The Aaawww-piate of the Masses

The internet is a wonderful thing. It allows you to instantly settle an argument about which is bigger, Washington state or Hungary (Washington – it’s about twice as big as Hungary). It lets me listen to my favorite radio shows whenever I feel like it. But the best thing about the internet is that instead of having to sell an idea to a corporation that controls access to publishing and broadcasting and is interested only in making money from entertainment, almost anyone who wants to can just publish what they feel is entertaining (or beautiful or important) on the web at a very low cost, and leave it to readers and viewers to decide if they like what they see.

One thing that people really like is cute. Anything big-eyed, or soft and fluffy. Itty bitty ducklings and laughing babies. I like cute, too. Of course. Everybody does. Anybody who claims they don’t like cute things is lying. It’s instinctive. According to the New York Times:

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.

Cute cues are those that 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.

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, and so ends up including the young of virtually every mammalian species, fuzzy-headed birds like Japanese cranes, woolly bear caterpillars, a bobbing balloon, a big round rock stacked on a smaller rock, a colon, a hyphen and a close parenthesis typed in succession.

The growth of the internet has made clear how vast the demand is for anything cute. A Google search for “cute” returns 361,000,000 results, which is not that much less than the results for “sexy” (505,000,000 results).

But unlike the public’s craving for all things sexy, their hankering for all things cute had been largely unsatisfied until the internet came along. Sure, there were those pictures of the harlequins with the big eyes, or shows like Funniest Home Videos that were largely devoted to cuteness, but if the growth of internet cute is any indication, they didn’t begin to tap the potential demand for adorableness.

The cuteness on the internet is mostly homemade. This is, perhaps, integral to its appeal, but it is surprising that professional content-creators don’t seem to have any interest in making cute things, in spite of their commercial potential. Year after year children’s animated films that are absolutely stuffed with adorableness top the lists of the highest grossing films, yet American studios continue to make mostly R-rated fare full of car chases and explosions. Like American car manufacturers pumping out behemoths while the populace yearns for puddle-jumpers, the American media continues to manufacture products geared for a teenage boy’s mentality – perhaps the only segment of society with a social obligation to lie and say that cute doesn’t do a thing for them. Meanwhile vast swaths of the populace gobble up the homemade cute they crave.

Images courtesy of Basso.


~ by lolarusa on July 8, 2008.

One Response to “The Aaawww-piate of the Masses”

  1. This reminds me of the This American Life episode with the man trying to convince cable execs to buy his idea of Puppy TV. The public wants Puppy TV, but no executives wants to invest in Puppy TV. I wonder if he’s tried it on the internet.

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