The Right's firestorm over Netflix's acquisition and streaming of the French film, "Cuties" ("Mignonnes") would lead one to believe that they have a zero tolerance policy regarding the sexualization of children.
According to Netflix, the French indie film is actually “a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. It’s an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up — and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”
The film's director, Maïmouna Doucouré, has stated that the movie pulled from elements of her own childhood in its portrayal of 11-year-old Amy’s struggles between "two distinct modes of femininity: one dictated by the traditional values of her Senegalese and Muslim upbringing, the other by Western society."
So, we have a national uproar over a female-directed French film that grapples with society's sexualization of young children. Make no mistake -- this is a film that, otherwise, would have debuted on Netflix with little fanfare, and would have found a modest viewership among fans of international cinema and films that address social issues such as Pihu or The Florida Project --not exactly a broad demographic.
Let's be clear. There is a very big difference between defending the sexualization of children and defending a film about the sexualization of children. It's fair to say that "Leaving Las Vegas" features intense, challenging scenes depicting substance abuse. It's not fair to say that "Leaving Las Vegas" is pro-substance abuse.
("I'll go backstage before a show and everyone's getting dressed and ready and everything else...And you know, no men are anywhere. And I'm allowed to go in because I'm the owner of the pageant. And therefore I'm inspecting it...You know they're standing there with no clothes...And so I sort of get away with things like that.")
What about when Trump sexualized another daughter when asked what he had in common with her? (He replied, "Sex.")
The female director of "Cuties," who wrote and directed the film to shine a light on the sexualization of children, has received death threats as an outflow of the controversy -- a controversy largely fuelled by Trump, GOP figureheads, and conservative commentators.
Meanwhile, a great many of those outraged are supporters of Trump, an admitted sexual predator with a well-documented and long history of very real (and very public) sexualization of children, including allegations of child rape.
Turn it off. That's what I've been told by colleagues, my doctor, friends, and family. The news and social media are designed to keep us outraged and glued to the incessant stream of breaking news and chaos. We wake up in the night, pick up our phones, scan the headlines. Doomscrolling, they call it. Webster has taken note.
The privilege of being able to turn any of this off is not lost on me, as so many don't have the luxury of frivolous escape or self-care. Purposefully turning away from injustice, a public health crisis, and the undermining of American democracy, even for an evening, can feel like acquiescence.
Many of us, however, benefit from getting out of our own heads for a bit, to interrupt the constant stream of chaos. Like the flight attendants say, "Secure your own oxygen mask before helping others."
Hobbies, meditation, exercise, cooking, home improvement, or just being with family are great ways to disconnect. I'm sure most doctors would not recommend television as the best way to disconnect. However, for folks like me whose thoughts and worries tend to remain somewhat present during the above unplugged activities, there's nothing like getting lost in a narrative, another world, or to view life from another perspective to take us out of my real-world worries for a little while.
Thankfully, during this time when scripted film and television production has largely come to a halt due to COVID, there's an abundance of riches at our fingertips due to the explosion of streaming platforms and the race to amass deep catalogs of original programming. Never in history has there been so much quality content available to us.
The following are a few of the shows that have served as an oasis of sorts during this period of darkness, providing much-needed laughs, wisdom, enlightenment, or sheer distraction for a moment.
Stath Lets Flats: A hidden gem currently streaming on HBOMax (two seasons), this British comedy import's premise feels derivative of The Office and Parks & Rec (incompetent but lovable cast of employees shot in documentary style), but the writing and the ensemble cast are so good and so funny that you won't care. The show stars real-life brother and sister Jamie and Natasia Demetriou (you know the former from Fleabag and the latter from What We Do In The Shadows), as Greek-Cypriot transplants working in their father's struggling apartment rental agency. It's consistently gut-bustingly funny, cringe-inducing, and ultimately sweet. And it just took home two BAFTA awards, in case those kinds of accolades help to sell you.
What We Do In The Shadows: I initially resisted this show, which is based on the 2014 mockumentary movie of the same name. I loved the movie, and its characters so much, that I feared the show (featuring different actors in the central roles) might pale in comparison. If you have resisted it for any reason, I can assure you that this is the funniest, smartest, most satisfying and absurd show show on the planet right now. Give it two or three episodes for its characters, its aesthetic, and its world-building to sink their teeth into you. As it turns out, the mostly British starring cast is absolutely perfect, and after two seasons, I can't imagine anyone else in the roles. This has quickly vaulted into my top 3 all-time favorite list.
Brassic: Another British import, Brassic is an incredibly funny, and surprisingly heartfelt comedy-drama about a ragtag bunch of friends stuck in a dead-end Northern town with little opportunity. The main character, Vinnie, is bipolar, and the show is smart (and funny) in its handling of mental health, just as it is with its exploration of class and privilege. The show does a great job of making this madcap pack of ne'er-do-wells, petty criminals, and goofballs completely human and likeable. It's a gem.
Euphoria: If you've seen the ads, you might dismiss it as yet another teen drama. It *is* a teen drama, but there's something really special about Euphoria. Sure, it's incredibly graphic -- nudity, sex, violence, substance abuse, profanity, you name it -- but it's also very real, incredibly honest, and thoroughly compelling, with a top-notch ensemble cast. The characters feel real, and they’re navigating real-world problems: high school, sexuality, gender identity, peer pressure, body image, social media, addiction, abuse, trauma, etc. It's messy, profane, and shocking, much like teen life. But the show treats its characters with great care and authenticity.
I May Destroy You: Like 'Euphoria,' HBO's 'I May Destroy You' is graphic, honest, and authentic, with a stellar cast. Like Euphoria, it unflinchingly explores modern societal issues, mostly relating to consent, sexual assault, and the complex intersectionality of race, class, sexuality, and gender. It's an ambitious show, deftly examining the nuances -- and messiness -- of #MeToo from an array of perspectives. Like Euphoria, it's consistently compelling storytelling with the power to open minds, to educate, and to inform. At times, 'I May Destroy You' and 'Euphoria' get a little heavy, and may not be the escape from reality you might be seeking right now, but I feel like I needed both of these shows. Both have the power to impact how we perceive those who are different from us. Both are reminders that everyone is fighting battles we know nothing about. Both illustrate the importance of looking out for one another, persevering, and questioning even our deepest held convictions.
Undone: Amazon's genre-bending animated series is one of those shows that most people explain by saying, "you just have to see it." According to Amazon, 'Undone' explores "the elastic nature of reality through its central character, Alma. After getting into a near fatal car accident, Alma discovers she has a new relationship with time and uses this ability to find out the truth about her father's death." That's not a bad elevator pitch, but it leaves out the fact that it's visually stunning, using an animation technique called rotoscope to produce the mind-bending visuals necessary to tell this interdimensional time-travel story. Similar to the style of Richard Linklater's 'A Scanner Darkly,' these are real actors (including Rosa Salazar and Bob Odenkirk) playing the roles, but it's as if each frame has been painted over by hand, giving it a dream-like quality, in which characters can float or be transported to another time, space, or dimension. It's a lovely, thought-provoking, and thoroughly engaging meditation on mental illness, loss, grief, family, and heritage.
This Ridley Scott-produced HBO Max sci-fi serial has to be the most pleasant TV surprise of 2020. I'm not a huge sci-fi nerd, although I do count Brazil, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Blade Runner among some of my favorite movies. I like my sci-fi dystopian, aesthetically stunning, intellectually stimulating, and I prefer to do some work rather than be constantly spoon-fed every detail or plot point. Raised by Wolves is all of this and more, exploring the nature of belief, morality, and free will (and so much more). Like Blade Runner, it also explores the nature of artificial intelligence -- at what point is an artificial life human, and can we trust artificial intelligence to make the most ethical/moral choices? While there are many shows that compel you to binge, to devour as much as you can in one sitting, Raised by Wolves is a show to savor. While it moves at a brisk pace, and is never dull, there is so much to take in, and lots to think about. It's a show that rewards repeat viewings, and you may find yourself spending time reading critical analysis of each episode, or brushing up via the show's Fandom wiki. It's a show that takes place in its own unique speculative universe, with its own history, and much of the first season is spent acclimating you to its world-building. Four episodes in, and I'm hoping that the show continues for years -- it's that good.
They were the best of people, they were the worst of people.Trump promised excellence. “I’m going to surround myself with only the best and most serious people,” he said in a 2016 interview with The Washington Post. “We want top of the line professionals.”
Reviewing the history of Trump hirings and firings, a pattern emerges. Like some kind of reverse King Midas, every Trump hire is turned from the best person in the world to the absolute worst person ever, in a very short amount of time.
Let’s have a look at some of Trump’s most jarring 180s of the past several months:
Trump on George Papadopoulos March 2016: “An excellent guy.” October 2017: “Low level volunteer…who has already been proven to be a liar.”
Trump on Omarosa Manigault Newman 2016: “She’s a wonderful woman…She has done so much for me…she is a fine person…you are amazing. She works so hard, she feels so strongly.” 2018: “Wacky Omarosa…She was vicious, but not smart…nasty…a loser…nothing but problems…a lowlife.”
Trump on Steve Bannon October 2017: “I have a very good relationship with Steve Bannon. Steve’s been a friend of mine for a long time. I like Steve a lot. January 2018: “Sloppy Steve Bannon…a dog.” “Poor…a liar.”
Trump on Michael Cohen April 2018: “A fine person with a wonderful family.” July 2018: “Unethical…scumbag. He’s a horrible person.”
There are only a few conclusions we can draw from Trump’s pattern of hiring only the best people who are also really terrible people that he must fire:
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Trump is both a bullsh**ter and a terrible judge of character. Either way, not the qualities you’d want in, say, the treasurer of your homeowners association, or your pet sitter.
Yet, these are the qualities of the man entrusted to make crucial decisions on the behalf of 322 million American citizens. We have a bullsh**ter, who is also a terrible judge of character, sitting in closed-door meetings with a hostile foreign power.
We may not be able to fire him, exactly, but perhaps those who thought Trump was the best person for the job now see that he is, in fact, the worst. Like so many Trump hires, maybe Trump will be sent packing, disparaged by the once-fawning masses as he walks out the door — a fitting return to civilian life for a man who bullsh**ted his way into the White House.
I grew up in the American South ("from away," as Mainers say), an area not often characterized as tolerant or progressive. In my mind, Maine, along with the rest of New England, was a relative oasis of reason and liberal-mindedness. This characterization was partly due to stereotypes about the Northeast, and partly due to actual statistics.
As a North Carolinian who had just seen a hateful same-sex marriage ban enshrined in the state constitution, two things struck me about this case. First, it seemed incredibly brave for a fifth-grader to identify openly as transgender (and for her family to support her). Secondly, it seemed so very un-Maine for a school to discriminate against a transgender fifth-grader.
The story of Nicole Maines’ (and her family’s) struggle for acceptance (wonderfully told in Amy Ellis Nutt’s Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family) is a similar to many stories of civil rights struggles we have seen over and over – a struggle to change attitudes that are often rooted in the fear of otherness. It is the story of combatting ignorance about a very real human condition through education, determination, and outreach. Ultimately, however, it is about persevering, standing for what is right, and staying true to who we are – and doing anything and everything possible to protect our own.
While the Maineses are "from away," their surname seems incredibly apt in the context of their story, their perseverance, and their commitment to leading the way. Dirigo, indeed.
“The hardships of life in Maine have made many of the state’s communities very close-knit. People there are ready to help when a neighbor has a problem.” – Maine, Terry Allan Hicks Nicole Maines’ story could not be a better example of “taking care of one’s own,” a phrase that resonates strongly with Mainers. While the Maineses had to fight a protracted legal battle over discrimination, it's important to note that there were many helpful Mainers along the way who were supportive of the family and of Nicole's gender identity -- including some school administrators, neighbors, and friends. After Nicole (Wyatt, until she publicly began asserting her gender identity) finally wore a dress in 5th grade, classmates said "It's about time."
Nicole’s twin brother Jonas was as protective of his sister as a brother can be. He kept an eye on Nicole at school, always at the ready in the case that Nicole was bullied. When the family was forced to move to King Middle School, where they did not initially disclose Nicole’s transgender status (going stealth, as Nicole called it), Jonas actively protected Nicole's history, often at the expense of his own social life. (Jonas even got into a fight over his sister.) When their father was still not quite accepting of Nicole’s gender identity, it was soft-spoken Jonas who said to his father, “Face it, Dad, you have a son and a daughter.”
Kelly, Nicole’s mother, was the quintessential Maine grizzly mama, taking the lead in ensuring Nicole’s well-being no matter the cost, eventually uprooting Nicole and separating the family so that Nicole could attend school in Portland. It was Kelly who researched gender issues exhaustively, soaking up every bit of information she could to aid in her protection of Nicole (and of the family). Kelly was a problem solver. Early in Nicole’s life, Kelly knew that she needed to devote herself to ensuring the safety of her family, and she was relentless in this devotion. “Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.” - Henry Wadsorth Longfellow
Wayne Maines, like many Maine fathers, was devoted to supporting his family financially, and ensuring that no matter what, they always had a roof over their heads, clothes to wear, and food to eat. Although he was reluctant to accept that Nicole’s gender identity was nothing more than a phase for quite some time, he listened, he learned, he evolved, and finally accepted that his son was indeed a daughter. Nowhere along the way did he love her any less, and his vow to keep her safe never faltered. In a state that has long tradition of rugged masculinity, strength, and resilience, Wayne proves that strength can be exhibited in many ways, whether it be a Republican Air-Force veteran dancing with Nicole at the school father-daughter dance, testifying before the Maine Legislature, or becoming a voice in the effort to protect other trans youth.
As Maine goes, so goes the nation.
"I had to live this journey for 10 years to understand it," Wayne told The Associated Press. "Putting ourselves out there...is important so other parents don't have to take 10 years to understand it."
Describing the book in his own words at Bowdoin College this past October, Wayne Maines said the book “is not just about Nicole Maines, it’s about a family, a blue-collar family that tried to do better.”
Ted Nugent, never one to mince word salads when it comes to Islam, has proposed a 'final solution' for Islamic extremists in his column at WorldNutDaily:
Radical Islam is a global cancer. Shariah law should be seen as the hate speech that it is. Its very essence is a criminal act of sedition, advocating the overthrowing of the U.S. government, punishable by hanging. It must be dealt with now, not tomorrow or next week, or surely this religious cancer will consume the host and darkness will indeed cover the Earth.
This rabid, voodoo threat is very real and right in front of us. We must not shoot just one or two rabid dogs, but to save the human race, we must kill them all.
We don't really expect anything different from The Nuge. He is, after all, the guy who wrote "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang."
But Nugent, in justifying the extermination of the Islamic threat, also voices his deathwish for other "rabid dogs" and "vermin":
I want carjackers dead. I want rapists dead. I want burglars dead. I want child molesters dead. I want the bad guys dead. Let the victims defend themselves in a timely, efficient manner. Double tap center mass. No court case. No plea bargaining, no parole. No time off for good behavior, no early release. I want ‘em dead.
Their victims know who they are and what they are doing. Blow ‘em away and let the crows pick their carcasses clean.