Marovich observes that cuteness may be caused by an objects vacuity and humans’ ability to manipulate that space. It seems that what is cute can be determined by what can be controlled and has no power to act upon us. The Hello Kitty doll in Marovich’s essay is a great example of a completely innocuous object that does not hold any type of power, but can act as a vessel for the power that we give it.
On the other hand an object that is not cute, or is unsettling, is an objects that acts upon us, rather than the other way around. Noel Carroll examines what classifies things as unsettling in his paper The Nature of Horror. Although he discusses horror in film he uses academic research about horror and unsettling things to back up his claims. He states that horrific things cause emotional and physical (crawling skin) agitations. Rather than the object acting like a mirror as Marovich states about cute things, horrifying or unsettling things have properties about them that conjures beliefs within us.
But what determines cuteness seems a little more difficult to pin down than what determines horrific and unsettling things. It seems that what is cute often takes on human qualities; Hello Kitty was recently revealed to be a little girl (which I think is uncanny). Cuteness may also be attributed to the vulnerability or innocence of the object, like a newborn child. Maybe the ability of an object to act as if it has its own agency, but actually doesn’t — like the chihuahua described in Marovich essay — can also determine cuteness.
Let me return to Carroll’s essay for a bit, he identifies unsettling things as “impure and unclean.. . .putrid or mouldering things. . .from oozing places” (Carroll 54). He also states that these things, or how we think of these things, are made of dead or rotting flesh and we associate unsettling things with disease and vermin. Because we can be repulsed by it, vomit can be classified as something unsettling; but look at the differences between the videos of cats vomiting (Sorry. Gross, I know):
This at the :28 mark
as opposed to this at the :20 mark
Why is it that we can accept the first one but the second, not so much, when they are essentially doing the same thing?
At one time, my sister wanted a Volkswagen Beetle. When I asked why, she responded that it was cute. I didn’t continue the conversation but I guessed she thought it was cute because it was a comparatively small car. But this cuteness is different than, lets say, a little girl’s miniature tea set; the tea set may invoke memories of being a little girl or raising one. My sister never owned a Beetle and can’t possibly have any attachment to it like the affection towards the tea set. But she can impose her own belief, in objectifying the car, as to how she would be seen if she did drive a Beetle.
If we see a young girl playing with a tea set we may say it was cute, but what if we ran into a grown man playing, just as genuinely, with that same tea set? Would the tea set still be cute or did its association with the grown man degrade its cuteness. Like the videos above, if those were the same cats at different ages would the second be more cute due to that relation?
Because my sister has gotten older and her taste has changed, she no longer cares for the Beetle. If I asked her if it was cute she’d probably respond with indifference; the car is neither cute or un-cute. There are a lot of psychological and sociological mechanisms to both cute and unsettling things that I can’t begin to understand.