Then, recently, an internet pal (a guy I usually talk to about politics but who has a definite pet fetish) recommended I go visit Cute Overload, the blog that “scour[s] the Web for only the finest in Cute Imagery™. Imagery that is Worth Your Internet Browsing Time. We offer an overwhelming amount of cuteness to fill your daily visual allowance. Drink it in!” The internet pal asked me if I’d visited, excited to know if I’d seen “the Chihuahua hugging the kitten” and other works of art. (He is also excited about kittenwar.com, a site where you can vote on your favorite kittens.)
I swallowed about 3 pictures worth (a kitten in a cup, a german shepherd in a donut salesman costume, and a snail slowly stretching across the slats in a picnic table) and I felt positively bloated with cuteness. I guess that about meets my “daily visual allowance,” which I didn’t even know I had. (Actually, the snail pics were pretty cool; they’re very stretchy little creatures).
My son, by contrast, wanted to go through all recent posts, then spend a while at the kitten and dog pages. Most pictures (wet cat in rain, close-up of puppy nose, wee mousie in hand, baby seal in snow) were met by gushed “Awwwwwwwwwwwww’s” and sweet “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh’s” from my son. Meanwhile, I found myself distinguishing between the “truly cute” and the “supposed to be cute but isn’t making it.”
A few days after our little cuteness binge, Chad told me about a New York Times article on The Cute Factor. It seems “Scientists who study the evolution of visual signaling have identified a wide and still expanding assortment of features and behaviors that make something look cute: bright forward-facing eyes set low on a big round face, a pair of big round ears, floppy limbs and a side-to-side, teeter-totter gait, among many others.” These “cute cues” “indicate extreme youth, vulnerability, harmlessness and need, scientists say, and attending to them closely makes good Darwinian sense. As a species whose youngest members are so pathetically helpless they can't lift their heads to suckle without adult supervision, human beings must be wired to respond quickly and gamely to any and all signs of infantile desire.”
This is not news to me. Having had a baby and enjoyed the bliss that is 19 hours of labor, a parineal tear, bruised nipples, post-partum depression, insomnia, and many other joys of early motherhood, I know damn well we’re wired to nurture “cuteness.” If we weren’t, the human race would be extinct.
Furthermore, though we consider ourselves a sophisticated species, we ain't all that. Says the NYT article, “The human cuteness detector is set at such a low bar, researchers said, that it sweeps in and deems cute practically anything remotely resembling a human baby or a part thereof.”
The article goes on to discuss the distinction between cuteness and beauty and to remark upon Floridians’ obsession with manatees (though it does not assert that cuteness may explain the popularity of Jeb Bush).
What really interested me (enhancing my contemplation of my son’s goggling over “teeny froggie on fingertip”), however, is this: “New studies suggest that cute images stimulate the same pleasure centers of the brain aroused by sex, a good meal or psychoactive drugs like cocaine.” Now we’re getting somewhere.
Cute Overload, Animal Planet, pet stores, Look Who’s Talking: all plots to get us so hopped up on cuteness we won’t notice what’s really going on in the world.
Or wait, no: cuteness research is part of the Just Say No to Drugs crap my son is getting in elementary school. “Cuteness Not Crack” will make a great commercial. And the anti-sex crusaders can join in too: “Cuteness Ever, Coitus Never.”
But wait (again). Best idea yet: the Democrats can take back the Whitehouse by running someone who looks like a puppy.
That won’t work, argues Denis Dutton, a philosopher of art at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Apparently, “The rapidity and promiscuity of the cute response makes the impulse suspect, readily overridden by the angry sense that one is being exploited or deceived.” Says Dr. Dutton in the same NYT article, “Cute cuts through all layers of meaning and says, Let's not worry about complexities, just love me. That's where the sense of cheapness can come from, and the feeling of being manipulated or taken for a sucker that leads many to reject cuteness as low or shallow.”
Well, I’d argue you can be entirely not-cute and still want people to ignore meaning and complexity and swallow the evil b.s. whole…
“Awww, Mommy, look at the manatee—Hey, how come he isn’t cute like the others?”