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The Cuties Controversy: Prefiguration, ‘Sexualisation’, and the New Conspiracism.

McCulloch, R. and Proctor, W., 2023. The Cuties Controversy: Prefiguration, ‘Sexualisation’, and the New Conspiracism. Participations, 19 (3), 86-157.

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In this article, we draw on Martin Barker’s extensive body of work on film audiences and controversial media to explore the media furore around Maïmouna Doucouré’s Cuties(2020). When streamed on Netflix, several conservative groupings, including US Republican politicians, right-wing news outlets and Christian bloggers, led an intensely moralising campaign, largely shaped by outrage at Cuties’ representation of pre-adolescent girlhood. Deploying Barker’s techniques of examination of the implicit assumptions and ‘evidence’ that underpin responses to controversial media, our analysis draws out the working ‘figures of the audience’ to tell the story of the Cuties controversy. In particular, we highlight the different ways that arguments and debates about the film turned on these imagined and imaginary audience figurations that were deployed in the service of specific ideological positions. The article is comprised of four sections. It begins by exploring how Cuties became a cause célèbre before the film was even released, with discourses of ‘pornography’ and ‘paedophilia’ initially being established and structured through criticism of prefigurative materials rather than interpretations of the film itself. The two sections that follow examine claims made by Republican politicians and right-wing commentators about Cuties’ alleged potential to ‘sexualise’ young girls and to normalise or even instigate paedophilia. We place these ideologically-charged arguments around childhood protection into historical context, locating the emotional and rhetorical core of the controversy in ‘common-sense’ beliefs and ‘figures of the child’ that emerged in the nineteenth century and were developed further in the latter half of the twentieth century; beliefs that continue to dominate debates about girlhood sexualities and the perils they face today. The final section then explores the ways in which opposition to Cuties overlapped with conspiracy theories like those articulated by QAnon, placing the discourse in the context of what Muirhead and Rosenblum (2019) term ‘the new conspiracism’. Ultimately, we use the controversy to draw attention to the propagandising activities of political entrepreneurs, who were not simply reacting to a film they disliked but were instead seizing upon Cuties as a way of furthering their own (conservative) ideological agendas

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:Cuties; Figures of the audience; Martin Barker; Sexualisation; Child pornography; Sex trafficking; paedophilia; Media effects; Conspiracy theory; Conspiracism; QAnon; Sound of Freedom
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:39816
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:14 May 2024 06:09
Last Modified:14 May 2024 06:09


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