Now I’ve Actually SEEN “Cuties,”So I know What I’m Writing About…

What does Barbara Streisand have to do with “Cuties,” you ask?

And, from my perspective, I have been taught, once again, that I should not rely on the opinions of others. Why is that such a difficult lesson to process? I bet I’ve “learned” it a thousand times, and yet here we are.

I initially wrote about pundit Rod Dreher’s angry assessment of the Netflix hit (it is one of the most streamed productions in its history) in this post. I think it was clear that I hadn’t seen “Cuties” myself, but I should not have written that he was disgusted “with good reason.” Veteran commenter Humble Talent provided Ethics Alarms with his critical assessment of “Cuties” in his Comment of the Day; it was negative as well. Having now watched the film with my wife last night (I regarded the session as work, not recreation), I understand what Dreher’s perspective was, and  I cannot say that Humble’s critique is “wrong.”

I disagree with both of them, however.

My thoughts on “Cuties”:

1.  I did not enjoy the movie. I would not watch it again. I would watch “1918,” “Parasite,”The Circle“…even “JFK,” “Ghost” and “La La Land,’  all movies I felt were at best disappointing and at worst ridiculously over-hyped, before I would sit through “Cuties” again. (I would rather watch “Cuties” than revisit “The Deer Hunter,” but then I would rather have my fingernails  pulled out than revisit “The Deer Hunter.”)

2. That doesn’t not mean I think “Cuties” is a bad movie. It’s a very good movie, for the audience it was made for. (“Ghost” is not a good movie, and anyone who thinks so is a tasteless sap.) This isn’t just a “chick flick,” it is a flick that men should be warned not to see, and possibly banned from trying.

3. As a man, I felt like a voyeur watching these semi-pubescent girls try to navigate their emerging sexuality and the corrosive influence of the culture. It’s not that I’m uninterested in this aspect of a reality I didn’t experience, it’s just that…ick. My wife, on the other hand, who grew up with three sisters, kept asking, “So what was supposed to be so objectionable about this?”

4. If art is supposed to convey truth, “Cuties” succeeds, I suspect. Of course, just because a story is true or embodies truth doesn’t mean it needs to be made into a movie. This precise topic has been dealt with before, but never so directly, at least in any movie that has been widely publicized.

5. I agree with Humble’s complaint that the director—a woman, of course—focused the camera on the girl’s bodies as they gyrated and twerked to the verge of salaciousness. I’m sure she would have a good answer for why she made this choice, and why it was artistically valid, but it was still a troubling choice.

6. I thought the girls were all excellent, and several were remarkable. That does not mitigate one of my ethical objections to the film, which is that juveniles were given this kind of material to absorb and experience. It doesn’t matter that they performed it well, and it doesn’t matter that the movie could only be made with pre-teen actresses. Nor will it change my view if they all grow up to be well-adjusted and happy adults: that’s moral luck. The actresses were below the age of consent, and should not be asked to/ compelled to perform such material. The parents who consented for them are irresponsible and unethical, just as Dakota Fanning’s parents were unethical to allow her to be in a  graphic rape scene in “Hounddog,” just as Brooke Shields’ parents were unethical to allow her to appear as a pre-teen prostitute in “Pretty Baby,” just as Linda Blair’s parents were unethical to allow her to play the possessed girl in “The Exorcist.” I  may ask child performer advocate Paul Peterson to author a guest column on his view of “Cuties.” I think I know what he will say.

7. One of the major complaints about the film is that it will appeal to pedophiles. That’s an unfair reason to criticize a movie: the fact that sick people will like it for the wrong reasons. I refuse to believe that pedophiles are the intended audience, nor that either the director or Netflix were seeking to entertain men who have a sexual fixation on little girls. I’m sure “Seabiscuit” titillated some people who fantasize about having sex with horses.

8. The runaway success of “Cuties” is as fine an example of “The Streisand Effect” as we are likely to find. The only reason a film like this, focusing on a Muslim pre-teen coping with her family stresses by becoming obsessed with sexually provocative dancing that is rampant among girls just slightly older, becomes an cultural phenomenon is if it is controversial. Critics like Dreher guaranteed that many more people would watch “Cuties” than the subject matter would normally draw. It’s not titillating or enjoyable to watch 11-year-olds get into sexually provocative costumes and make-up and act like go-go dancers in a cage. It’s creepy, and it’s supposed to be creepy. But Dreher and the other would-be conservative cultural gate-keepers made sure that the pervs would find “Cuties” and settle down to watch with their lotion handy. Good job, everybody!

Comment Of The Day: “Thursday Ethics Thirst-quencher, 8/20/2020: Actually, This Doesn’t Taste So Good….”

Well this is confusing: Humble Talent appended his Comment of the Day, a timely review of the controversial Netflix film “Cuties,” to yesterday’s ethics warm-up, even though that post contained nothing even vaguely related to “Cuties.” It was really a comment on the post above from August, though you won’t find it there.

In that post, I noted that conservative pundit Rod Dreher  had written, before the Netflix production was available to subscribers,

“Twerking their way to stardom. Eleven years old….These are little girls, and this Netflix show has the acting like strippers as a way of finding their way to liberation. What is wrong with these Netflix people? Do they not have children? Do they think our daughters are only valuable insofar as they can cosplay as sluts who are sexually available to men? ….There is nothing politicians can do about this…I hope sometime this fall a Senate committee calls Netflix CEO Reed Hastings] to Capitol Hill and forces him to talk about how proud he is that he has 11 year olds twerking on his degenerate network.”

Now the film is available, and here is Humble Talent’s Comment of the Day, as he watched it so you don’t have to:

We talked about this back in August, but it released today, and the responses [ on the film review site Rotten Tomatoes] are…. predictable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a drastic reviewer/viewer ratio. It’s heartening, maybe that the top reviewers are much more mixed than the (in my opinion) ideologically driven proletariat reviewers, but not by much. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Observations On A Tender, Obnoxious, Unethical Screed”

Bill Weir’s nauseating open letter to his newborn son River—GACK! ICK! BLECHHH! —- was so unethical in so many ways that I almost needed a ventilator to finish reading it. When I had finished posting on the monstrosity, I was awash with regret that I hadn’t the space nor the time to write the letter Weir should write, and was hopeful that one of the many acid-penned bards among the talented  commentariate here would take up the challenge. I was not disappointed.

Here is Steve-O-In-NJ’s Comment of the Day, one of his finest, on the post, “Observations On A Tender, Obnoxious, Unethical Screed”:

The article is utter garbage, written by someone untrained in science, but trained in making up stories. One day when River is grown up, assuming he makes it there and isn’t driven off the deep end by constant teasing, I hope he reads this article and asks him, just like Greta, “how dare you?” How dare you use my birth to push your own agenda and your employers’ agenda? How dare you plaster pictures of me as a newborn infant all over the internet where anyone can see them? How dare you reveal the circumstances of my conception to the world? I’m an individual. I am not an accessory to flash around like a new pair of sustainable dockers. I am not a prop for your causes. I am not an illustration to make a point next to pictures you cherry-picked to tell the story you wanted.

I’m not a half bad storyteller myself, and I’d tell quite a different story if a son were born to me. I always said if I had a son I’d name him Charles James, after my grandfather and father (ironically also now after two heroes of my own writing). So, if he were born, I’d say this: Continue reading

Observations On A Tender, Obnoxious, Unethical Screed

My original impulse was to post  this as an ethics quiz, with a heading like, “Is Bill Weir’s essay as bad as I think it is?”

Bill Weir is CNN’s climate correspondent. His wife just gave birth to a son, for which Ethics Alarms gives him a hardy congratulations and will wait for its metaphorical cigar. However, Weir chose to use this life event for an astoundingly long, self-indulgent, and in several ways unethical post on CNN’s site headlined, “To my son, born in the time of coronavirus and climate change.”

Read the thing, if you can stand it. Commenter Other Bill sent it to me with the query, “Is it ethical for this guy to have a child?” He was engaging in hyperbole, but the thrust of the question is valid. Here’s how the essay begins:

Against all odds you were conceived in a lighthouse, born during a pandemic and will taste just enough of Life as We Knew It to resent us when it’s gone. I’m sorry. I’m sorry we broke your sea and your sky and shortened the wings of the nightingale. I’m sorry that the Great Barrier Reef is no longer great, that we value Amazon more than the Amazon and that the waterfront neighborhood where you burble in my arms could be condemned by rising seas before you’re old enough for a mortgage.
The scent of your downy crown makes my heart explode. The curl in your Tic Tac toes fills me with enough love to power New York City.

Gack! I’m sorry, I have to take a break. Continue reading

“Pay What You Can” Ethics

A question in an advice column asked if it was unethical to pay nothing for a product or service that was priced at “pay what you can.” It reminded me of an ongoing disagreement I had with the board of my theater company regarding holding a “pay-what you can” performance in each production’s run. Many of the other Greater Washington theaters were employing the tactic, and one of the main arguments  for our theater doing the same was “Everybody does it.” You know what I think of THAT logic.

There was an altruistic, community spirited argument, of course: provide an opportunity for people who couldn’t afford typical theater prices. That sounds good, but in practice the theory was more ideology than reality. When we tried the gimmick, almost all of the attendees were people who regarded it as a chance to pay less than they usually did, as in “almost nothing.” People who don’t go to theater mostly aren’t interested in theater. Our prices were under 30 bucks a ticket, far less than many of our competitors, and children were admitted free, another concession to the needs of theater-loving families with limited budgets. Again, almost nobody took advantage of that benefit.

My objections to “pay-what-you-can”: Continue reading

Insomnia Thoughts On Tip-Baiting, And A Poll

Pop quiz: What does Grover Cleveland have to do with the Wuhan virus?

Unfortunately, this is how my mind works…

Something about last night’s post on the despicable practice of tip-baiting to lure financially desperate Americans to go grocery shopping for the tippers bothered me, and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. The thought that I was missing something kept churning in what I laughably call my brain (my wife calls it an ourdated hard drive that has never been cleaned of junk, cookies and malware and is going to crash any day now). It kept me awake tonight: I’m at my keyboard out of desperation. Weirdly enough, I kept thinking about the Civil War. Why was that? There had to be an ethics connection somewhere.

Ah HA! Got it. Continue reading

No, There’s Nothing Unethical About Performing Holograms Of Dead Singers…

…as long as they don’t materially misrepresent the performer or the performance. They may be icky, but they aren’t unethical. This is in ethical contrast with the Ethics Alarms position on zombie performers in films, as examined here several times, most recently upon the unveiling of zombie James Dean.

The issue has arisen because a holograph of Whitney Houston, mercifully in a form before her physical and vocal decline due to drug abuse, is touring the country. Here’s a review of one of the performances; Zombie Whitney will make her debut in the US soon. Big plus: she doesn’t have to worry about the Wuhan virus, just holograms of the Wuhan virus. Fans have been less than ecstatic, as much because of the quality of the image as the ickiness of the concept. Here’s part of one review: Continue reading

Res Ipsa Loquitur: Woke Politics And Counter-Factual Progressive Cant Are Driving People Crazy

Here is another question to Slate’s sex advice column, “How to Do It”:

I’m a cis woman in kind of a classic millennial sex pickle: I’m really repelled by heterosexuality politically and personally, but I’m also really into dick. I’ve been thinking maybe I should look for bi dudes/ bicurious gay dudes, but I am not sure how best to do that. Rich, what would you think of a woman being on Grindr or Scruff? I do want to be respectful of gay men’s spaces and not horn in where I’m not welcome, but I really would love to find a vers guy with queer politics who would be up for casually dating a woman. What do you think? If you were me, where would you look?

—-Radical

My answer? Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Dying Dog Ethics”

As usually is the case, today’s Open Forum generated several Comment of the Day contenders, and I will get to them in due course. I did not want too much time to lapse, however, before giving this lovely comment by JutGory its due. The topic was gratuitous and perhaps self-serving kindness to a dying dog who couldn’t possibly appreciate it’s details, or really have a “bucket list.”

Here is JutGory’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Quiz: Dying Dog Ethics.

And, just because I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, I’m dedicating Jut’s COTD to Rugby, our universally loved and loving Jack Russell Terrier who left us last summer.

This is complex, but I think your confusion, flumoxxation, etc., is the result of over-anthropomorphization on all fronts.

Is the dog being used? Sure. The dog is being anthropomorphized. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

Kant said that it was bad to abuse animals, not because of the harm that we did them, but because our abuse of them harmed us by (essentially) desensitizing us to abuse.

The flip side would seem to hold true. Being kind to animals is good, not because they are deserving of kindness, but because it makes us more kind. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Dying Dog Ethics

Well this story is calculated to make any dog-lover teary. Having lost my beloved Rugby last yearand not yet been able to consider a successor, I read it while having to constantly adjust my “don’t be an idiot” controls.

Eddie the pitbull, in the care of Mikey’s Chance Canine Rescue in Benton County, Washington, has an inoperable brain tumor. He’s been given six months to live, and the staff  decided to make his final days as much fun for him as possible by creating various “bucket list” experiences.  One recent example was giving Eddie  “his dream” of being a crime dog, and and as soon as local police heard about Eddie, they pitched in.

The officers gave Eddie his own police jacket, then set him down in a pool filled with toys. Then Eddie accompanied the police in the front of a squad car as they toured the town requesting donations for the rescue shelter.

On their Facebook page, the Pasco Police wrote: “We have finished our amazing day with K9 Eddie and we are overwhelmed with the amount of support the community has shown him. Eddie was welcomed everywhere he went and shown nothing but love and affection all day. Finally, we want to wish Eddie all the best with his bucket list and future endeavors.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of Day is…

What’s going on here? Continue reading