Cootchie-coo behavior used to be reserved for private moments in the home. But now, with the Internet’s help, people feel free to wallow in cuteness en masse, in the company of strangers. The serious political blog Daily Kos, for instance, is awash in cute pictures of kittens and panda bears. The Web site Cute Overload, which gets 100,000 visits a day, is all photographs and videos of puppies (“puppehs” in the site’s own particular argot), kittens (“kittehs”), and baby rabbits (“bun-buns”), who are said to go nom-nom-nom as they munch their little meals.
“It’s part of our DNA to react to cute things,” says Meg Frost, who founded Cute Overload in 2005. “What makes me post certain pictures is if I have an audible reaction—a squeal—when I see the picture. I’m kind of annoyed at myself for having no control over thinking these things are so cute. It’s like ‘Oh, why don’t you just kill us with your fur?’”
The popularity of Cute Overload (and the more than 150 other cute-animal sites catalogued by the recommendation engine StumbleUpon, including Stuff on My Cat, Cute Things Falling Asleep, Kittenwar, and I Can Has Cheezburger) reflects a growing self-infantilization that is also in evidence at the social-networking site Facebook, where countless subscribers have posted photos of themselves as babies on their profile.
Vice, a hipster publication and Web site based in Brooklyn, has also gotten in on the cute act, with a Web channel called The Cute Show. With an un-ironic focus on cute animals, The Cute Show would not seem to belong in the company of other Vice programming, such as Inside Afghanistan and The Vice Guide to Sex.
It’s not just a digital thing. In this cuteness-crazed environment, Time Warner’s People magazine decided it was good business to shell out an estimated $6 million for photos of Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony’s newborn twins. At the same time, Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Katie Holmes, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gwen Stefani have kept the supermarket tabloids afloat through the power of their spawn. And it’s no accident that the biggest tabloid saga of the year concerns Jon and Kate Gosselin, who rode to fame on the backs of their eight little cuties.
cuteness alert! cried the Hollywood Gossip Web site in a recent headline running above a snapshot of Matt Damon and his “adorable little ladies,” ages nine months and two years, photographed near Central Park. The caption that ran with the photo might be our new cultural credo: “Everybody together now ... Wait for it ... Awwww!”
Even our cars are getting cuter. The Mini Cooper, one of the cutest things ever to hit pavement, entered the U.S. market in 2002. Seven years and one economic collapse later, it perfectly suits the changing image of a country in which General Motors, the maker of the Cadillac, filed for bankruptcy and sold its Hummer line to Tengzhong, a company based in China. The Mini’s main competition, the Smart car (a brand so cute its name is rendered in lowercase letters in its logo), was introduced into the U.S. last year by Mercedes-Benz/Daimler. If you want one, you need to get on a waiting list. At 1,808 pounds, it is the smallest car domestically available. “If you look at it from the front, with the position of the grill and the headlights, it looks like it’s smiling,” says Smart spokesman Ken Kettenbeil.
And Darth Vader does not lie beyond the reach of cuteness. The ultimate movie villain of the last three decades is now available as a cuddly plush toy. “Squeeze him into your world today!” says the ad copy.
In this atmosphere, it’s no surprise that the most monstrously profitable company of our time has a name that could have been made up by a five-month-old: Google. Twitter, another hot digital entity with a babyish name, has reduced even Shaquille O’Neal to peppering his postings with cute emoticons.
That’s me crying over the depressing rise of cuteness.
Is this really just a fad, or is the root of cuteness deeper inside our evolutionary genes. I vote for the latter, but read Jim Windolf's entire article decrying the cute phenomenon that is sweeping the nation.