Cuties and Cognitive Dissonance

I could be misreading something, but it sure seems to me that a majority of defenses of Netflix’s indefensible Cuties are coming in from the same groups of folks who cheer the age of the “trigger warning” on university campuses. I’m not sure how one arrives intellectually at the conclusion that Rudyard Kipling and Huck Finn are nuclear, but a movie that would land its creator in prison had it been filmed with a camcorder instead of a film crew is not.

Actually, I take that back. I do know how one arrives at that conclusion: one decides to be for whatever the people one despises are against.

For my money, this is the single most urgent epistemological crisis in American culture. Everywhere I look I see evidence of people whose deepest moral intuitions are negative. They don’t know what they believe, but they definitely know who their enemy is. They don’t have a vision of human flourishing, but they can label the people who will enslave us all. This is deeper and worse than polarization. People can be polarized because they have strongly competing worldview. But what I’m describing doesn’t require any worldview at all. It only requires that you manufacture cultural resentments as efficiently as possible. And then what happens when a particular tribe achieves a political or social victory? I have no idea. Maybe something consistent with worldview X. But maybe something consistent with worldview Y. Who knows? That’s the point. You don’t have believe in anything in order to “win.” You just have to keep the other tribe away from power at all costs.

Against this context, “cognitive dissonance” simply stops being a thing. Cuties is the definition of low-hanging fruit for #MeToo activists; the distinction its defenders have made between depiction and endorsement did not help Salma Hayek when Harvey Weinstein insisted she perform a lewd scene in a Miramax film. If the #MeToo reckoning in the entertainment industry has shown anything at all, it’s shown that the indemnity filmmakers and artists build around their work is disingenuous.

Why then are some of those closest to the cause defending the film? The answer is that the Wrong Kind of People are criticizing it. This is moral formation in the age of the comments section: skip the article, see what Your Kind of People are saying about it, and then join the chorus.

I’ll be honest. I’m increasingly of the mind that the most relevant distinctions in American society are not between Left and Right, but between people with ideas and people with just enemies. The conservative and progressive mindsets may be irreconcilable on many points, but the differences between consciences formed by ideas and those formed by enemies are arguably bigger, deeper, and much harder to control. This may be why both political tribes tend to save their fiercest wrath for those inside the tribe who don’t join every charge against the Enemy. This is painfully obvious within progressive culture, but it happens inside conservatism too (if you doubt me, check Tim Keller’s Twitter mentions).

But this isn’t the worst part. When you exchange ideas for enemies, you open the door for things like Cuties. There are always perverted and unjust opportunists waiting to take advantage of a society too fractured to stop them. It’s how Harvey Weinstein got away with it for years. It’s how QAnon is getting away with it now. The people who can see it for what it is have no voice. The people who could see it if they wanted to refuse to look.

Author: Samuel D. James

Believer, husband, father, acquisitions editor, writer.

11 thoughts on “Cuties and Cognitive Dissonance”

  1. When I began reading this, I thought you were doing the same thing you were about to illustrate. Sorry, I’ve been away for a while and forgot who I was reading. 🙂

    The question I have for you (and this community) is that, given what we know about the nature of these inner rings waging a cultural war with each other, how do we become peacemakers among the various tribes, instead of becoming yet another inner ring with only a knowledge of inner rings?

    You mentioned a guess in the previous post you cited, and it may be a start, but a conversation producing more than guesses is needed – the rings are only multiplying.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great question. I’m not sure if I have a really compelling answer. Whatever else, I think the way to start is in your own life, treasure the gospel above politics and orient your intuitions accordingly. Then speak out of the overflow and others will be encouraged to see that slavish devotion to a tribe isn’t their only option.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this answer is, in turn, a great start. Referring to the teachings of our Lord introduces a commandment to love thy enemies (Mt 5:43-48). Can’t love somebody excluded from your ring. The only way is to leave your ring and go forth into their ring, all while living in a ring of two – you and the Lord.

    Anybody else want to add to this?


    1. ***Here’s the whole context in Matthew 5. Note that Jesus is NOT presenting these as “commandments” in the same way as the Law of Moses, but rather presenting a description of what his disciples should say and do and think in order to be like Him. However, Jesus was at that time speaking to only Jewish followers who were still under the Mosaic Law, and getting them ready for His ultimate sacrifice. In that context, we also need to include Romans 13 from the apostle Paul, who talks about obeying secular authorities, which would have been difficult for both Jewish and Gentile converts to Christ.
      Matthew 5:43-48 43 ¶ “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed. Quite a glaring contrast to what we are seeing on both sides of the aisle. I don’t marvel when this happens among the unregenerate. I marvel when it happens among those who claim the Spirit. “There but for the grace of God go I”, yet that’s precisely the point. I wonder how many are seeing family and friends for perhaps the first time…


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