Carry on twerking – but don’t be mean!

Cuties is a brilliantly provocative work of art. It’s great. Y’all should see this controversial new movie if you haven’t already.

Just thought I’d get that out of the way quickly because many here have already seen the film and read lots of reviews and comments, including at Heretic TOC. So, instead of focusing on the film itself, I feel it will be more useful to attend to a key aspect of the debate it has provoked.

What have I in mind, do you imagine? The “sexualisation” of kids? The dangers of creeping censorship whenever we see political pressure mounted against art that is disturbing? Children being sexually exploited in the making and showing of this movie? The battle has already been raging since August on these themes, with little movement from entrenched positions. So I want to break out into new terrain; but before giving any marching orders we need a bit of an intelligence briefing to make sure everyone is in the picture – including even some BLs who might be tempted  to regard a girlie movie with disdain.

Cuties premiered in January at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won a directing award. It was released in France in mid-August and on 9 September on Netflix. Written and directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, a black French woman of Senegalese descent, the film has a first-time actress, Fathia Youssouf, now 14, as Amy, an 11-year-old immigrant girl in Paris. She, her mother, and her two younger brothers, have recently arrived in France from Senegal; her father has not yet joined them.

Amy has had a traditional Muslim upbringing. Much to the distress of her mother, her father announces by phone his intention to take a second wife. Upset by this herself, and by the stifling constraints and domestic drudgery imposed on her as a female of her culture, Amy rebels. She joins a gaggle of girls who are into twerking and have their own dance troupe, called “Cuties”. She steals her adult cousin’s smart phone, discovers blatantly pornographic dancing online, and pushes her same-age friends in the troupe to take their routine to a dangerously explicit level in a public competition.

As a disapproving London headmistress put it: “Their dancing sees them doing slut-drops, suggesting that they are sliding their young bodies over a penis, grabbing their crotches, pulling their fingers out of their mouths suggestively and writhing around on the floor as if they were having sex.”

Unsurprisingly, Doucouré faced a storm of criticism over this dancing, the sexual nature of which was left in no doubt by a Netflix publicity poster and trailer, leading to early calls for a boycott of the movie and claims in the U.S. that it should be investigated under child pornography law.

Doucouré, a feminist, pointed out what should be obvious to anyone seeing the film itself, not just the pre-publicity: far from showing twerk culture as liberating and glamorous for girls like Amy, it is presented as tawdry and degrading. The director’s intention appeared to be to highlight the difficulty many girls face, especially Muslims but other kids too, as they reach adolescence. It is a fast-moving time in their lives, especially once they are exposed to a brave new online world of endless glittering attractions, mingled with their desperate need for Likes on the social media, while simultaneously they  are struggling to discover – or create – who they really are.

Doucouré claims that in the course of her research for the movie, she talked to over a hundred 10- and 11-year-old girls across Paris, exploring the juvenile culture and attitudes depicted in Cuties. I have no reason to disbelieve her. Much of the film rings true, but that does not mean we are obliged to accept her implied analysis of the social problems Cuties depicts.

To start with, the notion that children’s expression of their sexuality is a problem in itself cries out to be challenged. Children, especially as they approach and enter puberty, have always been sexual. Their sexuality is not something visited upon them by a malign cultural virus known as “sexualisation”.

No, the real genius of Cuties – its destructive, almost evil, genius, unfortunately – is that it powerfully presents a narrative in which children’s sexual expression seems inevitably connected with seriously bad behaviour. When kids are sexually active, we are invited to believe, it is a clear sign of going off the rails big-time, even when the activity is confined to the symbolic level, through dance.

We have already heard that Amy steals a smart phone. That is no mere trivial naughtiness. It is a serious crime. What does she do when her cousin finds out and demands its return? First she unzips her jeans in front of him, trying to win him over with sexual favours. When that fails she impulsively takes a photo of her own exposed vulva, posts it on social media, and only then gives back the phone – recklessly exposing her cousin to a possible allegation of having child porn on his phone.

Judging by the outraged reaction to Cuties, it might be supposed that this movie breaks new ground in the acceptance of child sexuality in the movies. Older heretics will know better. The poster is for a 1980 Swedish film, Children’s Island (Barnens ö). One scene that lasts nearly a minute shows an 11-year-old boy masturbating. This includes several seconds with a full frontal shot of his erect penis. The film won Sweden’s top film prize. On a visit to Norway, I saw it in a packed cinema in Oslo, where there were plenty of apparently respectable, parent-age couples in the audience who showed not the slightest sign of shock or disapproval.

The other Cuties are hardly angels either. To start with, they taunt Amy as an immigrant. A stone is thrown, cutting her forehead. There are bitter rivalries and fights.

For wanton violence, though, it is Amy herself who takes the biscuit: when a not even remotely threatening boy in her class gently gropes her backside in the mistaken belief she is “up for it” after everyone has heard about her vulva picture online, she grabs a compass and skewers his hand with it, pinning it to his desk. That is not just assault: in British legal terms it probably amounts to assault causing grievous bodily harm, an offence that could easily see someone sent to prison. Even a potential charge of attempted murder drifts almost casually into the picture when she pushes rival dancer Jasmine into a canal. The victim cannot swim. Amy stands watching as the poor child flails about in the water with every prospect of drowning. Only luck prevents it, when Jasmine finds something to cling onto. Amy simply moves on, knowing she will be eligible for the competition performance that day in place of Jasmine, who is hardly going to be in good shape to get ready and take part.

Does child sexuality really have to be like this, joined at the hip with ruthless criminality? Does raunchy dancing really turn girls into daughters of Satan so mean a mafia hit-man would be scared to mess with them?

This is a film, remember. It is fiction. There is no evidence whatever to support this anti-sexual notion. There is plenty of bad behaviour, for sure, in poor communities where people are stressed out and have few prospects for a better life. Doucouré is not wrong to suggest that kids in the immigrant ghettoes of Paris run wild and do crazy stuff; we need not be surprised that youth there turn to drug abuse and all manner of delinquency, including sometimes vicious sex offences such as gang rape.

What would be mistaken, though, is to confuse correlation with causation. Sex does not cause violence even in circumstances where there is a strong association between the two. Even Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill, who hates porn culture, accepts this. He wrote: “I question the idea that this culture is the cause of young people’s disarray or of social decay more broadly. On the contrary, usually such culture is merely a reflection of deeper-seated social problems.”

Sex in itself is morally neutral. You can do it nasty, and mean; but also nice, and magnanimous. It is an appetite, like food. If a poor person is hungry and steals in order to eat, it would be crazy to blame lust for food as the cause of the theft, rather than poverty. We need food.

Ditto with sex. Relatively relaxed societies such as the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, especially in the much more liberal era of the 1980s, did not have the heavy suppression of juvenile sexuality that we now see everywhere thanks to moral panic over “child sexual abuse” and the “sexualisation” of kids. These countries (with good sex education) had the lowest rates of teen pregnancy in Europe, much lower than the UK and far lower than puritanical USA, and did not experience the vicious gang rape culture to be seen in many of the more sexually repressive parts of the world. When the Netherlands and other European countries relaxed their pornography laws, sex crimes went down. Same with Japan, which not only permitted the circulation of CP but also, even to this day, “sexualises” children i.e. allows them to be erotically expressive, and celebrates the attractiveness of youth. Is Japan a sink of moral depravity? I don’t think so.

Heretics here will be familiar with such thoughts, which are well supported by research evidence; but they are not fully satisfying as a response to the unease Cuties undoubtedly generates. There is too much awkward truth in the movie for that. I do not mean its OTT depictions of extreme violence by an 11-year-old girl, but its far more telling representation of what we might consider to be poor quality sexual expression.

Zen Thinker, in a comment here, said “I don’t want to see a society overrun by a cheap and tacky form of sexuality.”

The French cinema release poster for Cuties (Mignonnes)

Does that resonate with you? I suspect it will. It sure does with me. So let’s think what we mean by “cheap” and “tacky”. They can perhaps be summed up in the single term “vulgar”. One major dictionary, Merriam-Webster, has the heading “Coarse”, meaning “lacking in cultivation, perception, or taste”. Another heading, “Earthy”, includes “lewdly or profanely indecent”. A final heading, “Vernacular”, connects to the word’s Latin origin: “of or relating to the common people”. In other words, it began as an elite put-down.

Is this contempt for ordinary people and popular culture fair? Where does good taste end and snobbishness begin? Perhaps they are the same thing. Good taste – in dress, manners, music, whatever – is defined by whatever the elite of any society likes and does. Snobbery is often the slavish imitation of elite tastes by those who are struggling to put their own lower-class origins behind them. The term would have no meaning in a more materially and socially equal society. There would be no “cheap and tacky” sexuality, just sexuality. There wouldn’t even be “expensive and tacky” sexuality, of the sort said to have characterised Jeffrey Epstein’s private Caribbean island.

But we are where we are. We cannot realistically argue that we can only have good sex once we have established socialism, or gone back to nature, to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that shaped our evolution and to which our bodies and temperaments may still be best suited.

What we can usefully do, though, I suggest, is to re-cast the terms of our unease over Cuties more accurately. What we have here is not a moral concern with tackiness but an aesthetic one, which ultimately derives from the nature of sexuality itself, which in its basics is not a matter of great refinement.

Eating food can be messy if you don’t do it nicely, according to the civilised standards of etiquette that Louis XIV first introduced at the very most elite level in the world, the court of the French monarch at the palace of Versailles.

But sex is a whole lot messier. As Woody Allen once put it, “If it isn’t dirty you aren’t doing it right.”

Precisely because of this intrinsic lack of refinement, “respectable” literature and conversation in polite society have tended to steer clear of its crude appeal, approaching the raw physicality only obliquely, refracted through the prism of romance and high sentiment.

Porn, by contrast, goes straight for the genitals. So does the pornified dancing we see in Cuties: there is nothing disguised, indirect, or refined about sex, despite some notable attempts in world culture to civilise it, such as the Kama Sutra and the Hindu temple art influenced by this famous text. The embarrassment and discomfort factor derive from the idea that sexual expressiveness is vulgar, that it is of the common people, the lower class – yet no one yearns more strongly for the respectability of not being common than working class people who aspire to be middle class. The real toffs are often not that bothered: ironically, they can be quite “vulgar”!

Our common humanity, in truth, has always responded to  two contrary influences, in tension with each other but both necessary as a sort of yin and yang of our being.  These are the wisdom of the elders (experienced, brain-led, restrained) and the vigour of youth (adventurous, energetic, bursting with life). We still need the wisdom of Plato, an elitist philosopher who took a dim view of democracy as well as music, and favoured spiritual over sexual love. We need his thoughtfulness; we need to ponder the downside of things we take for granted as good. But we also need the culture of the people, and especially of its youth, without whose uninhibited energy we wouldn’t have even the tango, never mind twerking.

So my message if anyone were listening to me in the banlieues of Paris would be, “Kids, carry on twerking, but be nice to each other.” And for heretics here: “See Cuties if you haven’t already. Be impressed. Be very impressed. But do not buy into its brilliantly presented anti-sexual propaganda without a lot of critical thinking.”

 

CUTIES ENCORE 1: CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

The moral panic over Cuties has proved a great opportunity for fake news peddlers to slip in falsehoods in the course of condemning the film. One egregious example is a claim put about by infamous Pizzagate propagator QAnon that California is lowering its age of consent from 18 to 14. A law change has indeed just been approved in the state but it relates to the sex offender registry, not the AOC, which remains 18.

If it was just the QAnon crazies saying it, parroted by the usual social media idiots, the influence of the falsehood would be limited. But writers with some claim to respectability have repeated this nonsense uncritically, such as C. C. Pecknold, professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, and Sumantra Maitra, a doctoral researcher at Nottingham University. Deploying shameless dishonesty typical of the conservative Right, these are cynical liars who really ought to know better.

CUTIES ENCORE 2: GIRL POWER

Mary Harrington is no fan of youth sexual liberation, but that that did not stop her from making an interesting admission that their sexuality can itself be a source of immense power, contrary to the victim-feminist dogma that adults are always in charge of every encounter.

Writing in UnHerd, she says she remembers being wolf-whistled at well before her teens, and horned at by horny drivers. She wrote: “I remember it felt good. I bought a short dress, and found excuses to put it on and wander about my Home Counties village, vaguely hoping for more White Van Men to beep at me and make me feel briefly appreciated…” Once you notice that men are looking at you sexually, she said, you “realise the power that brings”. She expands on this theme with reference to a scene in the film where the girls get away with trespassing in a building after doing a “he tried to grope me” number on an entirely innocent security guard.

CUTIES ENCORE 3: THEY’RE HOT! NO, THEY’RE NOT!

Heretic TOC commentator Dissident did us a favour by drawing attention to a review of the film from MrGirl, a political YouTuber. MrG’s great contribution was to make a courageous admission. While he did not approve of the child actors being sexually exploited (in his view) by the way they were used in the film, he candidly admitted that he found these youngsters very attractive and even arousing: or, as he put it, “hot”!

Virtuous Pedophiles co-founder Ethan Edwards, disagreed. Writing on GirlChat at annabelleigh.net, he said “I only found it starting to get a bit erotic at the very end, when Amy puts on some normal kid clothes and starts jump roping with some other girls. There’s a girl acting like a girl… and that’s starting to be sexy.”

I am mainly with Ethan on this one, although really it is a matter of taste, not morals, and also the age of the kids you find attractive.

CUTIES ENCORE 4: FEAR OF THE SEXUAL CHILD

The review of Cuties in the Daily Telegraph was surprisingly enthusiastic for a conservative paper, which is perhaps why it was widely quoted with horror and dismay. Not that there was anything particularly offensive in it, except when critic Tim Robey referred to the film as a “powder-keg provocation in an age so terrified of child sexuality”.

This definitely triggered sexual conservatives big-time. That is because they hate to admit that child sexuality is even a thing: for them, kids are always sexualised, not sexual. It is almost as though Robey had been reading The Fear of Child Sexuality, by Steven Angelides, which was reviewed in two parts at Heretic TOC, here and here, as regulars will recall. Theorising this fear briefly, in his introduction, Angelides quoted philosopher Richard D. Mohr:  “…this fear arises from their half recognition that to admit explicitly, as pornography does, that children are sexy would mean that virtually everyone is a paedophile”.

CUTIES ENCORE 5: KUDOS TO THE SPECTATOR

Tanya Gold, restaurant reviewer at The Spectator, stepped in as a film critic to review Cuties. She should have stuck to the day job. She wrote: “I would be surprised if paedophiles watched French language films by female Franco-Senegalese directors… about the misery of female Senegalese immigrants when they can watch child beauty pageants …  or criminal pornography. But what do I know?” I replied: “What indeed? Speaking as a paedophile who has seen the film after fellow paedophiles had critiqued it at my pro-paaedophile blog, Heretic TOC, I can tell her she is wrong, and that paedophiles, like anyone else, are perfectly capable of taking an intelligent, morally earnest, view of cinema…”

Not a single reader responded with the sort of vitriolic abuse that would have been inevitable on Twitter and most social media platforms. Instead, I was commended for opening up the debate. Kudos to the conservative Spectator and its free-speech supporting readers!

CUTIES ENCORE 6: MAP PRIDE GETS A PLUG

Oddly, Janice Turner, writing in The Times, used Cuties to go in for a bit of gay bashing. She wrote:

Yet on the outermost margins of the LGBT movement are voices which try to posit child-sex as the next liberation struggle. In the 1970s the Paedophile Information Exchange tried to latch on to the mainstream gay movement; in 1997 Dares to Speak condemned anti-child-sex views as “hysteria”. Now on Twitter are hundreds of accounts by MAPs – Minority Attracted Persons – who reveal their AOA (Age of Attraction) as, say, 3-14 years and campaign for “MAP pride”: i.e. to be incorporated into the LGBT rainbow.

Nice, though, to see her promoting “MAP pride” and noticing its modest, as yet, but growing presence online.

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Stephen James

For those in need a laugh (provided you’re not triggered by political incorrectness!).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYVK_OqyUzk

Christian

In France, the film Mignonnes (Cuties in English) appeared in cinemas at the end of August. It did not create any scandal or polemic, it was rather a non-event, just another second-rate film that did not attract crowds, the opposite of a blockbuster like Tenet. I could read in the news about the outlandish US polemic following its presentation by Netflix.
I guess that most people will understand that neither paedophilia nor child “hyper-sexualisation” is the top scare in France. After the murder by an Islamist terrorist of a teacher who had shown and discussed the Muhammad caricatures in his class course about free speech, the government has said that the Republic is in danger, and a right-wing opposition MP has declared that the country is on the verge of a civil war. Previous murders not motivated by religious extremism (of a young woman by a stranger who probably wanted sex from her, of a woman in a shooting by gangsters) did not evoke a similar level of emotion. Islamism looks like a threat at a level comparable to Covid19.
I saw a video by the director Doucouré, saying that she wanted to denounce the danger of hyper-sexualisation of young girls, that she had seen shocking things posted by girls in social networks. Indeed in the film, for Amy twerk dancing is associated to theft and violence, while in the end scene, returning to standard clothing and childish games like rope jumping gives her an ecstatic smile.
The film’s implicit attack on Islamic bigotry with its sexist and misogynist aspects should not be seen as contestant in present French society. Denouncing Islamic fundamentalism in the name of women’s rights is mainstream discourse, used and abused by right-wing politicians, including Marine Le Pen.
The official dress code imposed to French girls is the middle ground between Islamic and sexy: on the one hand, the Islamic headscarf is forbidden in schools, and when a student unionist invited to a parliamentary committee came wearing a headscarf, right-wing politicians walked out in protest. On the other hand, girls in some high schools were reminded by authority to “dress correctly” because they had a mini-skirt, a crop top of holes in their clothes. The education minister advocated wearing “Republican clothing” (only in France does one talk of such a thing). The morality of the film follows the same line.

NB. “vulgar” comes from the Latin word “vulgus” designating the common or low people, generally in a pejorative way.

David Leibniz

Tom,

You say <Zen Thinker, in a comment here, said “I don’t want to see a society overrun by a cheap and tacky form of sexuality.”>, then follow with

<“cheap” and “tacky” .. can perhaps be summed up in the single term “vulgar”.>

I don’t think this is a fair conversion of terms.

You then say

<One major dictionary, Merriam-Webster, has the heading “Coarse”, meaning “lacking in cultivation, perception, or taste”. Another heading, “Earthy”, includes “lewdly or profanely indecent”. A final heading, “Vernacular”, connects to the word’s Latin origin: “of or relating to the common people”. In other words, it began as an elite put-down.>

So “vulgar” can now mean “lewdly or profanely indecent”, which I agree may be summarised as “tacky”, but this is more than its Latin origin “of or relating to the common people”.

Since “tacky” means more than “of or relating to the common people”, it cannot be equated to an elite put-down.

David Leibniz

Sorry, but you’re logic is faulty. As you say, vulgar has various shades of meaning, an elite put-down being one, tacky another, but that doesn’t imply that tacky is equivalent to an elite put-down.

Cows are animals and sheep are animals, but cows aren’t sheep and sheep aren’t cows!

David Leibniz

Thanks, Tom

Allen

Hey Tom. Could you make your next blog about Amos Yee, to bring some awareness to him or something? I think he could use some support. Also, Love your stuff. You’re a hero 😉

Explorer

A wonderful writing, Tom; it was a delight both to read, and, most importantly, to think through. This reflection on your text allowed me to formulate some important ideas that I would like to share with you, and with anyone else here.

In this blogpost of yours, you expressed the position, which, I think, may be summarised as such: it is wrong to think that any specific violation of socially prescribed and enforced demands and rules of behavior – such the open expression of their innate sexuality with the help of the twerking dance by Amy and other Cuties – must lead to, be caused by, or be connected with the violation of any other rules or demands, be it physical aggression or endangerment, theft or trespassing, or – in the worst case – putting one’s own cousin at the risk of the severe social persecution, possibly up to an actual social death, by spreading a nude photo of your “underage” body (well, of certain “forbidden” parts of this body, to be precise) with the smartphone you has stolen from him some time before.

With this position, I certainly agree – almost completely so. Social rules and demands may be very different, varying from the perfectly reasonable and justifiable ones – such as, say, condemnation of theft, physical violence or deliberate slander – to the utterly absurd and counterproductive, such as a total, fervently enforced ban of even the purely symbolic expression, let alone active enactment, of a natural sexual drive and desire by anyone who does not yet reached the arbitrary “age of consent” (especially in the cases it involved a mutually voluntary participation of someone above this age). The determination to violate the latter definitely does not mean the readiness to do the same with the former – since these are very different deeds, ones that have nothing in common but the single characteristic of being beyond the boundaries of publicly acceptable and approvable in a specific society – the modern Western society, in our case.

But here we come… maybe not even to a “problem”, but rather a certain question, one that is usually overlooked by libertarian and progressive types like me (or you, Tom, or most of us here in general), and overemphasised by the authoritarian and reactionary types like our opponents and would-be persecutors. Nevertheless, it must be examined if we want to understand ourselves, and our pro-freedom and pro-change positions, fully.

This question, that authoritarians and reactionaries so much love to throw in the libertarians’ and progressives’ faces, can be formulated so: if we maintain that it is acceptable to violate a specific socially prescribed and enforced boundary that is perceived by us to be idiotic, cruel or oppressive, as thus worthy of being violated, how violation of any other social boundary can be opposed? After all, there is no boundary that cannot be negatively evaluated, and thus rejected, by someone. So, the argument goes, if one boundary is deemed violable, then all of them are deemed violable, at least in principle; and, sooner or later, all of them will be violated, and so the society will turn into chaos and civilization will fall. The only way to avert this catastrophic scenario, as authoritarians and reactionaries state, is to keep all social boundaries forever intact, no matter what, with a slightest infraction of them being completely unacceptable; and for this, we need to install an authoritarian power-structure that will be always ready to expose and thwart the libertarians’ and progressives’ misguided attempts to undermine and destroy civilization.

It is profoundly easy to laugh these accusations away as falsehoods that they largely are – as it is usually being done – but, if we want to be honest to ourselves, we must accept that that there is an important grain of truth buried under these falsehoods.

This grain of truth is this: for the one who has violated a social boundary, the violation of all other boundaries does indeed become somewhat easier, since the boundaries *themselves* are desacralised; this means, the boundary violation *as such* is no longer a taboo. And, more than that: since the restriction by an oppressive boundary understandably produces intense wrath, and a long-sought violation of it brings one immense joy, one feels encouraged to put all other boundaries under doubt and scrutiny, in order to understand if they oppressive enough to be worthy of wrathful and / or joyful violation.

So, the one who dares to defy and transgress the boundaries of one’s own society, has to face, and to fight, a very real temptation to keep transgressing further and further, without end, until the transgression, despite initially being genuinely liberatory, will itself turn into violent subjugation of others to fulfill one’s desire.

And, to be able to fight this temptation back, one has to formulate one’s own personal ethics – which, while being in contradiction, even in conflict, with the socially dominant mores, must be dedicated to what a person sincerely deem to be good. It means to accept one’s own, rather than socially imposed, responsibility.

And here lies the real demarcation between libertarians and progressives, on one side, and authoritarians and reactionaries, on the other. The former trust the individual human beings, and voluntary communities created by them, enough to believe that they will, in most cases, be able to guide themselves by their own ethics, and thus be able to judge, which boundaries are unworthy enough to be violated, and which are worthy enough to be maintained. Of course, not everyone and everything will be perfect, and some problems will inevitably arise, but no catastrophe will pass because of people being liberated from oppressive restrictions. Simultaneously, they mistrust the power elites and power institutions claiming that subjection to them is necessary to survival of civilization. To the contrary, authoritarians and reactionaries mistrust the ordinary humans, seeing them as too weak and corruptible to be allowed to live by the ethics of their own making. Instead, they put their trust into the institutions and elites, that they see as indispensable for the civilized life and thus worthy of loyalty and obedience.

I, a libertarian and a progressive, has made my choice: I trust individual human beings enough to allow them to be lead by their own conscience, and I mistrust the elites and institutions enough not to allow them to subjugate people “for their own good”. I understand that such placement of trust and mistrust is as imperfect as any other; that individual conscience of some specific human being may be very different from mine, and lead to the results that I would dislike and disapprove of. But I still maintain that most people will have enough goodwill not to do some utterly absurd or atrocious things. And I reject any claim of the ruling groups that the oppression they practice is necessary and inevitable, and must be continued indefinitely if civilization is to be protected.

I hope, others here have chosen in a similar way. Have you?

Zen Thinker

Hi Explorer, your comment raises some interesting philosophical questions. I think primarily boundaries are necessary for the effective functioning of society, but where something is unfairly stigmatised and attacked – such as even the free speech to express minor attracted views – this must be combatted in the interests of social justice. I also think there is an unfortunate symbiosis between mob elements below and political elites above, and they can easily conspire to persecute minorities, as we have seen with slavery, Jim Crow, sodomy laws and the like. Ultimately I think it still takes an elite of sorts to steer and guide the population – but this elite is often more socially progressive than the demagogues and mainstream populace themselves.

Stephen James

>…and in other supposedly democratic countries, such as the Netherlands, “democracy” has now become so hollowed out and illiberal as to be almost devoid of real meaning.  

Is it really that bad now in the Netherlands – worse than in the U.K?

Stephen James

Yes, I accept that, but your original statement seemed to be not only about MAP matters but the state of Dutch democracy in general and so it looked like you were implying that the Netherlands is now barely a democracy.

Stephen James

Don’t get me wrong – I agree it’s outrageous. I just wonder whether it’s fair to judge the state of Dutch democracy in general on the basis of this one outrage. If there were other areas in which it was operating equally oppressively then your rather sweeping generalisation would be justified; otherwise not.

Stephen James

I don’t doubt any of this and it would be pointless to prolong this discussion indefinitely. It’s just that your original comment seemed to me to imply you knew something about the state of Dutch democracy in general that I didn’t. This is evidently not the case.

Stephen James

Well, I read it that way because in that particular assertion of yours there was no explicit reference to MAPs. But leaving aside the issue of whether this was a reasonable reading of what you said, I think one can make the case that the recent flagrant oppression of MAPs in the Netherlands is an example of exceptionalism. The state of democracy there is probably as healthy as, or healthier than, anywhere else in Europe, but MAPs are considered a special case – you’re allowed to trample on their democratic rights as much as you like!

Dissident

As applied to witches, this has long been discredited as a legal doctrine, but the seductive notion that exceptions can acceptably be made to equal treatment under law is evidently still with us. 

Very well said, Tom. These populist exceptions are usually made on the basis of a majority of people being offended rather than actually demonstrably harmed in any way by the “exception” in question. Expressed concerns that the exceptions, if allowed, might cause the “destruction of society” is usually a euphemism for fear of change, i.e., the “destruction” of the old ways of thinking or doing things, which may be cherished institutions that do not actually deserve to stand the test of time anyway.

Dissident

I think the main point Tom intended was the type of precedent this type, or any type, of exception makes to a system of “healthy” democracy. As I have noted before, there is a tendency by some to believe that one or a few draconian planks in an ostensibly democratic system do not really tarnish the entire framework, and are tolerable as long as they do not go too far beyond that. However, draconian legislation tends to be cumulative, with the easy targets pinpointed first, then leading to exponentially bigger targets following the precedents set before them.

This is the problem. Libertarian civil values have to encompass all points of view, all groups of people, and all actions that do not cause demonstrable harm…otherwise the entire system becomes increasingly hostile to libertarian values at the whim of both the populist mob mentality or the oligarchical powers that be.

Moreover, these greater encroachments following the initial easier targets will often be rationalized to be necessary to combat the initial “threats” to society.

Stephen James

No, I wouldn’t question any of that.

BTW, Dissy, I sent you an email.

Sugarboy

You say that, unlike the MARTIJN Association in the Netherlands, its UK equivalent PIE was never banned. But since its founders were jailed because of corrupting the public moral, this means that the founders of any association with the same purposes would suffer the same fate, so associations like that are de facto banned.

Sugarboy

On the other hand, I totally agree with your analysis of the situation in the Netherland. In fact, the ban on Martijn was clearly political, and the simple evidence of this is that the authorities didn’t care about the association for 20 years, and even collaborated with it occasionally. Only when the public perception of pedophilia changed, Martijn was put to shame, and this is undemocratic because democracy turns into a dictatorship by the majority that assumes the right to get rid of oppositions at its own discretion.

Dissident

Agreed. This is why a true democracy must include a constitution that grants inviolable civil liberties to minority expressions of opinion and lifestyle etc. that do not cause demonstrable harm (as opposed to unproven anecdotal, moralizing, or emotion-based claims to harm). Such basic civil liberties are timeless, and should not be able to be re-interpreted or circumvented on the whims of anyone, either an angry majority or an elite few; otherwise, you get a tyranny of the majority (mob rule) or a tyranny of the few (rule by a despotic oligarchy). Though all constitutions should be doctrines and not dogma, and things do change over time, there is a big difference between changes based on material reality, such as economics, and those related to personal choice. The majority should vote in regards to things such as how the collective material wealth is equitably distributed, but not on the basis of individual civil rights to any group, or even a single person.

Liz
Stephen James

The bit that stood out most for me was this:

“In the United States, rates of serious sexual violence fell by 85 percent between 1980 and 2005 when VHS, DVD, and home Internet access became commonplace. Further studies have examined the trend state by state, and found that, in the early days of the consumer Internet, the rate of sexual violence fell fastest in states with the greatest increase in Internet connections. Crimes other than rape did not fall significantly in the same period, and the fall in the tendency to commit rape was most significant among young men in the 15–19 age group. Which is to say that preventing teenage boys from accessing pornography might have unpleasant and unintended consequences.”

I didn’t know those particular stats. They’re gold.

Yure

DALY, N. R. Relationship of Child Sexual Abuse Survivor Self-Perception of Consent to Current Functioning. Available at: < https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cps_stuetd/136/ >. Date of access: 10/10/20.

Barely on-topic. Might be of interest.

Yure

It was actually discovered by Filip30, on Boychat. Was not for him, I wouldn’t have known.

Yure

Very resourceful guy.

Nada

>Relatively relaxed societies such as the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, especially in the much more liberal era of the 1980s, did not have the heavy suppression of juvenile sexuality that we now see everywhere thanks to moral panic over “child sexual abuse” and the “sexualisation” of kids.

Did you mean the 1970s? CP distribution has been illegal in Sweden since the early 1980s, while “good” sex education was used to further the pedophile panic.

As for as movies goes, She Monkeys provides one of the few examples of the modern Swedish treatment of child sexuality: In one scene at a public pool a little girl is told, by a woman, to cover up her chest, as men could be watching!

Netflix content varies by region, so you might not find it there. Instead, such movies are usually found on Usenet or torrent sites.

Grenfield

Didn’t something like this happen with that movie THE TIME DRUM as well? Or am I mistaken?

Grenfield

Whoops, my auto text. Messing up my stuff as always.

Ah, yes. That’s funny. An Oscar/Palme d’Or winning child porn movie. I can’t wait for some of these folks to discover SUNDAYS AND CEBELE.

Dissident

Tom, there is a not unexpected new development in the Cuties controversy that I just posted about on GC, which I will link here: Texas Senator Ted Cruz has now officially launched his promised lawsuit against Netflix regarding Cuties. I figure we could get a discussion going on about that on your blog as well as on GC, and my post and the various responses it may acquire from each location could be used as potential material for a future follow-up blog of yours on this development.

Dissident

Netflix is in a position to defend itself and it would soon become clear that a successful legal attack on this film could be fatal to lots of others. The First Amendment would be shattered and I doubt that will happen.

True. Nevertheless, the initial degree of mass support for this action coming from all sides of the political spectrum from usually pro-civil libertarian voices on YouTube and Facebook et al. are inadvertently making a truly chilling point of how inherently damaging and antagonistic moral panics are to a democracy with anything resembling the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. This should serve as a wake-up call to anyone who believes that any system where moral panics often arise and thrive for decades at a time is a status quo we should ever support if we are serious about living in a free society. WEIRD societies have the same type of love-hate relationship with freedom of speech and expression that they do with sexuality.

John Sydney McNair

Excellent review Tom. Yes, “kids are always sexualised, not sexual” is a great line.

Stephen James

I’m bi. Does that count?

Dissident

First off, thank you for the expected excellent analysis of the film and the controversy behind it, Tom. It was much better than I could have done, and I make no exaggeration when I say I am not worthy.

Also, I must ask…was the first part of the post’s title, “Carry On Twerking…”, a reference to the long-running series of British comedy films that ran under the Carry On… banner? LOL!

Stephen James

An interesting and, I think compelling, analysis. Yes, we certainly do need to challenge the idea that child sexuality (indeed, sexuality in general) and bad behavior are necessarily linked together.

A minor quibble I had was not so much with the film itself, but with the way it was presented by Netflix. It was the fact that they dubbed it in English instead of leaving the dialogue in French and addding English sub-titles. Doing the former was not conducive to realism and authenticity, as it created an unnatural feel and when a number of characters were talking together (as was the case in several scenes involving the girls) made it impossible to know who exactly was saying what.

I may have mentioned it here before, but there is another very realistic French film with sexual (but in this case primarily transgender) themes which I have greatly enjoyed. It is ‘Tomboy’, in which a little girl moving into a new neighborhood tries to convince everyone that she is really a boy. It’s beautifully done, with superb performances coaxed out of the young actors.

Stephen James

Here is the official trailer for Tomboy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jb-Oys-IcWE

Zen Thinker

Interesting take, Tom. Right wing media outlets, like the Spectator and the Telegraph which you mention here, often have a better overall quality and more intriguing arguments than the left, especially as the left are so keen to parse minor attraction from mainstream LGBT to buttress their own positions. The right is more prepared to consider that MAP is a natural progression from LGBT.

On the question of vulgarity, I agree that high and low aspects of culture can exist simultaneously in a harmonious fashion – one need only see a mainstream Enlightenment source book, where written pornography exists alongside scientific texts as culturally representative of the eighteenth century era. And of course the bawdiness in high literature such as Chaucer’s ‘Miller’s Tale’ and Shakespeare’s character of Falstaff.

Where I think the danger lies is in a lack of interplay between the high and the low, and instead an overrunning in the culture at large of incredibly shallow, empty and intellectually barren values. Certainly if intergenerational relationships were a thing, the primary thing I would want to impart to my young partner would be my own knowledge and wisdom, my love of culture and an attitude of critical thinking. I think one cannot help having strongly parental and tutelary aspects to such a relationship.

We see kids, especially young girls, learning about sexuality early from the culture, yes, through Nicki Minaj’s intensely sexual behaviour in music videos or a host of other media stars. But do we really want to see children grow up in an environment where all they know and appreciate is low culture? What kind of world are we creating? And in Cuties these girls, pretty and precocious as they are, have no higher cultural reference point. In fact in one scene, during the shopping trip (shown iconically in the French poster) they are all parading down the street and the film plays a Vivaldi choral piece to their antics. We are given a glimpse of a kind of higher state of being, as though they had reached an apotheosis and that this was their glamorous ideal. I found that to be powerful. The dancing on the other hand was powerfully sexual, but we need the full character and the experience of high AND low.

Amy’s Muslim heritage was portrayed in a very negative and repressive light and none of the acknowledged spiritual treasures of Islam were presented in the film as a counterbalance or complement to Amy’s sexuality. And dance itself is of course an art form, and tellingly the girls were striving at art, at culture in their own limited and ill-informed way. Of course there is a place for twerking, but there are dangers in limiting society to its lowest common denominator, and this is also a class struggle, as lower classes are most at risk of a complete vulgarisation of their outlook. So while twerking is a legitimate cultural expression for the young, we need to ensure through proper social education that a love of deeper meaning and higher things is not lost sight of. For would it really be a victory for the MAP movement if we created a society of stulted hyper-sexualised youngsters? Agreed, the young are naturally sexual but the imposition of a seedy ‘red light district’ kind of ethics is foreign to natural expressions of sexuality, in my opinion.

Another question is, does the MAP movement need or require a radical ‘sexualisation’ of the young in order to achieve its aims? The young certainly need more of a voice in society, but an increased awareness and consciousness of sexuality needs to take place in the context of an equally natural love of learning and education which children universally possess. It is never an either/or.

Cuties in fact embodies this contradiction, in that the film direction both celebrates/glamorises and criticises the dance routines. Perhaps the ultimate answer is that, indeed as you reference in your piece, we imitate the attitudes of the old upper classes in their acceptance of the bawdy and the low whilst never losing sight of the higher reasons why we are here on this earth in the first place.

Dissident

Hi, Zen. Here is what I think in regards to a few of your points:

Certainly if intergenerational relationships were a thing, the primary thing I would want to impart to my young partner would be my own knowledge and wisdom, my love of culture and an attitude of critical thinking. I think one cannot help having strongly parental and tutelary aspects to such a relationship.

My ideal situation in such a hypothetical relationship would be to have a reciprocal basis of learning and sharing of experience. Even in today’s non-youth liberated world, the information age has allowed younger people to learn, build skills, and achieve life experience that many adults do not replicate. I think a “strongly parental and tutelary aspect” should depend on whether the relationship is meant (or not) to favor an authoritarian role for the adult partner, or to assume superior wisdom in all things on the part of the older person. Not all intergenerational relationships would necessarily be mentorships, and in some cases, the younger person would make a more able mentor depending upon what the older partner wanted to learn in addition to whatever they may or may not have to teach. I routinely learn many things from younger people, including details of life experience, by watching their various tutorial and philosophical videos.

For would it really be a victory for the MAP movement if we created a society of stulted hyper-sexualised youngsters? Agreed, the young are naturally sexual but the imposition of a seedy ‘red light district’ kind of ethics is foreign to natural expressions of sexuality, in my opinion.

I would argue that a one-size-should-fit-all approach would be a worse idea. Younger people in a free society should be expected to grow, gain experiences, and acquire preferences on highly individual levels. I would not want to make these choices for them, especially considering how subjective the “how much is too much?” question can be.

Amy’s Muslim heritage was portrayed in a very negative and repressive light and none of the acknowledged spiritual treasures of Islam were presented in the film as a counterbalance or complement to Amy’s sexuality.

True. But I think the main problem with the Muslim faith provided in this film is an accurate one, and may be the important rub: The Islamic faith, including the more liberal versions, are very “pushy” and socially conservative. Kids born in Muslim families are expected to carry on that tradition no matter what their individual personalities, temperament, preferences, and quality of life experience happen to be. Amy was not suited for it, and her family never considered her bowing out of it to be an option.

Zen Thinker

Hi Dissident, hope you’re well.

Yes, my idea with the emphasis on mentorship was to follow the examples in Ancient Greece and Rome. In Athens there was a clear intellectual and spiritual mentorship shown for example between Socrates and Alcibiades, and men would ‘take on’ a youth almost as a disciple. Then in Rome we have senators, often in their 60s, marrying 12 year old girls, and we would naturally assume that the older party with their political and intellectual knowledge, and acquired wisdom, had a lot to pass down to the girl. This is not to say that the younger party cannot teach us some of the innate wisdom of childhood, seeing things in a genuine and uncynical fashion, but I just speculate, and the historical example has been, that it is often a tutelary relationship, reciprocal in many respects, but still quite parental (in a way that Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe had what psychologists would term a parent-child relationship). One must not infantilise the child, to the point of political and cultural insignificance, but at the same time one should not infantilise the adult either, and the senior party should lend their experiential skills to a relationship.

I think hyper-sexualisation is a bad state for any human being. If we subscribe to a generous, civic, humanitarian ideal then we cannot say with all impunity that a sleazy standard of ethics is appropriate. I do not consider the girls in the film to be sleazy by any means, the dance routine is, although implicitly criticised, still a powerful affirmation. By all means in a free society people have the right to live how they choose, but I strongly believe that a populist hyper-sexualisation, the likes of Minaj in Anaconda, would create an ugly society.

Islam as a lived tradition can be restrictive, but there is undoubted beauty to its cultural heritage. Whether the love poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi or the ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, or even the spirituality of the Qur’an, there are great depths to the Islamic faith, and indeed this brings me back to the point that an ideal society should complement sexuality with higher inspiration. Otherwise we risk being reduced to the level of mass public orgies and a ‘Brave New World’ style dystopia.

Dissident

I concur we should not infantalize adults in intergenerational relationships, either. Forming a relationship between political and moral equals, where each can learn from the other based on their individual skills sets and quality of life experience, infantalizes neither IMO. After all, in a youth-liberated society, young people would be judged on individual merit, which means they may actually be the ones in the relationship that holds a political position, or an important team teaching position at an educational facility, etc., not necessarily the older partner.

Islam as a lived tradition can be restrictive, but there is undoubted beauty to its cultural heritage. [Snip…]

Nothing you said here is in doubt by me, and you will note I am not one of the vehemently anti-Islamic members of the MAP community. The problem is not that Islam has nothing to offer adherents or the cultural basis of society as a whole. The problem is its totalitarian moralism and the fact that it expects people born into Muslim families to carry on the tradition no matter what they may personally want. I think the good aspects of the faith that you point out would be far more appreciated by Amy and her real life counterparts if it was liberalized to the point that it dispensed with its authoritarian measures and its tendency to push itself on those born of Muslim parents. When you add these bad things to a system of faith, it taints the minimizes the good aspects in the eyes of many people both “expected” to be a part of it by accident of birth, and those civil libertarians who are on the outside.

Speaking for myself, I can appreciate all that you said about the faith in your last paragraph…but that is spoiled when a Muslim fundamentalist starts shoving it up my nose and tells me I am “wrong” or “bad” for not being part of the faith, and I see them damning and disowning kids of Muslim parents who feel the faith does not suit them as individuals. This is the same for fundamentalists of all stripes, including Christian fundies and the various secular varieties (including “radical” atheists).

Sugarboy

Off topic – however, now that the picture of you behind the book is bigger and more visible, Tom, I notice that your gaze is like that of Mona Lisa: no matter where the observers are, you always look up into their face!

Sasha Map

I like this movie!

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