That cute Baby Yoda is fooling you, warns Simon May
Ask yourself: why did you, or did your children (your children’s children? “Someone on the internet”?) want that Hello Kitty gadget so much? Or maybe you got caught in the Baby Yoda frenzy, or would say you have grown up with E.T. or Mickey Mouse? If you catch yourself bursting into a somewhat defensive “Well, they were just.. cute”, philosopher Simon May is here to tell you that none of this is really “just” cute, you are fooling yourself.
Or rather, someone else is fooling you. From Mickey Mouse to Baby Yoda, a multimillion dollar industry has been thriving around “cute”. The reasons of this enduring success are manifold, as discussed by May and fellow academic Lucrezia Ercole in front of an attentive audience in the beautiful (and not at all cute!) Basilica Palatina di Santa Barbara.
First off, if you are one of those constantly thrown off by “cute”, if you find it vague and hard to grasp, you are onto something. May thinks the advent of “cute” reflects the indeterminate vision of today, a point he makes without judgement. We increasingly think in spectrums and question or reject binaries. Cute mass-produced objects and icons follow suit in their indeterminacy, not animal nor human or else, unassigned to a sex category and not claiming a specific gender identity.
There is a woundedness inherent in the new “cute”. Hello Kitty has no mouth and only stylised eyes. Lacking in expressivity and voice, “cute” can be marketed as harmless and, in doing so, it flips “the power paradigm”. There is “cute” that exists outside of mass production, that of babies, puppies and kittens, “cute” that we feel compelled to protect. Instead, mass-produced cute, with all its vulnerability and light-heartedness, provides us with a sense of protection, surveys of cute-consumers show.
Mirroring and magnifying Susan Sontag's critique of "Camp", “cute” has managed to "dethrone the serious" on a massive scale. Simon May warns us to take it seriously though, to question our mass seduction with “cute”. Perhaps, after listening to Simon May, we will frown the next time a “#supercute” pervades an influencer’s post or a new “cute” character takes the internet by the storm. After all, “mass seduction” is only a misplaced space and a couple of letters away from “mass education”.