Keeping Kids From Seeing Smut Will Take A Lot More Than Canceling Netflix

Keeping Kids From Seeing Smut Will Take A Lot More Than Canceling Netflix

Bringing about meaningful change in the wake of 'Cuties' is going take a lot more effort than just canceling your Netflix account.
Emma Freire
By

A massive outcry over indecent content, demands for a legal investigation, calls for boycotts, countless op-eds bemoaning the decline of American morals — no, I’m not talking about the current backlash against the Netflix movie “Cuties.” I am referring to Janet Jackson’s bare breast during the Super Bowl halftime show back in 2004. It was and still is one of the most controversial events in television history.

At the time, I found it strange that the backlash focused exclusively on that breast. The entire halftime show consisted of sexually explicit lyrics and dance moves. The public response, however, gave the impression that it was only the breast that crossed the line.

Now that 16 years have passed, it is clear that the lesson the organizers of the Super Bowl took away from the controversy is that as long as they don’t expose a woman’s breast, they can get away with anything else. The most recent halftime show with Shakira and Jennifer Lopez was ample proof.

What are the head honchos at Netflix going to take away from the current controversy over “Cuties”? Probably that as long as they don’t show 11-year-olds twerking in skimpy outfits, they can show anything else. That’s a very low bar — too low.

A large-scale campaign like the one against “Cuties” certainly has its place. But if you sincerely wish to raise the cultural bar a bit higher, then change must come from the bottom up. Conservative parents need to speak up about their standards in their private interactions. I’m not saying they should go out looking for people to reprimand, but it is wrong to stay silent when the issue presents itself.

For example, it’s increasingly normal for people to leave their TVs on when guests arrive. Sometimes that means your kids get exposed to age-inappropriate content on a giant flatscreen. When that happens, you should ask the host to switch the television off. It’s a small gesture, but at least it’s something. Sure, you might embarrass your kids, but that’s a requirement of being a parent. In fact, if you’re not embarrassing your children on a regular basis, you are probably doing something wrong.

In my experience, many parents just don’t give this issue much thought. They are genuinely surprised when you suggest maybe their five-year-old is too young to be listening to certain music or watching certain videos.

Our culture is constantly telling parents otherwise. In 2011, a YouTube video of two British girls, eight-year-old Sophia Grace and five-year-old Rosie, singing “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj was a huge hit. The song includes the lyrics, “He just gotta give me that look, when he give me that look, then the panties comin’ off.”

If there was any criticism, it was negligible. Instead, Sophia Grace and Rosie were rewarded with an invitation to appear on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to meet Minaj in person. That led to more TV appearances, recording contracts, and children’s books.

In 2020, Sophia Grace and Rosie’s video would likely be condemned — not because it sexualizes children but because it consists of white girls singing a song that includes the N-word.

This is the culture in which people are raising children today. A conservative parent speaking up might be the only time other people hear anyone suggest that exposing children to sexual content is problematic.

Conservative parents should also think hard about what they allow into their homes. “Cuties” wasn’t created in a vacuum. Children’s entertainment that is less overtly sexual has been paving the way for years.

For example, I don’t let my children watch the movie “Frozen,” in part because of the memetics of Elsa singing “Let It Go” while casting off her demure outfit and putting on a much more revealing one. Annie Holmquist writes that after watching that scene, “I suddenly realized why so many of the little preschoolers and grade-school girls I’ve worked with through the years sometimes walk like little prostitutes.”

Elsa sings “Let It Go” just after she has been unkind to her sister and abandoned her kingdom, which is nearly taken over by villains in her absence. The message being sent to girls is that personal fulfillment, represented by Elsa assuming a more sexual persona, takes precedence over the needs or feelings of other people.

I am encouraged to see that Americans are not tolerating “Cuties.” That means there is hope for our culture. If the Janet Jackson controversy in 2004 taught us anything, however, it’s that public outrage must be accompanied by private action. Bringing about meaningful change in the wake of “Cuties” is going take a lot more effort than just canceling your Netflix account.

Emma Elliott Freire is a freelance writer based in Sao Paolo, Brazil. She writes about both English and American culture and politics.

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