By now, you almost certainly have heard that there is a movement to cancel Netflix because the streaming service has caused waves by featuring a French film titled “Cuties”. The controversy is simple at its core: pre-teen girls are apparently exploring their sexuality. And even the advertising posters Netflix had been using were provocative in that it looks like clear sexual exploitation of young girls. We do not need to watch it to know there is something severely messed up about that. And regardless of whether it glorifies what the girls are doing, or merely portrays an honest look at a coming-of-age story, it is utterly perverse. It should be gross to anyone with any sense of decency. There is no justification for it.
This has led to a understandable reaction from many of our friends, and especially our Christian friends: Cancel Netflix. As the staff of Rambling Ever On discussed this, we discovered that our personal reactions differed. Both from each other’s and from the vocal, public response. Today Phill and Gowdy would like to dialogue about those differences.
On Canceling Netflix
Gowdy: I confess that I have long been opposed to boycotting or (to use the 2020 word) “canceling” things. I even wrote about this for our web site in 2017 when controversy arose around the live action “Beauty and the Beast” film over the introduction of a gay character. It has never suited my personality or goals as a Christian to do so. I have felt I can make a difference by not avoiding every offensive thing our culture puts out. So long as it doesn’t cause me to sin.
I canceled Netflix, however. It is not easy to say why. Seeing as how Netflix has produced or featured godless movies and TV shows before, I do not know if I can articulate perfectly why this was different. It was not a bandwagon decision for me and my wife, or even one I had planned on discussing publicly. I am doing so because maybe bouncing my thoughts off of Phill’s can help others.
I think choosing to cancel Netflix has to do in part with how psychologically challenging 2020 has been. Between the virus and wars about racial justice, social media has been more volatile and discouraging than ever. And that is saying something. I’ve had to take more breaks from it than normal. Even then I have not been able to avoid the trauma of it all. In part because as a pastor I cannot have my head in sand. I need to be involved in the messiness of reality. I just think the last thing my wife and I needed was something else to cause us distress. We could easily keep Netflix and just avoid Cuties. But we needed to do something practical to relieve some tension media brings to our everyday life. Netflix was something tangible we could discard.
I make no judgment on anyone who decides to keep Netflx. This was a personal and (assumed to be) private decision for my family.
On Keeping Netflix
Phill: I would love to claim I have an ironclad defense for why I have decided to not cancel our Netflix account. That’s not to imply that I haven’t thought long and hard about it. I’ve discussed it with my wife as well, and we are on the same page. We are keeping our account for now. A few pertinent pieces of information that might help illuminate why we feel the way we do.
First, let me add my voice to Gowdy’s as well as the thousands of others who are appalled with the film, “Cuties.” It’s revolting and wrong. Full stop. No, I haven’t seen the film, but I’ve seen enough and read enough to feel justified in my condemnation of the film. The initial poster Netflix released was bad enough, though no worse than long-running TV shows like “Dance Moms”. Netflix did apologize for the poster, saying it did not represent the film well.
Sadly, as bad as the poster was, the film itself is worse. A short clip of a dance routine the girls do in the film was posted on social media a little over a week ago. The clip was around three minutes long. I was able to watch less than 45 second of it. There is absolutely no justification for sexually exploiting young girls in the name of condemning sexual exploitation of young girls, yet that is exactly what defenders of the film and the filmmakers themselves are trying to sell us. It is a damnable lie and no one should fall for it.
Second, I completely understand and respect those who are canceling their Netflix subscriptions. I get it. If that is what you feel is best for you and your family, I cannot and will not criticize you.
Now, why have I not canceled our subscription? That’s a massively loaded and complicated question so I will do my best to strip it down to the basics.
First, I don’t know where we actually draw the line in our support for massive companies and corporations. If you watch a Disney film, you are supporting so much more than just that film and some of the things you are supporting as just as sinful and damaging as a film like “Cuties.” Same goes for where you pump your gas, buy your groceries, and which restaurants you visit. There is a never ending connectivity between the things we consume, buy, and enjoy and all sorts of evil. Canceling Netflix might send a signal to Netflix which causes them to reverse course in this area. I truly hope it does, though I’m not convinced it will.
Second, I loathe cancel culture. Most of the time, it’s conservatives and Christians who are on the receiving end of the canceling, but this time the tables have turned. The very thing most of us hate has now become our weapon. That does not sit well with me. Most of the people I know, either personally or through social media, who have canceled Netflix and posted about are coming from the right place. I have no doubt of that. But, my guess is many people around the country who are jumping on this latest boycott are in it for the sense of self-righteousness and in some ill-conceived attempt to fight back. I’m not sure that is the best approach.
Those are some of my thoughts on this controversy. I can honestly say I’m still grappling with it and I am willing to have my mind changed.
Be Fully Convinced In Your Own Mind
Gowdy: I deeply appreciate those thoughts, Phill. They resonate with me deeply. And although I went the other way on the decision, I do not disagree with anything you said. What you said is very similar to how I felt when the mob came after Chic-Fil-A months (though it seems like years) ago.
One thing I shared with the REO staff when I pitched the idea for this article was that in preaching Ezra and Nehemiah to my church currently, I noticed that when Ezra traveled through dangerous areas, he did not ask for help or protection. Because God was going to protect him. Nehemiah, on the other hand, asked the king for help and protection. Who was right? What if they both were? We err so often, even (especially) in the church when we attempt to make how we live a one-size-fits-all experience. There is great freedom in Christ, so long as we do not use our freedom to indulge the flesh.
And we are also taught in Romans 14 that each one should “be fully convinced in his own mind” about convictions. Which means within our freedom in Christ we can differ in how we live. To Paul, you could eat all foods, while others chose to abstain from some. For us, you can keep Netflix and others can choose to abstain. We do not use our freedom to cause offense to others, yet we also do not use our offenses to take away others’ freedom.
So as previously stated I’m not judging anyone for keeping it and I’m also not judging anyone for advocating publicly to cancel it, so long as they understand this is not a sin issue. Watching Cuties may be, but keeping or canceling Netflix is secondary.
Regardless, Speak Out Against Injustice
Phill: Gowdy, thanks for bringing this back to God’s word. I wish that was always the first place I would turn when confronted with a difficult decision or idea. Usually, I think I am wise enough to figure it out myself. Spoiler alert: I’m not.
I agree there doesn’t seem to be a right answer to this debate. I respect both sides of the #CancelNetflix conversation, as long as they fall into the two camps we have attempted to describe here. On the other hand, I have been greatly disheartened to read Christian film critics come out in defense of this film and use their defense as a bludgeon against fellow Christians. In fact, the film critic who did the most to shape my appreciation for film has tacitly endorsed the film, though he himself has not seen it yet. He is pointing readers to another Christian film critic’s articles about the film and the controversy, and she has definitely defended it. It’s heartbreaking when even Christians can’t see the vileness of a film like “Cuties” no matter what message the film ostensibly conveys.
My advice is simple: Speak out against evil. It is still ok to do that in 2020. Take a stand. If you feel that stand includes canceling Netflix, go for it with my blessing. If you believe you can keep your Netflix subscription even though you still have substantial problems with this film in particular as well as some of their other content, you have my blessing as well. But in all this stand taking, please remember to do it with love and compassion. It helps no one to yell and attack, spitting vitriol on social media. Our voices should be raised to protect the vulnerable and the exploited, like the young girls in this movie.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive look at the issue or the totality of either man’s thoughts. As such, we enthusiastically welcome feedback below.