• The Grey Squirrel

Cuties Controversy

I am fascinated by the uproar over the movie Cuties. The plot is a warning about the over-sexualization of young girls. The girls are not rewarded for their behavior, in fact, it seems quite the opposite. In the end, the main character realizes the effect of her actions and thinks of the disapproval of her mother.

The Cinemaholic sums it up this way (Netflix’s Cuties Ending, Explained): "Amy’s two worlds collide with one another, each with their unique rite of passage into adulthood. Amy’s familial culture dictates that she must come of age by devoting herself to her family and her future husband. Her new world looks to promiscuity as an indication of adulthood. The only thread connecting the two is that both cultures expect Amy to grow into herself before her time is due. Trapped between rites of passage that, one way or the other, objectify and degrade her, Amy finds herself driven to her wit’s end.

But, at last, Amy finds solace in the simple child-like pleasure of skipping, leaving behind the burdens of repressive traditions and the charade of precociousness. She finds her joie de vivre in simply being a child. She comes of age without giving up on her innocence."

I think the fact that the ad campaign was constructed the way it was tells us more about Americans than about the movie. Likewise, the reaction to it has been a commentary on the ease with which Americans can form opinions about things they haven't watched.

I've seen several people announcing they're canceling Netflix, and I have to wonder if they've canceled their ESPN subscription as well. Sure the argument can be made that the NFL cheerleaders are adults, but where do young girls get the idea that over-sexualized behavior is the mark of desirability and adulthood? Maybe its because their dads boo a kneeling player and cheer for a scantily clad cheerleader shaking her, ahem, pom-poms.

The same goes for Sports Illustrated. They have had cover models as young as 18. The average age when models begin working is between 13 and 16, but we buy up magazines without a second thought. A model is considered old at 22 or 23, and the average career length for a model is only 5 years. Young and hot sells, and our girls see it because we buy it.

Women are told that our value is in our sex appeal through everything from skincare commercials to exercise videos to the May (or January) - December relationships that are the norm in so many movies to the way newscasters dress in short skirts and tight tops. Every commercial telling women how to preserve their youth or presenting desirability as powerful is telling young girls that their value is in their bodies and their sex appeal is the gateway to adulthood.

Girls are told that their sexuality so powerful that they must cover it up so that boys, made weak with lustful desire, can concentrate in school. Just the sight of a shoulder or knee on their budding bodies could cause mass hysteria as though an inch of the upper arm would launch a thousand ships onto a playground Trojan War.

I don't think people are upset about this movie because of the movie. In fact, I don't think that many of the people who are tearing their hair out about it have even watched it or done any level of research about the plot or the message of the film. I mean, it's in French, and Americans aren't famous for loving movies that are dubbed or subbed (how the kids refer to subtitles). Most of the reaction that I've seen has been to the way it was promoted, which is interesting.

In France, the promotion material was very different and quite innocent. In America, the most controversial parts were promoted. So what does that tell us about our culture and what it values? The use of sex appeal and controversy are so time-tested and effective that marketers know that it's the only way to break through and grab our attention nano-spans.

This outrage de jour will pass, as they all do, and we'll go back to buying our girls Bratz dolls and shirts that say "Allergic to Algebra." We'll shout for the cheerleaders dancing in no more than a bra and underwear and buy the eye creams that keep us desirable. We'll forget this movie and our outrage and wonder why girls think that being oversexualized is the path to adulthood.

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