I’m watching the Cutie conundrum play out, spreading a lot faster than COVID ever will. And I am watching the arguments and decisions on both sides as if Banksy had an equal-opposite artist countering his cultural drivel. The push from Christians is quite right, whether I take hold of the battering ram or not on this one. But one thing has confused me about the Christian response. It seems a bit late and a bit too loud, and altogether pointed in the wrong direction.
On Netflix Being Consistent
If you joined Netflix, you joined a video-streaming service that has, from the beginning, played by other rules. Long ago they betrayed your Christian ethic, and I don’t just mean showing or not showing naked bodies. If you don’t believe me, look at the genres they offer, and dig around a bit. Sexual ethics were thrown to the wind when “LGBT” became a category unto itself. And just because they have the “for Children” category, loaded with bright colors and cartoons, doesn’t mean they have a deep Christian theology and philosophy about story-telling or objective truth or even a basic sense of aesthetic delight. If you have paid Netflix over the past few years, you have supported all the ideas that have led to Cuties, and you have paid for those ideas. I have too. The difference is, perhaps, that I expect the world to act like the world, and I expect to censor things for me and my children, long before the director decides that the cinematography ought to include the, heretofore, forbidden. Barnes and Noble has trash literature, and yet I still buy from them. Amazon has trash items, and yet I still buy from them. Netflix has trash movies, it always has, and yet I still get 90% of my movie entertainment from them. I can remember as a boy getting to pick one movie on Friday in Blockbuster, and being sure to walk past that shelf, because those were movies I should not watch. Why? Because that’s what it means to be in the world and not of the world. I’m open to hearing the argument that Netflix should have been off our family’s list years ago, long before the Cutie thing, but the argument will mean very little coming from the vast majority of Christians who still choose far worse institutions and organizations to support, having spent very little time, if any, thinking biblically and soundly through the issues at-hand.
But you can be mad at Netflix. Just don't let your righteous anger stop there. There is no doubt that a platform like Netflix influences hearts and minds. But that is not what Netflix does primarily. At its core, Netflix seeks to meet the market demand. You see, Netflix is doing exactly what Netflix has always done: offer movies and shows they think the consumer wants. The more damning question for you, for me, and for our society is "What does Netflix think we want this?"
On Turning a Blind Eye
Why are Christians surprised by Cuties? This is from 2013. It has been going on for years, in our cities. When it comes to my own daughters, I wrote this over a year ago when we had our own run-in with this mess in Baton Rouge. Have you been to a high-school football game in the past twenty years and watched the halftime show? Have you stepped foot into most public (and private) schools and listened to the music in the classrooms, hallways, and locker rooms? Have you attended a middle school and high school dance? Do see the literature our schools choose for the children, even Christian schools? Do you watch the award shows? Don't join the "Cancel Cutie Culture" unless you're willing to pull your kids from public school, reform the vast majority of Christian schools, or rework the church's concept of "Youth Group." Netflix has not failed our children; parents have. The Church has failed our children. Christian schools have failed our children. We have failed our children.
To the Christians who decide to rise up and protest Netflix over a movie that is, quite clearly, consistent with their business model, I only ask: Where have you been for the past thirty years? Where has that energy been? Where has that cultural and aesthetic fire been? Where have you been regarding Sunday NFL cheerleaders and shopping malls and Coke commercials and Super Bowl halftime shows and college football dance teams? Local churches have bowed down to popular culture in nearly every area, and suddenly we want to retreat to the high ground, because a line has been crossed. But the high ground is a ways off from this valley, a long hike for where the Church finds herself. She had better be ready for years in the wilderness if she decides she truly wants to make the trek.
On Artistic Censorship
Another important part of this discussion is artistic censorship, the kind that crops up quite regularly in societies that prize freedom. It’s easy to have an artistic censorship which takes rifle-tight aim at a single piece of art or a movie or a single corporation or individual behind the art. It is much more difficult, and far deeper, to consider a philosophy of artistic censorship and then live consistently in the midst of an inconsistent world. It is even more difficult to have created a culture in the Church which makes good art and raises good artists, rather than creating a moral mob that censors a bad piece of art, when it so decides.
The church, Christian schools, and Christian families have capitulated to the world’s standard on nearly everything for the past several decades. The Church has not supported mature Christian education, Christian schools have bowed down to the gods of modern education, and Christian parents have gone along for the ride. The Church has not generated a Christian philosophy or theology of the arts, especially film, and we have not purposefully raised up great and God-fearing artists. And suddenly Christians bemoan Netflix. I repeat…
Netflix has not failed our children; parents have. The Church has failed our children. Christian schools have failed our children. We have failed our children.
To be sure, I have not offered here a defense for Netflix. I have not indicated Christians should keep their Netflix account or should not keep it. That's up to you. Rather, I am offering a defense of Christian culture, and a warning that Christians ought to avoid the "Cancel Cutie Culture." I am offering a defense of sanity, a defense of consistency within the Church and those who claim Christ as King, over all things and at all times.