Key TakeawaysCuties has caused Netflix a record-breaking number of subscription cancellations amid social media backlash.The social media mob against Cuties leverages their power to snuff out instances of positive reactions across the internet landscape.Cancel culture remains a cudgel for terminally online people as it's weaponized for a myriad of purposes.
French coming-of-age film Cuties has become a lightning rod of controversy and hot takes as the provocative film's Netflix debut comes on the heels of a weeks-long hate campaign.
Social media has been ablaze with a #CancelNetflix brigade and new data shows a high rate of subscription cancellation for the streaming company. The asymmetrical conversation brought about by the film's perceived content has become the latest in a long line of cultural hedge issues igniting conversations on cancel culture and the ability of social media to bend corporations to their will.
"Creators are scared, and YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook all sell confirmation bias."
“I wanted to make a film in the hope of starting a conversation about the sexualization of children,” auteur and Cuties director Maïmouna Doucouré wrote in an op-ed published in The Washington Post. “The movie has certainly started a debate, though not the one that I intended.”
The debate has grown beyond a simple social media conversation, stretching into the world of mainstream politics. On Sept. 18, 33 Republican congressmen signed a letter calling for the Department of Justice to prosecute Netflix executives on child pornography charges for the release of the film. Former Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard wrote a Twitter screed suggesting the film will play a role in the proliferation of the child sex trafficking industry.
While subscription cancellations have seen multi-year record highs since Cuties' digital release, the old adage that all publicity is good publicity seems to ring true as well. The film has remained in the top 10 of Netflix's most-streamed movies and television shows on the US platform. Video-on-demand streaming chart aggregator FlixPatrol compiled daily data and found that since its release, the film has consistently maintained a top 20 position on US Netflix.
The great irony of cancellation campaigns is their ability to evoke an interest in consumer audiences. Often, regardless of how controversial the topic, artist, or company, these nebulous cancellation campaigns have an inconclusive effect—but the terminally online mob remains.
Facing Down the Mob
You don't have to go very far to see the seemingly universal negative reaction Cuties has generated via social media. Videos on YouTube lambasting the film have garnered hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of views. Many are low effort, attempting to game the algorithm by discussing a hot-button topic, but others are more honest critiques of the film and what reviewers see as unethical media practices.
Standing out among the crowd is 35-year-old YouTuber Max Karson whose channel, mrgirl, has become a character in the Cuties saga. After publishing a positive, nuanced review of the film on September 10, an immediate backlash began to swell. The video has accumulated over 250,000 views with a like-to-dislike ratio of 1200 to 76,000. Accusations of child grooming and allusions to a far-right conspiracy theory about liberal cabals of child traffickers litter his comment section.
“I'm trying to have nuanced discussions on a platform that isn't very nuanced,” Karson said in a phone interview. “That's why my channel is running into trouble.”
Much like the film itself, Karson has become an example of the power of social media mob action: creating a subgenre of reaction videos to his review. Videos with his face pop up in YouTube searches about the film and he has become the face of the Cuties defense task force. With an average watch time of three minutes on his 24-minute video, according to his YouTube analytics, Karson believes this is indicative of a larger trend in online discourse.
“Creators are scared, and YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook all sell confirmation bias. Most creators are trying to tell the audience what they want to hear. To me, a creator's review of the film, especially if they haven't seen it, is a reflection of what they view is the safest take they can have,” he said. “They try to dress up their takes to be interesting and creative... but underneath that is a lot of fear of being seen as weird or different.”
The controversy has moved past the simple keystrokes of internet sleuths, which often comes with popular social media campaigns. The debate surrounding the film has been on a decline, but the internet's current fixation on child sexual abuse, both real and imagined, is likely to continue stirring as the commentariat attempts to leverage potential outrage against the backdrop of America's ever-growing cultural divide.