All this talk about eyes and cuteness has got me thinking about the attraction of cuteness – or “kawaii” as it is called in Japan where it has become such a huge phenomenon. I have been doing a little reading and web browsing and have come up with some interesting articles around the topic:

How Hello Kitty Came to Rule the World by Edward Gomez in the SFGate July 14, 2004. Gomez looks at the product, the marketing and the culture that surrounds Sanrino Company’s biggest icon and the original kawaii character. “women became servants to their salarymen husbands who brought home the bacon but rarely saw their kids. Stuck in new, remote bedroom communities [outside big cities], women wanted comfort, and Hello Kitty, with her soft features and homespun story, was just the kind of nurturing creature to help them escape the hostile, industrialized urban world.”

Wired Magazine’s article Cute Inc from issue 7.12 1999.
“Tarepanda (“droopy panda”), a genderless sandbag of a bear so weak that it cannot walk, but has to roll slowly from place to place (at 2.75 meters per hour, according to company literature). ‘At first we worried because it doesn’t look like it’s alive,’ Suemasa recalls. ‘But this turned out to be one of the elements that made it sell.'”

Cute by Kitty Hauser from the London Review of Books, April 2004. “Cute culture has thrown Richie and other writers off track because it doesn’t conform to what the baby boomer generation expects of youth culture. Cute is not rebellious – at least not in any obvious way. It isn’t cool. It doesn’t seem to be about sex. It doesn’t want to overthrow capitalism – cute is hooked on brand-names. It is cosy, not angry.”

The Cute and The Anti-cute
, Daniel Harris (author of Cute, Quaint, Hungry, and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism) Harper’s July 1993. Worth reading – interesting if not brief (it’s an extract) and cynical look at the aesthetics of cuteness.
“Cuteness is not an aesthetic in the ordinary sense of the word and must not be mistaken for the physically appealing, the attractive. In fact, it is closely linked to the grotesque, the malformed. The grotesque is cute because the grotesque is pitiable, and pity is the primary emotion of this seductive and manipulative aesthetic, which arouses our sympathies by creating anatomical pariahs, like E.T. or the Cabbage Patch Kids.”

More stuff on cute: Cute Formalism, All things Kawii, and a very brief thing on “babyfaceness” with some of the key facial features.

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16 Responses

  1. Thanks for the link! Christine Yano of the University of Hawaii contact me at some point as part of her research into “cute culture,” and may be able to provide additional information. Quite an interesting subject!

  2. says:

    This is so interesting and quirky – my multimedia lecturer and I were having a conversation centred around this exact topic this morning, (after watching half a documentary last night about what makes people attractive on the ABC)… my “homework” tonight was to look up some more information about the ideology of “cute” or “cute-ificiation”. I know Melbourne-based artist/lecturer Martine Corompt has looked into the idea in a fair bit of detail (for some reason, I figure you have either heard of her or know her but here’s the address of her website anyway – The characters she draws are very much based on big, expressive eyes and end up being inexplicably “cute”. Anyway! This was just a message to say thankyou so much for saving me work with all your links, have a lovely evening!

  3. Ah Lyndsay, what’s even stranger is that I just emailed a friend yesterday saying “what was the name of that lecturer you had who was investigating ‘cute’ — I think her name started with an M, can you send me the link?” and here you are telling me anyway!!!

  4. Very interesting stuff Claire! Funny how you’ve been talking about eyes and cuteness. I’ve been doing some research of my own for promotional purposes. My illustration style is wide-eyed & cute and I’ve heard comment after comment about how reasearch was done and children love big eyed characters. That’s why there are a lot of frogs on kids related materials. Very interesting! Thanks for all the links!

  5. darnit clairethis post just made my day!
    thank you thank you thank you.

    i am officially a little obsessed with cute culture.

    hee hee.


    ps…love the post on eye making…at the monster factory we struggle with eye design all the time. it really is integeral. i find embrodery to be a great tool…hey we have a new side project…check it:

  6. that’s reallyinteresting…

  7. I’m still sooo addicted to Hello Kitty. I’d give anything for some Hello Kitty Strawberry gum right now too!

  8. Hi Claire–as an Asian transplant to the US in the early 80s, I wanted to fit in with my middle school friends so I slowly discarded my “kawaii” stuff–no one else had them. I remember getting stares when I would take out my San Rio pencil pouch. Still saddened I did that. I later found out, I couldn’t shake off my kawaii-culture connection no matter what.

  9. Hehe.. it’s spelled “sanrio”

  10. hey claire! you should read sharon kinsella’s article called ‘cuties in japan’.. you can find it here:
    take care!

  11. Thought you might be interested in these ‘toys with a twist’. Also Exhibition opening Sunday 15 August in Melbourne…

  12. Thank you for highlighting these articles. This is a subject that I have struggled with for years: “Are my drawings too cute? Will they not sell because of that?” Good to know that cute has some power.

  13. Claire, this post takes me back. Years ago I worked in the Duty Free industry with lots of Japanese ‘working holiday’ staff, and lots of Japanese customers. I managed a souvenirs outlet at one point and wish I had a dollar for every screeched “Kawaii, ne?!!” or “Kawaii des yo!!!” Toy koalas have a high ‘kawaii’ quotient.
    Just hearing the word makes me smile still.

  14. Hi I am 30 and have moved around australia , around south america and I still have my hello kitty quilt cover that i love with all my heart

  15. on the subject of CUTE, you might be interested in this: