Monday, 26 June 2017

The Pernicious Effects of Cuteness


Michael Brandow has a fine piece in Quillette lamenting the rise of cuteness and its pernicious effects on what we are.

Call me a sociopath, but I’ve always had a problem with things conspicuously cute. As a child growing up in the sixties and seventies, unlike most of my peers, I couldn’t help but see something creepy, even sinister in those smiley faces supposed to make us smile. The weird yellow circles with the arched mouths and dead black ovals for eyes, slapped on everything from school binders to rear bumpers and hippie asses, didn’t elicit the warm-and-fuzzy feelings intended, not for me. No more do those favorite emojis on social media today, really just variations on a smiley, make me trust the opinions they’re used to express.

No I don't like emojis either, not because they fail to convey what they are supposed to, but because they are so much more limited than words. Subtleties are lost.

Brandow also describes how Mickey Mouse changed from Walt Disney's original mischievous rodent to something far cuter and less threatening. 

The older Mickey’s ears were gradually ripped back to expose the forehead of a helpless infant. Eyes were swollen as large as any Margaret Keane puppy’s. The snout was crushed to be less wolfish than Wiley Coyote’s, more puggish like a pudgy angel’s button nose. The entire head in relation to the body was infantilized, an enormous bulb bolted to a diminutive body with long, wiry, mobile, unpredictable arms and legs reduced to the fat, dwarfed, lame stumps of a Teletubby or a French bulldog.

The whole piece is a longish but entertaining and interesting read, especially Brandow's references to supposed links between violence on the screen and social violence. He isn't buying it.

Violent crime did skyrocket in the sixties and on through the seventies and eighties, but could scarcely be blamed on Sylvester swallowing Tweety and belching a feather, the sort of gag promptly outlawed by the new cartoon police. Rascally behavior was in fact rising over the very decades when children’s shows were being mollified, apparently with opposite the intended effect.

Towards the end we have this observation about social media.

Behind those smiley faces, I’ll say again, is something grim, and learning later in life that it wasn’t just me, that icons are, indeed, open to interpretation, has been no solace. As an author and journalist, I remember feeling disappointed and demoralized to see intellectuals I respected, fellow writers, and heads of the few remaining serious, independent publishing houses, finally jump ship and hop in the clown car with the kiddies. After mocking the latest video games, they lowered themselves to Facebook, and worse, Twitter, a forum that reduces the most complex ideas to the slick, smug brevity of an advertizing pitch, where knowledge is vast but shallow, truth is based on consensus, and almost no one reads beyond the catchy one-liners, or a tangled mess of links added to reinforce gut feelings.


Michael said...

Very interesting article!

I can't however, recall too may ET dolls, as any kid waking up in the night and seeing a face like that would have screamed the house down...

Demetrius said...

I thought I saw a pussy cat a' creeping up on me! I did! I did! A pussy cat as big as he can be!!! But why I ask, were my sympathies always with Sylvester?

A K Haart said...

Scrobs - yet ET was cute within the context of the film.

Demetrius - perhaps because unlike Jerry mouse, Tweetie Pie was a pampered pet.