nancylebov (nancylebov) wrote,
nancylebov
nancylebov

A ramble about cuteness

NPR's Studio 360 had a segment on cuteness--the primary interviewee was Gary Cross, author of _The Cute and the Cool_.

I remember a poster I saw at the Native American museum at Niagara Falls which explained that Native Americans don't have a concept of cute--iirc, they think an eight-year old being competent is simply a good thing. They don't coo about it.

I think I understood something about the status issues around cuteness when I was a kid--I would *not* wear ruffles. (Not a big fight--my mother accepted it as a preference--but something I immediately disqualifed clothing for.)

Cross talked about "cute" being a relatively recent invention--iirc, just a couple of centuries old. The word comes from "acute", and originally referred to manipulativeness. There's a vestige of that meaning in "don't get cute with me". However, (presumably associated with the drop in infant and child mortality) it came mean taking pleasure in naughtiness/seductiveness. I don't think he said anything about difference between seeing a child as cute because they're getting away with something small and seeing a child as cute because they're innocent/ignorant. He did talk about cuteness as an attempt to get access to a more delighted appreciation of the world than adults can generallly manage.

And there was somewhat about tormenting teenagers with videos of when they were kids. Maybe if I had children, I'd feel a need for some socially sanctioned aggression against them, but I just can't see doing that to someone I liked.

There was somewhat about Murakami's theory that Japan is the world center of *cute!!* because they were so emphatically defeated in WWII and aren't allowed to be a military power. It's an interesting theory, but doesn't address why Germany hasn't, afaik, developed a cuteness culture, nor does it distinguish between making and buying huge quantities of Hello Kitty stuff vs. presenting oneself as cute.

Then there was serious artists getting permission to be unironically cute, starting sometimes in the 80's. It was interesting to see somewhat about how tight the social controls were on artists. (They may be just as tight now, for all I know.) Keith Haring's art was some of the first to be relatively cute, or at least straightforwardly cheerful, though iirc he didn't do the big eyes thing.

And about that MIT experiment of making a cute computer with big eyes and a high voice, with the idea that if computers are cute, we'll treat them better and they'll be less likely to be hostile to us, and the alternate reading of Frankenstein as a creation which was neglected and abandoned because it was ugly.
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