can happen in and of itself in a movie, irrespective of whether the audience may have gotten the gist of the message or not. We know this, because there have been many times throughout film history when a director set out to send a strong message against something, only to undermine it by making the thing it’s advocating against even more attractive to the public.
In fact, there’s an entire genre of movie based around this concept known as exploitation. Exploitation films are movies that often claim to have the intention of exposing audiences to shocking and taboo subjects for a noble purpose–i.e., to spread awareness or teach an important lesson. However, exploitation is often shot in a way that ironically makes the subject even more attractive to the audience than ever before.
If Cuties did too good a job of sexualizing the main characters to make its point that sexualization of girls is bad, then it entered the realm of exploitation and became guilty of the very thing it’s claiming to be against. If that’s what happened, then the director at best was incompetent in getting her message across; at worst, may have deliberately sexualized the girls for cheap shock value in order to draw more attention to her film, like when director Larry Clark shot a pornographic masturbation scene in Ken Park (2002) that included a lingering money shot.
Keep in mind that having not seen Cuties, I can’t really gauge whether it became exploitative or not. The point is that it’s invalid to defend any movie with the argument that you can’t criticize it for advocating the very thing it has the intention of denouncing. The reason why is that movies can work at cross-purposes of a filmmaker’s supposed intent. It happens all the time, and there is even an entire genre–exploitation— based around this concept.
Unfortunately, the Genie is Out of the Bottle
When I first started writing about this topic, my first inclination was to cap it all off by saying, “We need to fix all the problems that this entire Cuties controversy exposed. We need to restore the way movies were distributed. We need film criticism to return to its former glory. We need to purge the internet of Globalist shitheads.”
But there is a problem that you might have already guessed by now. There is no going back to the way things were, at least not now. GenZs, Millennials and Xillennials insist on seeing the internet as a way to destroy the carefully laid protocols and high standards of the past; when things don’t work out as they intended, they throw temper tantrums online blaming everyone from Boomers and SJWs to Rightwingers and specific nationalities. Editorial standards are so lax in film journalism that anybody lacking scruples, critical thinking skills or self-discipline–as evidenced by The Washington Post and Quillette–can be allowed to pass a thinly-veiled xenophobic piece and get away with it.
This is the way of the world. For now, there’s nothing that can be done to change it. At best, all we can do is spread awareness about everything so that more and more people learn to tell the difference between film criticism and agitprop, film journalism and propaganda. Then and only then–when enough people wake up to the piss-poor writing passing itself for criticism, analysis and journalism–will things change.
I just came across your site and i’m really enjoying what you have to say, but this passage really caught my eye:
The reason why is that undermining one’s message or intent is an actual thing that can happen in and of itself in a movie, irrespective of whether the audience may have gotten the gist of the message or not. We know this, because there have been many times throughout film history when a director set out to send a strong message against something, only to undermine it by making the thing it’s advocating against even more attractive to the public.
It speaks to something I think about a lot in our current world. I work in finance and have for over 20 years, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many people worship Wall Street (the movie) and think of Gordon Gecko as the hero. To me, it explains so much of the diseased state our country is in.
First of all, thank you for your kind comments.
As for everything else you said, I hear you. It’s like how so many young males wound up loving Tyler Durden, when the whole point of Fight Club is that he’s the product of a diseased mind…or how Saturday Night Fever inspired the hedonism of Studio 54, when the whole point was to show how self-destructive the main characters were.
I used to think that this was all accidental, but I have to wonder if it’s another form of subversion. If characters like Gordon Gekko, Tyler Durden and Tony Manero are clearly supposed to be bad role models in their respective movies, why do so many people come out of these films thinking they’re so cool and admirable? I know cynics will want to blame Americans as being too stupid to tell fantasy from reality, but I believe that there’s a lot of subliminal stuff going on in these movies, where the scripts on the surface are saying on one hand, “These are bad role models,” but on the other hand saying, “Look at how cool they are, though! Maybe they’re bad, but they’re living the life you wish you had, are sexy, are pulling trim, and are so handsome!”