What makes one thing cute and another grotesque or uncanny? Some of the authors we have read so far suggest objects have inherent properties that make them “open” or “closed,” (Prown) or “masculine” or “feminine” (Czikszentmihalyi). Can something be inherently cute, or is cuteness a property cultures or individuals project onto objects? Beatrice Marovich poses these and other related questions in her essay on “The Powerful Authority of Cute Animals”:
[S]ites like BuzzFeed Animals remind us, daily, of the powerful authority of cute animals, who do cute things that make us stop everything and just look. Researchers are already trying to unlock the enigmatic secrets of this “Power of Kawaii” (Japanese for “cute”). It appears to hold valuable treasures—such as the ability to turn humans (who look at pictures of cute animals) into more productive workers. There are interesting questions to pursue here: what is this “power”, in the first place? Where does it come from? Why does it work? But I won’t pursue them now. Instead, I want to suggest that there’s something in this alleged power that seems to leave animals vulnerable to becoming talismanic.
Although Marovich doesn’t explore the origins of cuteness in depth, she does suggest here that the “power” of cute animals stems–somewhat paradoxically, it seems to me–from their tendency to become objects that exist to fulfill human desires, rather than thinking, active subjects with desires of their own. Hello Kitty’s “mouthless” face, for example, with its “blank and vacant eyes,” confirms Hello Kitty’s lack of interiority. She is a mirror that reflects, or perhaps she’s an empty vessel to be filled with her owner’s thoughts, needs, ideas.
- Could this be why stuffed animals like Hello Kitty are cute, but stuffed animals of another sort–the taxidermied pets Marovich references later in the essay–are “unsettling”? Is a taxidermy animal creepy simply because it’s dead, or because it still retains too much vitality?
Carefully read Marovich’s essay, and use the questions she poses and the different categories (talismanic, cute, edible, alive, dead, stuffed/taxidermied, etc.) she touches upon as a starting point for some quick research. Combine a web search with a search of the library’s eJournals, looking for resources that might help us understand more about the origins of cuteness (or creepiness, ugliness, beauty, etc.) in objects, and to what extent these properties are inherent in things themselves or constructed by the cultures from which they emerge. Craft a post that summarizes the results of your research and provides links or citations to useful resources.
Posting: Group 2
Commenting: Group 1
Category: Cute Things
In your Blog #2 post, you should do more than offer a list of source summaries. Rather, you should frame the summary of your research, as a cohesive response to a research question that is posed or suggested by this prompt. Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog as they’ve been outlined in the Blog Project Description.
Feature Image: “sleepy eyes” by splityarn on Flickr.