author: annie trussler | op-ed editor
Netflix comedy and the normalization of child sexualization
Content warning: sexual content, sexualization of children.
In order to begin this article, I must first impress upon all readers that I hold a very strong, strangely radical belief: children are not sexy. I know, as baffling as this statement might be, I stand by my convictions – the sexualization of children is repulsive, not cute, which is why I thought to write an article about Bigmouth altogether.
Bigmouth, a Netflix original, is a show that follows the pubescent lives of Nick Birch, Andrew Glouberman, and their peers as they navigate the often-tumultuous journey of puberty. The show makes use of monstrous sidekicks (General, Maurice, Connie, Rick, all “hormone monsters”) to help guide their ill-fated protagonists through acne, stretch marks, and sex. Netflix spared no grotesquery, with twelve-year-old boners and explicit fantasies portrayed liberally, crudely, and with a naivety only those seeking wealth employ.
With all of this being said, I return to my radical conclusion: children are not sexy.
When I first heard word that Netflix was finally throwing together an animated show geared toward adults, I admit that I was simultaneously hesitant and wary. While Netflix can produce gems like The Keepers and Stranger Things, it can also produce garbage fires like Iron Fist, Haters Back Off, and now this creepy, pedophilic amalgamation of once trusted comedian voice talents.
Let’s dive right into the heart of the issue here: while, yes, all of us do (unfortunately) suffer the horrors of puberty, one’s pubescent desires and physical changes are not meant for adult comedy. The sexual organs, growth, and development of children is an issue that is not only very private, but one that should not, under any circumstance, be sexualized by adults, then to be consumed by all ages.
In an ad for the program – the very first of its kind – Nick sits in bed with an erection, distraught by his situation and life’s foibles. I remember watching this ad in passing, stopping what I was doing, and re-watching just to be certain my tired eyes had not deceived me. I was looking, much to my confusion and repulsion, at the animated outline of a thirteen-year-old’s penis. Someone had sat down and drawn the rough silhouette of a child’s genitals, and I was then forced to look at this silhouette simply by opening Netflix.
I am twenty-one years old. I am not one for extreme censorship, nor do I believe the realities of the world should be watered down in fiction, but I do believe all approaches to such things must be done with a touch of finesse. I firmly believe that children do, in fact, need media representation involving puberty and sexual growth; I also firmly believe that this representation should never be done for comedic or sexual purposes.
If I remember anything about pubescence, it’s that I felt vulnerable. Like everyone my age, I felt ugly, unaccepted, and most of all, subject to the cruelty of the adult stare. Older men would begin to look at young, young women, and suddenly we were meant to be on the defense at all times, without question. There was never a time I did not feel weak in front of men my age or older – we were all, as children, suddenly sexual beings. I was unprepared, my friends were unprepared, and every child I know now is still super, super unprepared.
This show was widely advertised all over Netflix itself – it was paraded as the site’s main banner for several weeks, and one could not seemingly go anywhere without hearing about its cutting-edge wit. Children of all ages access Netflix multiple times daily, and so it is without a doubt that children from the ages of 5-15 have at least heard or even seen Bigmouth. This is the beginning of normalizing pedophilia.
Everyone put your pitchforks down; I am not making an absurd claim. Everyone has modelled some part of their lives after what they’ve seen on television, and there is no better time to be susceptible than pubescence.
There is more at stake here. There are an unfortunate number of adults in our world that sexually desire children, and how better to sate these needs than with a good old Netflix binge?
I ask you now to reflect on other, non-comedic, live-action media – imagine if they appropriated the same storylines, minus the graphic humour, colourful animation, and star-studded cast. Imagine an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where the focus of the episode is how funny a depicted thirteen-year-old’s penis is. I can tell you, I have seen a hefty amount of Grey’s Anatomy, and any stories involving children have never been explicitly sexual in nature. It is almost as Shonda Rhimes is fully aware that children shouldn’t be sexualized for mass entertainment.
Every episode explicitly focuses on the uncomfortable, developing sex lives of pubescent children – jokes aside, I am really, and genuinely curious as to how this sort of thing qualifies as entertainment. Given the amount of pedophilic rhetoric being spewed by Hollywood nowadays, I would think we, as consumers, should know better than to accept this low level of “entertainment.” Or, perhaps, I’m just being too sensitive.
Children are becoming sexually active earlier and earlier. Girls as young as thirteen have killed themselves over nude photos; twelve-year-old boys that are assaulted by older women are told to toughen up, because society teaches them that this is what they should want. There is a pattern here, and it’s shows like Bigmouth that enforce it for all of us.
The world must be made safer for children. Again, I’m not referring to extreme censorship; I am only referring to the idea that children should be sexual objects. Children deserve to grow into pubescence without fear of sexualization, predatory behaviour, or scrutiny from adults. Children deserve to be children. Maybe watch Grey’s, instead.