The cuteness surge

By SHARON STEEL  |  February 1, 2008

But isn’t this contradiction — the supposed anti–It People reigning as our newest crowned pin-ups and celebrities — what one would expect of a sensibility that’s metastasized across our culture, spurned on by the warm glow of the Zeitgeist? So much of what we enjoy has been twee-ified: NPR, retro fashion, veganism, urban crafting, blogging on Tumblr, even the awkward, uncomfortable face that the sweatshirt-clad Dawson kept making when she appeared on The View with Moldy Peaches collaborator Adam Green to perform “Anyone Else But You,” Juno’s romantic blankie of a theme song. Her expression seemed to say, “Aren’t I too real, too odd, to be here? Why do all of these people want to listen to me? Will my edgy, strange little songs lose their value now that so many people can hear them?”

Oh, but we do want to listen to her, and her fear at being recognized and over-applauded merely adds to the inexplicable allure. We soothe ourselves with the quatsch paradox, this effortless aptitude some have at promoting their cuteness as a grand ideal — along the way, cuteness becomes an even bigger character than they are. A twist on this maneuver was achieved by a gun enthusiast in California who customized an AR-15 — DIYing an “evil black rifle,” as he deemed it on riflegear.com, into a “cute and cuddly” gift. He painted it Hello Kitty pink, with flower designs and a decal of Kitty herself holding her own firearm, then posted pictures of his wife shooting with it at the gun range.

Quatsch is the new consensus, and while it offers temporary refuge from all the big baddies, it also prevents us from seriously reckoning with it. Big-eyed, agreeable, and utterly unthreatening, it’s striking out at whatever gets between it and its precocious rampage. Instead of hiding from it, we run toward it, unable to decide whether to coo at it or hold it close.

Succumbing to the draw of escapist-entertainment, we relieve our office tedium with 15 minutes a day spent ogling esoteric cat pictures, reading absurdist literature, or watching movies and TV that isolates poseurs while simultaneously promoting them. Quatsch might make you giggle like a school girl, and it might give you reason to put off the search for a decent therapist, but it’s no permanent solution. It isn’t even a tangible safe-haven. The therapeutic potential of a good hug can go only so far.

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