Inspired by my previous post, I decided to go a little bit culturesque on the blog and elaborate some more on the cuteness culture subject. I wrote that it’s a thing now, but that does not serve as a proper explanation, therefore I would love to provide you with one. Who could have known that Hello Kitty wasn’t just going to be a singular mascot, but also a part of a massive culture movement?
As I mentioned on Wednesday lovely evening, it started in the Country of Cherry Blossoms – kawaii is a japanese equivalent for cuteness. Why was kawaii so succesfully included in the peculiar culture of Japan? Two things: a tendency to glorify infantilism and a tendency to miniaturize all the belongings (the territory of Japan is quite small and the land prices used to be very high, so everybody could own just a tiny piece of land). Of course, whatever is a trend in the culture finds its’ reflection in fashion, so the sweet innocence (and perversion as well, let’s be honest) of Harajuku Girls comes right from kawaii. Now in Japan there are multiple subtypes of kawaii girls: Gothic Lolita, Sweet Lolita, Ganguro (americanized style inspired by Barbie dolls), Kegadoru (girls put bandages on their body and often splash it with fake blood to elicit interest and empathy in the opposite sex). Sounds sick? Yes, it does. And what’s the name of the most popular japanese fashion magazine? “CUTiE”.
Now, about the cuteness itself – what are the exact criteria? There is a specific set of features that needs to be recognized in an object to classify it as cute. Round head, disproportionately big head in relation to the rest of the body, big, round, protruding ears, shapeless nose, unnaturaly low-set eyes, jelly limbs, helpless walk. If you think about it, that description sounds a lot like a newborn or a little animal, which rises a need for care. That’s why we buy Hello Kitty and other products advertised with some clumsy creatures – because on a subconscious level we feel like we should take care of them!
If you’re rising your eyebrow while reading the phrase “on a subconscious level” – you’re quite right to have doubts. The matter of our awareness is being constantly abused in mass media, mostly in attempt to make us “realize” that we need to buy something, but we just don’t know it consciously yet. I, on the other hand, am not trying to sell you any crap, so let’s make it legit: here’s the example of a study (yes, a study, the cuteness culture is an object of interdisciplinary analysis of neurobiologists, psychologists, antropologists, neuromarketers and corporate’s image specialists. Seriously). In 2009 Melanie Glocker conducted a study which uncovered the process of human brain reaction to objects described as cute. The MRI showed that there is a certain cuteness factor located in the oldest part of our brain, also responsible for… nutrition and procreation. Now, how about that?
Anyways, is there any influence on an actual art? Naturally there is. Art is kind of a sponge that absorbs all the things visible (literally or not) in a society, so cuteness aesthetics often shows in different works of art.
Mark Ryden’s Saint Barbie is a criticism of consumerism, beauty terror, body cult and desperate youth chase. Empty face expression of a Barbie doll shows that there’s nothing more than her looks, and the little girl accepts it with no questions.
Another one – also from Mark Ryden – Little Boy Blue seems like a perfectly innocent drawing of a cute boy, except when you notice the Hitlerjugend uniform… Psychology of colors states that pink is a color manifesting life happiness, freshness, optimism and a sense of security. Why is it contrasted with the symbol of hatred and danger, swastika? Probably to ridicule the actions of nazis. Or justify them. Or both?
Láznê Bohdaneč’s DEKA TANKU is an art installation: a military tank painted in pastel pink as a symbol of victory over the soviet regime.
Donut Bunny by Aleksandra Marchocka is sickly cute, again only until you notice the details – white balls aren’t edible cupcake pearls, but tiny skulls… Why? The artist says that there’s something very sweet about rabbits as well as something really disturbing – they look just a little insane (didn’t Lewis Caroll pick up on that over 100 years ago while writing Alice in Wonderland?).
Any Love Magazine fans over here? Each and every time LM cover comes out it’s always about presenting a certain femininity definition. What do you think was this one about?…
FUN FACT TO END THE POST: pink color wave is nearly as fast as the light, so that’s why it wins the race to our sight and, eventually, draws our attention the most. That’s also why many companies decided to change their logos over the past few years 🙂 neuromarketing is real.
(The study I quoted was taken from Melanie Glocker article Baby schema modulates the brain reward system in nulliparous women, 2009)