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

Lazy Sunday Afternoon Ethics, 8/30/2020: A Letter, A Slapdown, A Poll, Sherlock Holmes, And A Dinosaur Walk Into An Ethics Post…

1. Oh-oh…Ethics Alarms has been and will continue to use “Wuhan virus” rather than various versions of Covid or corona virus as a matter of principle. China inflicted this contagion on the world and greatly abetted its spread by its cover-ups and lies, and pandemics and flus usually are identified by their site of origin. Furthermore, the political correctness edict against using the province where the first outbreak (we know of occurred) was yet another anti-Trump ploy, simultaneously covering for a brutal foreign adversary.

Syracuse University placed chemistry Professor Jon Zubieta on administrative leave and will be investigated by its Office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion and Resolution because he used the terms “Wuhan Flu” and “Chinese Communist Party Virus” in his syllabus. In a joint statement from Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Karin Ruhlandt and Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost John Liu, explained,

“Syracuse University unequivocally condemns racism and xenophobia and rejects bigotry, hate and intolerance of any kind. The derogatory language used by a professor on his course syllabus is damaging to the learning environment for our students and offensive to Chinese, international and Asian-Americans everywhere who have experienced hate speech, rhetoric and actions since the pandemic began.”

There is no racism here, and the theory, much in vogue, that  irrational people reacting to factual statements by persecuting others justifies suppresng the truth is unethical and perverse.

2.  Res Ipsa Loquitur. This is the letter Portland mayor Ted Wheeler sent to the President of the United States.

Wow. Continue reading

Thursday Ethics Thirst-quencher, 8/20/2020: Actually, This Doesn’t Taste So Good….

I filled in a gap in my history knowledge today, one I’m embarrassed to have had for so long. I remember being creeped out the first time I heard John Hinckley crooning the song he dedicated to Jodie Foster on her answering machine at Yale. “Ohhh Jodie! Ohhh Jodie! My love will turn you on!” All these years, I thought Hinckley had composed that song in his sick infatuation. Today, almost 40 years later, I found out that he just ripped off a John Lennon song called “Oh Yoko,” which I heard for the first time on the Beatles Channel on Sirius-XM. Am I the only one who didn’t know that? My ignorance is my fault: I would no more listen to anything extolling Yoko than I would voluntarily groove on “William Shatner’s Greatest Hits.”

And what was it about  Beatles compositions that inspired aspiring killers?

1. Yes, this seems rather irresponsible...Here’s a trailer for an upcoming Netflix series:

Over at The American Conservative, columnist Rod Dreher is disgusted, with good reason. He writes in part,

“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.”

Continue reading

Regarding “Athlete A”….[Corrected!]

“Athlete A,” the Netflix documentary that tells the awful story of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s decades of sexually abusing young female gymnasts—perhaps as many as 500 of them—, how he was allowed to continue his crimes after complaints from parents and others, and the young women who finally sent him to prison with their testimony, is both disturbing and depressing. I watched it last night with my wife, who was horrified that she didn’t know the Nassar story.

Ethics Alarms wasn’t as much help as it should have been. Its first full post about the scandal was this one, which, in grand Ethics Alarms tradition, slammed the ethics of the judge who sentenced Nasser to 60 years in prison, essentially a “Stop making me defend Dr. Nasser!” post. I’ll stand by that post forever, but it didn’t help readers who are link averse to know the full extent of Nasser’s sick hobby of plunging his fingers and hands into the vaginas and anuses of trusting young girls while telling them that it was “therapy.”

The second full post, in August of last year,  was more informative regarding Nasser, but again, it was about the aftermath of his crimes, not the crimes themselves. That post  focused on the the Senate hearings following the July 30 release of the report of an 18-month Senate investigation  that found that the U.S. Olympic Committee and others failed to protect young female athletes from Nasser’s probing hands, detailing “widespread failure by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (the “Committee”) and other institutions to keep athletes safe.”  Then there was this: Continue reading

Netflix’s “The Laundromat” And Money Laundering Ethics

Now streaming on Netflix, “The Laundromat” is an entertaining and flamboyant  examination of the phenomenon and roots of international money laundering, brought to us by director Steven Soderbergh (“Erin Brockovich,” “Traffic”) using a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns. The often tongue in cheek film is narrated by actors Gary Oldman and Antonio Bandaras playing lawyers Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca , whose now defunct firm set up tax shelters and shell corporations for the rich, corrupt and criminal  all over the world. Their empire was shattered by the Panama Papers data dump in 2016.

The film’s tone veers from smug to blunt as it focuses on three adaptations of true stories involving  Mossack Fonseca clients, all narrated by the excuse- and rationalization-spouting lawyers, the real life versions of which tried to sue to halt the production.

“The Panama Papers” as they are now called consisted of 11.5 million leaked documents that detailed financial and attorney–client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities, many of which were legal, but that supported fraudulent schemes and other crimes.  The documents were the property of  Mossack Fonseca. Even now, the fall-out from the release of the documents is unclear, in large part because so many of them involve attorney-client privilege, and the rules and laws governing their legal handling are spread over many nations, laws and ethics rules. The leak itself was a crime, and the hacker responsible, who goes by the name of “John Doe,” has never been identified.

This is an international ethics train wreck, and one that is so complicated that I didn’t cover it in 2016. That was ethics commentary malpractice on my part, I think. It was the biggest ethics story of the year, even if it is still largely unresolved.

Whether the law firm itself broke any laws is still a matter of debate. As Oldman and Bandaras constantly remind us, Mossack Fonseca set up arguably legal structures, and, they claim, didn’t know or care how they would be used. This is still a gray area of legal ethics in the U.S., one that was highlighted when “60 Minutes” broadcast its Global Witness episode in 2016 . Partners in eleven large Manhattan  law firms were caught on hidden cameras  exploring possible ways to represent an individual posing as the agent of an “African despot” seeking ways to launder millions of dollars. The ethics rules say that a lawyer may not knowingly assist a client in a crime or fraud, but contrived ignorance can be an effective, if unethical, device for lawyers to avoid  accountability when representing  unsavory (but profitable) clients.  Remember, Enron’s law firm avoided any sanctions, while the company’s accounting firm, Arthur Anderson, was prosecuted and destroyed.

No, Ethics Alarms didn’t cover the Global Witness scandal either, though I have talked about it in legal ethics seminars ever since. Clearly, money laundering has not had proper priority here. Again, my fault. I’ll do better. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/10/19: Insomnia Edition

Jeez, what time is it?

This stuff  kept me awake, gave me nightmares, or made me wish I was dreaming. Started this post before 5 am…

1. Idiotic meme of the week:

A lawyer friend whom I can vouch for having a brain actually posted this thing, apparently approvingly. In zombie movies, the equivalent is when a previously normal friend suddenly bites off your nose. Jules Suzdaltsev is hard left progressive journalist whose background is in film and psychology, and would be a fine example for teaching purposes of what someone sounds like who is so far on one side of the ideological spectrum that he is incapable of finding the center. He’s an ideologue and a Leftist incapable of objective analysis or non-compliant thought, who was steeped for seven years in the  rarefied politics of San Francisco, and who tweets deliberate misrepresentations like “There have been more MASS SHOOTINGS in 2019 than there have been DAYS in 2019” and such cliched “resistance” bile like “Hey do you guys remember when the generation that grew up breathing lead fumes ended up voting for this guy as President?”

The scary thing is not Suzdaltsev—he’s a professional left-wing echo chamber provocateur, and good luck to him, glad he has a career. The scary thing is that lawyers, trained in critical thought, can reach the point where they find extremist agitprop persuasive. Society relies on educated, trained professionals to steer us clear of such rot, not to embrace it. The 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck has seen one professional group after another abandon this duty for mob-pleasing expediency.

And how can someone post a statement that Bernie and Warren are barely left-of-center as anything but satire?

2. Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide, hanging himself in his cell. This was gross incompetence by the New York City jail, as well as federal authorities. If there ever was a prisoner who was a candidate for suicide (or murder), Epstein was it. He needed to be on a round-the-clock suicide watch. Epstein was allowed to cheat the justice system and his victims. He is now officially innocent of the crimes he was charged with.

Aside from all that, good. The world is better place without him in it. Continue reading

Friday Ethics Warm-Up, 4/19/2019: There’s More To Ethics Than Mueller Freakouts, You Know…

Happy Easter weekend

(For me and other Greek-Americans, Easter presents a yearly choice: Greek Easter is calculated on a different calendar (it also has only boring red eggs), and just once in a red moon coincides with the non-Greek holiday.  This year it’s a week later, so we’re not putting our eggs in any baskets until next Sunday. We celebrate Greek Easter in honor of my Mom, who was fanatic about all holidays. The Greek Orthodox Church was dead to us once a priest told the congregation that the offspring of “mixed marriages”–that is, Greek and non-Greek spouses like my parents—were considered illegitimate by the Church. (My dad walked out of the service.)

(The other Churches became dead to us a bit later, and for varying reasons.)

1 A brief Mueller interlude…a) Rep. Gerald Nadler is grandstanding by demanding the full, unredacted report. Giving secret grand jury testimony to Congress would be  illegal. Anything to inflame the public, I guess…b) It’s incomplete, but Scott Horton, a smart libertarian who has been tracking the various complexities of the Russiagate investigation far more closely than I have, tears the Mueller report to shreds in convincing fashion. I’m accepting the conclusions of the report on faith, but Horton demonstrates how open to attack the investigation may be. The post is long and overly colloquial, and I don’t have time to check Horton’s facts, but it is worth reading. c) April Ryan, the CNN hack who has a long history of attacking Trump press secretary Sarah Sanders, now says Sanders should be fired for “lying.” Sanders at one point said that “countless” FBI agents had said that they had lost trust in James Comey, then later said that “countless” was a misstatement. With very few exceptions over the last 50 years, Sanders’ job is that of a paid liar and obfuscater; I got tired of flagging all of the lies and spin issued by Obama’s three spokesmen. They all should be fired, I guess, but not for offenses like using the word “countless” when the correct word would be “plenty.” Heck, I even heard through contacts and back-channels that FBI agents were disgusted with Comey. How could they not be?

2. And now for something completely different: Walrus Ethics. This isn’t a Climate Change Denial post, it’s a “See, this is why so many people don’t trust climate change doomsday scenarios” post.

Netflix’s climate change propaganda documentary  “Our Planet,” narrated by David Attenborough, showed masses o the walruses climbing up cliffs in northeast Russia because, we were told, of a lack of sea ice. Then we saw the large pinnipeds over the cliff edges onto the rocks below, leaving hundreds of dead animals piled on the shore. Attenborough said their poor eyesight made it hard for them to return safely to the ocean.

 Dr. Susan Crockford, a Canadian zoologist specializing in evolution and the ecology of Holocene mammals (including polar bears and walrus), claims that the scene was a hoax. She called Netflix’s narrative over the “Our Planet” scene i“contrived nonsense… fiction and emotional manipulation at its worst”:

“The walruses shown in this Netflix film were almost certainly driven over the cliff by polar bears during a well-publicised incident in 2017.” Even if the footage shown by Attenborough was not the 2017 incident in Ryrkaypiy, we know that walruses reach the top of cliffs in some locations and might fall if startled by polar bears, people or aircraft overhead, not because they are confused by shrinking sea ice cover.”

Anthony Watts, a weather technology expert and author,  also suspects the footage captured was the 2017 Siberian incident.

I’ve been able to show that Crockford’s supposition about the geographical origin of the footage is correct: analysis of the rock shapes in the film and in a photo taken by the producer/director both match archive photos of Ryrkaypiy. The photo was taken on 19 September 2017, during the events described by the Siberian Times.

But whereas the Siberian Times and Gizmodo website, which also reported on the 2017 incident, were both quite clear that the walruses were driven over the cliffs by polar bears, Netflix makes no mention of their presence. Similarly, there is no mention of the fact that walrus haulouts are entirely normal. Instead, Attenborough tells his viewers that climate change is forcing the walruses on shore, where their poor eyesight leads them to plunge over the cliffs.

This is all very troubling as it raises the possibility that Netflix and the WWF are, innocently or otherwise, party to a deception of the public.

If the climate change urgency is as real as we are constantly told, why can’t it be demonstrated with real facts rather than fakery like this?  Is it any wonder the public is skeptical? [Pointer: Legal Insurrection] Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/9/19: “Nothing Can Bother Me Because It’s Opening Day At Fenway Park” Edition

All’s right with the world..

…despite all evidence to the contrary!

At least for today…

1. Psst! HLN! It’s called “stealing,” you morons. According to a recent survey, 14% of Netflix users share their passwords to the streaming service. That’s about 8 million people. I just watched giggling news-bimbo Robin Meade on HLN and her sidekick Jennifer Westhoven go on about how they hoped Netflix didn’t “crack down” and how this was like “ride-sharing.” No, it’s not like ride-sharing at all. If you want your friend to have  Netflix and they can’t afford it, pay for their subscription. This is theft. Talking heads that rationalize dishonest behavior on TV is one of many cultural factors that incapacitates the ethics alarms of a critical mass of Americans.

And Robin? Being beautiful doesn’t excuse everything.

2.  The Alternate Reality solution to race relations! Professor Chad Shomura of the University of Colorado at Denver has  banned discussions of any white men in his course on American political thought. No Locke,  no Jefferson,  no Rousseau, no Madison, no Hamilton, and  no President before Obama .  Such an irresponsible approach to his course’s topic can’t be prevented by the university because of academic freedom, of course: if a professor thinks he or she can teach physics by playing with puppies, that’s up to them. I would suggest, however, that any student incapable of figuring out that such a course is an extended con is a fool and a dupe. What’s the equivalent of this? Teaching the history of baseball without mentioning Babe Ruth?

3.  Pop Ethics Quiz: Is this fair? After legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN that outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen ” will forever be known as the ‘woman who put children in cages,” conservative pundit and ex-Justice Department lawyer T Beckett Adams tweeted, “I doubt it. People have short memories. There’s a reason we don’t call Toobin the “married man who knocked up a former colleague’s daughter and had to be taken to court to pay child support.”  Adams’ description is fair, but is using it in this context ethical?

I tend to think not, but it’s a close call. [Pointer: Althouse] Continue reading

Recent Ethics Thoughts On The Fyre Festival Fiasco

This Instagram photo of one of the “luxury gourmet meals being served to attendees of the 2017 Fyre Music Festival has come to symbolize the whole stunning debacle.

When Ethics Alarms last posted about the ridiculous Bahamas Fyre Festival  debacle, it was this, last July: “Remember the Frye Festival fiasco? Billy McFarland, the inept con man/idiot who set it up has been arrested and charged with fraud. Good!” Now more about that epic ethics fail is coming out. Two documentaries about the ridiculous scam/botch/whatever it was were released in January, one on Hulu and one on Netflix. I just saw the latter, and it’s pretty incredible. Here, to refresh your horror, was the original Ethics Alarms description:

Celebrities with ties to the organizers  tweeted and Instagrammed, building buzz about Fyre.  Ja Rule tweeted just a month ago, “This is where the cool kids will be April 27-30 May 5-8!!! #fyrefestival #fyre.” Ticket packages to experience the self-proclaimed “cultural event of the decade” included accommodations and chartered flights from Miami, with a low price of $900 and a luxury tag of $399,995 for access to the performers.  Days before the festival was to begin, @fyrefestival  was still ginning up anticipation.

Then the festival-goers arrived on the first day to find…nothing. Well, worse than nothing: chaos. Those who had  paid $500 apiece for what the festival’s promotion described as “villas” found that the only shelter provided were FEMA-style refugee tents. There was no food, except some hastily packaged cheese sandwiches. All of the scheduled performers canceled.

The festival-goers who hadn’t arrived by private yachts found themselves confused and stranded, with luggage but nowhere to sleep for the night. Some paid festival employees $100 to return them to the airport in a flatbed truck, but when they arrived at the airport gate, they were told that they couldn’t access the airport, requiring more bribes to get to a plane, if they were lucky. The stampede of shocked glitterati desperately trying to flee backed up the local airports, stranding many attendees in deplorable conditions, like understaffed kitchen tents with pots of uncooked food.

Subcontractors and suppliers went unpaid, Bahamian workers were stiffed, millions of dollars vanished.  The interviews with McFarland’s “team” are jaw-dropping. One fast-talking, ever-optimistic leader, McFarland, somehow convinced everyone, some who were experienced in event planning,  that he could pull off the impossible, even as the days counted down to zero hour and it was obvious that there would be no festival, just broken promised and angry rich people. There’s also an amazing coda to the Netflix documentary: while McFarland was out on bail, awaiting trial, he set up another scam, using the mailing list for the Fyre Festival to get some of the same suckers to buy phony event tickets.

Some new developments and thoughts: Continue reading