Cultural Relativism Makes Me Uncomfortable!

Lindy West Cannot Lie: She Would Be the White Baby

Cultural Relativism Makes Me Uncomfortable!

BABIES The source of all the good and all the evil in the world. Look on babies and despair!

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. recommended


Comments (52) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Your second last paragraph is outstanding.
Posted by j.lee on May 5, 2010 at 12:51 PM · Report this
Belly 2
You are a goddess and this is hilarious!
Posted by Belly on May 5, 2010 at 2:13 PM · Report this
@ 1. Seconded.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on May 5, 2010 at 3:15 PM · Report this
Thanks Lindy, you are coming into your own as a writer... If you don't already, you should be doing stand-up.
Posted by meks on May 5, 2010 at 3:42 PM · Report this
sanguisuga 5
I'm sorry - but, not all females think that babies are CUTE. I skirt around the damn things as if they carried plague. Hell, they probably do. Babies are ICKY, not CUTE.
Posted by sanguisuga on May 5, 2010 at 3:55 PM · Report this
May be your best one yet. Or maybe because I like babies.
Posted by dot on May 5, 2010 at 7:16 PM · Report this
TVDinner 7
Know what's weird about babies? They always have sticky hands. Always.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on May 5, 2010 at 10:48 PM · Report this
ADoodle 8
@5, babies are indeed icky but I'm feeling generous in the babies-are-cute department today after riding the #2 bus overflowing with obnoxious teenagers. Because by comparison, babies are awesome. (Just not awesome enough to have kept me from getting my tubes tied.)
Posted by ADoodle on May 6, 2010 at 12:42 AM · Report this
Posted by gillettebret on May 6, 2010 at 1:05 AM · Report this
Hooray on the penultimate paragraph (so much hooray, you get alliteration)! God, I need to communicate this concept to too many of the people in my life who delude themselves that being irresponsible somehow equates to liberation from the oppressive mores of our society.

On topic: babies are a conundrum. Many look like wee Winston Churchills; some are super cute; all are messy. I suppose at some point I will be involved in raising (and hopefully making) one.

Posted by Captain Awesome on May 6, 2010 at 8:19 AM · Report this
Rotten666 11
Good stuff Lindy. The middle class white lady stuff cracked me up and reminded me of a story the wife told me. A women at yoga told her that she was going to see the Dali Lama (she was a practicing Buddhist), and then described why she was going to call ICE on the "fucking Mexicans" building a house next door to her property. Seems they started too early and interrupted her sleep.

Shit like that makes me adore Seattle.
Posted by Rotten666 on May 6, 2010 at 8:21 AM · Report this
@5: I think they're icky AND cute. Some are more icky than cute, and others much cuter than icky ... all at different times of the day.

It's like how I find sex hot yet hilarious and gross at the same time. Embrace it all!
Posted by Gloria on May 6, 2010 at 9:29 AM · Report this
lame... *yawn*
Posted by jonny goodluck on May 6, 2010 at 9:36 AM · Report this
sanguisuga 14
I was pretty much responding to this line...

"I'm pretty sure it's biologically impossible not to find babies cute—"

If it's biologically impossible, then I'm a super-freak of nature. I'm a woman, and I practice the baby-making as often as I can, but I make damn sure that the expected result never ever ever happens. Although to @8 - I totally and completely see your point!
Posted by sanguisuga on May 6, 2010 at 9:57 AM · Report this
Karl42 15
You know how you can repeat a word over and over again until it loses all sense of meaning and becomes like a mantra?

Great column, but after reading it and the opinions, it's happened with the word "babies."
Posted by Karl42 on May 6, 2010 at 10:58 AM · Report this

The little-known corollary of that fact is that babies can climb up walls like Spiderman. They mostly don't. But they can.
Posted by Judah on May 6, 2010 at 2:51 PM · Report this
I think my baby is cool...other people's kids?..meh..
Posted by wecame on May 7, 2010 at 12:26 PM · Report this
I like babies. I just, never, ever, ever want to give birth to one of them.

If I go and watch the movie, will I spend the first 15 minutes anxiously crossing my legs as they show the birth scene?

...If so, I'll wait 'til it comes out on DVD and I can skip that part. Sort of like adoption.
Posted by mehbabies on May 8, 2010 at 2:04 PM · Report this
Great review.

I am another woman who doesn't automatically think babies are adorable, who isn't drawn to them. I don't hate them. I just don't want to have one. Their massive vulnerability scares me and their stickiness is off-putting.
Posted by know-it-all on May 9, 2010 at 7:30 AM · Report this
@9: Annnnnnnnnnd, don't tell me, let me guess:
You've also got SIX gas guzzling CARS in your driveway, but only TWO of 'em RUN.......?
Posted by joewiseass on May 9, 2010 at 11:07 PM · Report this
@18 & 19:

WHEW---what a breath of fresh, unsticky air! I thought I was the only woman on Earth who felt this way!

I don't hate babies----I just don't feel any burning desire to give birth to any, either.
What is with all the pro-baby glorification?
Women aren't automatically baby machines.
Posted by wileEcoyote on May 9, 2010 at 11:18 PM · Report this
Um...anybody see Children of Men?
Posted by joewiseass on May 9, 2010 at 11:22 PM · Report this
If men could get pregnant there'd be an abortion clinic on every street corner.
Posted by jezebel on May 9, 2010 at 11:24 PM · Report this
They DO get pregnant---it's called a beergut.
Posted by octomom on May 9, 2010 at 11:27 PM · Report this
Foggen 25
I find that my child is increasingly endearing as she grows into more of a relateable person. I was hooked when she was a baby, but the baby-ness wasn't why.
Posted by Foggen on May 10, 2010 at 11:06 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 26
Dexter, the TV series, had the best line on the subject ever:

"Motherfucking rolly-poly, chubby cheeked shit machines."
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on May 10, 2010 at 11:06 AM · Report this
Toasterhedgehog 27
If only we could download into android bodies that are never sticky, or germy, or wet. We could be dry and sterile and never poop or drool or have gross ugly babies with bodily functions. Humanity is fucking disgusting.

That or I've watched too many soap commercials, and internalized the marketing for bleach and other chemicals.
Posted by Toasterhedgehog on May 10, 2010 at 12:20 PM · Report this
blip 28
good news for your friend, she is welcome to raise her baby in a pile of dirt if that makes her happy.

also, this is probably the worst idea for a movie ever.
Posted by blip on May 10, 2010 at 12:22 PM · Report this
yelahneb 29
"Charles Darwin engineered it that way so we don't eat our own young (right?)"

True - but be warned, babies have no such genetic inhibitor when it comes to *you*.
Posted by yelahneb on May 10, 2010 at 12:33 PM · Report this
does a goat really step on a baby in this movie? that's the only reason I'd see this thing.
Posted by CrankyBacon on May 10, 2010 at 1:17 PM · Report this
No, babies are not cute. A few are, but mostly they are icky and annoying.
Posted by lucy990 on May 10, 2010 at 1:28 PM · Report this
No, babies are not cute. A few are, but mostly they are icky and annoying.
Posted by lucy990 on May 10, 2010 at 1:28 PM · Report this
Not cute - loud, smelly, snotty, and annoying.
Posted by lucy990 on May 10, 2010 at 1:29 PM · Report this
You sound like a baby throwing a fit. Put a nipple in your mouth and shut up! You obviously feel bad about being white and american. You voted for obama - didn't that make you feel better
Posted by abba on May 10, 2010 at 2:09 PM · Report this
Note to all: you were once a baby. Yes, you.

And your mother was once pregnant with you and someone kindly gave her a seat on the bus.

Babies are what they are which are little growing human being. Hate their parents but cut them some slack.
Posted by westello on May 10, 2010 at 3:07 PM · Report this
Are you kidding? Um... no pun intended, seriously. I think babies are creepy. I am a woman, too, and I would be seen screaming and fleeing in terror before squealing gleefully over an infant. To me, this is the scariest movie ever made, and I cannot see myself withstanding its horrors any time in the near future.
Posted by Eat_before_awe on May 10, 2010 at 4:00 PM · Report this
Geni 37
I don't hate babies. But I don't want anything to do with them, either. I don't find them particularly cute. They have the same repulsive features as adult humans WRT smells, stickiness, noise, etc., and fewer filters.

I don't want to be around a lot of adult humans either. But babies really do nothing for me at all. I don't want to hold them, I don't want to coo over them, and I certainly don't want to pay money to watch them do baby things on a screen. More power to those of you who like 'em, but no, we're not all invariably biologically programmed to find them adorable.
Posted by Geni on May 10, 2010 at 4:18 PM · Report this
kim in portland 38
I do love babies, children, and am charmed by teenagers. My own kids are like the next best thing to oxygen. I'm a besotted fool for them.

I admire people who honestly feel that kids are not for them. I find that they make my life a better place by reminding me to keep looking beyond my own world.

Anyway, thanks for the laugh. Your last paragraph was wonderful, Lindy.
Posted by kim in portland on May 10, 2010 at 5:29 PM · Report this
I guess I don't actually understand where the "white guilt" lies. From the author's freind's response, as well as the acknowldgment that the baby on the dirt pile was the most amazing baby, it sounds like "white envy" would be more apt.
Posted by ClaClaClaudius on May 10, 2010 at 9:24 PM · Report this
The Darwin line is sublime. Go, Lindy.
Posted by blinged on May 10, 2010 at 11:48 PM · Report this
That biological imperative can be like throwing up. Impossible to ignore.

I didn't think much of babies until I had to watch one for an afternoon. Then click, the machine lit up. Freaking biological response as scary strong as sex.

a few babies later and my machine clicked off, thank you god. Though I still think they're cute, the uncomfortable acquisitive need is gone.

Sounds like the ultimate date movie. Baby porn! Some woman teetering on the edge of need will see the babies, the instinct will kick in and she'll seize the first nearby male (the guy in the seat next to her) to provide the necessary donation.
Posted by kate r on May 11, 2010 at 4:32 AM · Report this
i'm one of the mutants. i'm 34 years old. don't like babies, never have. don't want kids, never have. i have learned to coo for my friends' sakes and be excited for them when they're pregnant, but it is mostly pretend. i have also had to live for most of my life arguing my point of view. being told for years that "it's different when they're yours" and "just wait, you'll change your mind" gets really old. i don't really think babies are cute and don't want the life that goes along with having kids - things like taking an hour to get ready to leave the house to go to the grocery store or driving carpool in a minivan. i'm happy for my friends that have kids when they want to and inspired by friends that have never had kids. it helps me feel less like a mutant.
Posted by alisform on May 11, 2010 at 7:35 AM · Report this
It's odd how babies divide people. At one point I was in camp A, then as I got older and had done a big pile of all the selfish things I felt I needed to do with my life, I slipped into camp B.

Now, I'm firmly in camp B (no turning back past a certain point :p), and old friends still firmly entrenched in Baby-hatin' come off like teenagers. If you stop growing, at some point you turn into a caricature.

One odd benefit: Mormons don't feel like aliens any longer. We have a conduit, a point of connection. I can sorta understand them if I squint a bit. Tho I still don't like mowing the lawn.
Posted by Stowe on May 11, 2010 at 1:49 PM · Report this
Those cute puppies turn into dogs.

Sh*t my kids ruined, the best form of birth control:…
Posted by kate r on May 12, 2010 at 8:03 AM · Report this
Geni 45
My problem isn't with people who choose to have children, and it is certainly not with the children. My problem is with attitudes that regard those of us who are child-free by choice as "selfish" "teenagers" who have "stopped growing."

Puh-lease. I'm 50 years old. I've never wanted children. I never will. I would make a horrible parent. Please, accept our choices as valid too; most of the reason the child-free get defensive, even ugly, about children is because those who choose to have them are so uncomprehending and so casually insulting about it.
Posted by Geni on May 12, 2010 at 11:10 AM · Report this
Agreed: people who are child-free and honest about not wanting kids are perhaps the most unselfish out there. People who have kids like to think about it as being selfless on behalf of their kids, but really it's a different and greater form of selfishness: one in which you can pretend you're a martyr while simultaneously allowing yourself to cut more corners and taking advantage of others (and others' kids) on 'behalf' of your offspring. Yes, children need to be protected, but be honest and admit that many parents twist 'parental instinct' to fulfill their own selfish and stupid wishes. To be fair, it's also because many parents need to convince themselves that they're martyrs because that's the only way they can justify why they're putting up with all of the bad aspects of parenthood. Or because the lack of sleep and depression make you a little loony sometimes. But try to pull your face out of your kids' asses every now and then and make sure you are being rational about how you're 'providing' for 'them.'

Oh, and I think that we can all agree that "parents" who have children just to fit in with society, to live through their kids, or because they just don't give a shit and didn't feel like taking a trip to the abortion clinic are the most selfish ever. At least the childless aren't bringing kids into the world only to make them miserable and at least the other parents are making an honest (if sometimes smarmy and misguided) effort to raise functioning people.
Posted by Mel on May 12, 2010 at 12:40 PM · Report this
@45: My apologies. Sheesh, I wasn't saying that everyone should go make babies. I'm very glad to have grown up in an era when we could choose if and when.

In my social sphere there is a small but loud group that seem hellbent on preserving their early 20s, and act as if the existence of children is the most annoying thing on god's clean earth. Just like we all did. It sounds like you have some equally annoying friends :)
Posted by Stowe on May 13, 2010 at 7:09 AM · Report this
@47 children are not annoying, their eejit parents are. Yes, it is your offspring and yes, they must be raised into adults, but I do not need to witness your child's tantrum at the restaurant where I am eating dinner because mom and/or dad's recent parenting reading dictates that stopping the annoying and rude crying stifles the child's ability to identify his/her emotions, or whatever the latest parenting babble is on the piss poor behavior of the child.

Let's refresh ourselves: obligation is not a dirty word; shame and guilt are what differentiate most of us from sociopaths; and no one but you wants to listen to your child scream in public. Sure, come out into public with everyone else, but the minute Jr let's rip the first wail, get your lazy arse out of your chair and take Jr out of the public venue.

Their are social norms for a reason and if you feel that those norms stifle your child's freedom - move to a place with no other human and let your child run wild and be the next feral child. Otherwise, shut up about the rest of us appreciating your offspring and learn to parent which actually involves the word no and the concept of discipline. It also includes the parents practicing such things as not lying, not breaking the laws including such stupid ones as jay walking and speeding, and developing ethics that go beyond doing what is most expedient at that moment.

On the other hand, I am sure that you are not that type of parent. Unfortunately, there are so many out there who are that those of us who do not have children have been scarred by those others and can only judge you by our past experiences with those parents.
Posted by mimilefay on May 14, 2010 at 2:18 PM · Report this
I don't hate babies (or children, or teens). In fact, there are many that I've loved. I just don't want to raise them any more than I want to take on welding or law enforcement or teaching as a job. Because raising children has always seemed to me to be a pretty important job and perhaps one of the only ones we think just anyone is capable of doing. I'm neither capable nor interested. And for that I've been called selfish and/or childish more than a few times -- by both men and women.

I didn't want to become a chemist either. No one called me selfish for that.
Posted by bouncehouse on May 16, 2010 at 7:17 PM · Report this
@48: Ha! It may make you feel better to know that for every irritating feral family in public, there are a quieter majority of other families present, whom you probably didn't notice. We really do our best to not impose our spawn on you, and quietly seethe along with you. In addition, we take mental notes on what not to do :)
Posted by Stowe on May 18, 2010 at 3:27 PM · Report this
Shit, people, chill the hell out. It's a funny movie review. Jesus.
Posted by Rachel Harper on May 28, 2010 at 12:44 AM · Report this
I never ever wanted kids and people thought I was weird. Then I got Cancer and now I can't have kids... now people feel bad for me instead of thinking I'm a freak! Cancer WIN!
Posted by Freako on May 31, 2010 at 6:16 AM · Report this

Add a comment