Cultural Relativism Makes Me Uncomfortable!
Lindy West Cannot Lie: She Would Be the White Baby
Sure, babies are great. Without babies, there would be no people. Without babies, there would be no submarine sandwiches, or robot vacuum cleaners, or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson,or sexual intercourse. Because babies are where adults come from, and adults are responsible for all the best shit that exists. Which also means that without babies there would be no racism, or famine, or Stephen Baldwin. Babies are dicks who don't care if their poop gets on you or if you die in a famine. Such is the paradox of babies. Okay.
Babies the movie is a brand-new piece of, um—I don't want to call it baby porn, because that sounds wrong—baby-lover porn, I guess. Yeah, that's better. Anyway, it's a documentary about babies, where every cute squirt and fat squiggle is beautifully filmed and formulated to make female adult babies cry a little and make high-pitched noises. Like actual babies! (Paradox.) Wait, "female adult babies" sounds wrong. But you know what I mean. Anyway!
There are four babies: American Baby, Japanese Baby, Namibian Baby, and Mongolian Baby. Babies chronicles the first year in the life of each, from the earliest moments of screaming red wetness, to the part when they eat food out of their mom's boob, to the part when they kind of stand up a little bit, to the part when they urinate into the air like a tiny yellow geyser. You know, the stuff babies do. Watching Babies, you will learn many things. The look and attitude of house cats around the world, for instance. And how much moms love their babies, and how relaxing it is to be loved so much. And also the endless number of things that babies are too dumb not to put in their mouths: dirt, old bones, grandma fingers, dog tongue. Foreign babies: They're just as gross and weird as domestic babies!
Let me get this out of the way before I get back to making fun of babies and Babies—the babies are fucking CUTE. I declare Namibian Baby to be most charming, Mongolian Baby most hilarious, Japanese Baby most so-so, and American Baby most least-memorable. I'm pretty sure it's biologically impossible not to find babies cute—Charles Darwin engineered it that way so we don't eat our own young (right?). But with zero dialogue and less plot, it's easy to doze off a little bit during Babies. The action is on such a tiny scale (ranging from first haircut to playing with one's own foot) that it doesn't easily sustain a 79-minute movie. A far more interesting and thorny aspect of the film is the opportunity for international voyeurism: views of unreal Mongolian steppes (best landscape ever?), a robot crib rocking Japanese Baby in an empty Tokyo high-rise, a Namibian mother scraping baby poop off her leg with a desiccated corncob, American parents with too much time on their hands freaking out over nothing while Mongolian Baby literally sleeps with a live rooster.
Babies stirs up a shade of white guilt that's awkward to acknowledge but even more awkward to ignore. Watching the film, hopping back and forth between wildly disparate cultures, one thought is constant: Which baby would I like to be? Where would I like to raise my baby? Which baby is best? After the screening, a friend came up to me and announced—thrilled, unsolicited—that SHE would be the NAMIBIAN baby. Certainly not the Tokyo baby (it's too crowded there). Certainly not the white baby. Here's the thing. No you wouldn't. I'm sorry, but you would be the white baby. The Namibian baby (though it is the cutest!) sits in a pile of red dirt all day and plays with a bone. Once in a while, a goat comes by and steps on it. Like the other babies, it is lovin' life, it is healthy and deeply cared for, but we can see its future right there on the screen: It will grow up, it will sit in a pile of red dirt all day and care for its baby, and once in a while a goat will come by and step on it. Which is, of course, fine. Whatever. But you, middle-class white lady from Seattle, would be the goddamn American baby and you know it, because as much as you want me to know about your superliberal cultural relativism, you cannot live outside of it. You would rather eat hamburgers and go to college and know who Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is than enjoy whatever noble simplicity supposedly exists in that pile of dirt. Not because it's better but because it's true.
But anyway, babies are adorable and Babies is worth watching. Also, call your mother.