The opening line sets it up nicely: “The powder keg that is porn culture has exploded in the lives of North American children.”
“It” being a new film titled Sext Up KIDS, which is directed by award-winning Canadian documentary filmmaker Maureen Palmer (Leaving Bountiful, How To Divorce & Not Wreck the Kids). The full episode can be watched online here, but failing that, I will review its salient points below.
Right off the bat, we hear a litany of the kinds of putdowns young girls hear every day, all sadly so familiar that I don’t even need to name them. Then, 30 seconds in, our first adult, Ann-Marie MacDonald from the CBC: “welcome to the new childhood.” Uh-oh. My heart sinks. Are we going to be subjected to another diatribe about how everything’s different for this generation (and notice how it’s never in a good way)? I hope not; I hope it’s more balanced than that. Moving on…
Okay, porn. Thanks largely to the internet, but also due to more liberal attitudes toward pornography, it’s far more available to us these days than it’s ever been. The question, then: is this a negative or a positive? I’m kind of guessing which way this film will be leaning, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, or prejudge.
One of the themes that emerges next is the difference between public and private when it comes to sex and sexuality. Does this increasingly blurry boundary pose some hazards for young people? I’d say, yes, potentially. But I’d also say that making sex public can help to demystify it and make it a topic worthy of public discourse instead of hidden away as if it is something shameful. An antidote to the streak of prudishness in North American culture, perhaps.
Anyway, we’re now into the legitimately worrying arena of the sexualization of little girls, which I think most of us can agree is pretty skeevy and unedifying. The documentary then makes the claim that little girls are going from toddlers to teenagers without the intervening childhood (in other words, a younger and younger tweenhood). Really? Clearly, some of them are. The little girls whose parents audition them for shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, for instance. But as a proportion of the general population, how significant is this? It seems fetishistic to me, and therefore an outlier. That’s not to defend it, not one bit. But I wouldn’t want to paint all of society as fetishizing little girls thanks to a few obnoxious talent shows and a bunch of dance videos on YouTube. These things are noteworthy and troubling but they don’t necessarily represent an entire population, let alone an entire generation.
Perhaps the most salient point the documentary makes is that not only do kids consume sexual images in greater numbers, but they can (and do) also produce them. One of the great positives of the internet, this move from consumer to creator of content is now a negative. Apparently.
Okay, these are all legitimate areas for discussion, but I take issue with the emotive rhetoric often employed in such films. Instead of simply asking the questions and finding respectful ways to discuss them, we hear phrases like this: “Forcing kids to grow up in a hypersexualized world.” Forcing? Hypersexualized? Do we all agree on these premises? If not, we’re being subtly manipulated into taking the film’s POV as a given.