Monday, January 28, 2013

Cute vs. "Cute"

I love cute. Puppies, kittens, and babies epitomize the word. But I loathe, with every fiber in my being, “cute”. A six-year-old girl being a six-year-old girl is cute. A six-year-old girl powdered, primped, rouged, and lipsticked to look like some tart-in-waiting for a “Little Miss Cutesy-Pie” pageant is—through no fault of the poor kid—more than mildly repulsive, and I would be in favor of hauling the parent(s) into court and charging them with child abuse. Childhood is short enough as it is; to be robbed of it by some glory-seeking “doting” parent and paraded like a prize heifer at the county fair is nothing short of criminal. Yet the domineering parent(s) invariably and vehemently swear that “Oh, no; it’s her idea. She does it because she loves it!” Right.

The difference between cute and “cute” is the difference between charm and cheese, between kindness and condescension. I enjoy the CBS TV program, Sunday Morning. But for some incomprehensible-to-me reason, one of their regular reporters, Bill Geist, has cornered the market on the cloyingly “cute”. With very few exceptions, every one of his pieces, abetted by his smarmy delivery, is designed to grab viewers by the throat, throttle them to within an inch of their life while screaming: “Isn’t this
CUTE????” No, it is not. Bill Geist on, television off.

TV sitcoms rely on “cute” the way they rely on laugh tracks, in a pathetic attempt to convince you that the show is far, far better than it actually is. Shows like “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (if the title is true, it is an indication that the End is near), too often depend on staged incidents designed with the utmost calculation to produce an “isn’t that funny/cute?” response. The results speak for themselves.

TV commercials are notorious offenders. While Budweiser, for example, has come up with some really wonderful and sometimes charming commercials, I still have a gag reflex every time I think of their
“Wha’sss Uhpppppppp?” ads. And if I hear the National Car Rental's “Meet Erica....Grand Pubah of Pasta” or “Who do you think I am: Quicken Loan?” one more time….

One problem with “cute” is the perpetrator’s belief that if it was cute the first time it is done, it will be equally cute the 10,000th time it’s repeated. Al Roker, NBC’s weatherman on the Today show, sends me reaching for the remote every time he announces, in a fake ultra-macho voice, “It’s FOOT-BALL night in A-MARR-ICA!” Please, Al…please NBC…enough already!!

There is a very sharp, to me, line between cute and “cute,” though it’s hard to describe. I think a lot of it lies in the intent and the application. Anne Geddes’ famous photos of babies posed in pea pods or flowerpots are utterly charming, as are William Wegman’s photos of his Weimaraners dressed and posed as humans. There is thought and planning in both Geddes and Wegman’s work, but the key to their success is they know how to present it without destroying it.

Plunking a baseball cap sideways on a toddler’s head in an attempt to be just the
cutest thing leaves me cold. And adults who resort to this practice in order to show how “cool” (read “cute”) they are make me want to grab the hat off their head and slap them silly with it.

There are few things harder to fake than charm and cute. And one man's "cute" is another man's nausea. For me, it's simple. It's like the famous definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (


Kage Alan said...

Those types of pageants always creeped me out. If I recall, we talked about this a few months back when I drove my parents down to Tennessee. There was actually a child pageant going on in the hotel where we stayed and my suspicions were confirmed; it is creepy.

I don't think a child is capable of understanding and coping with all the expectations and work that go into something like these. It's for the adult world. Just my opinion, but what do I know? I don't have children.

If I did, though, they wouldn't be going anywhere near these things. Uncle Dorien would help see to that when he babysat.

Nikolaos said...

Did you see the film Little Miss Sunshine? It was about (among other things) this kind of creepy cute.

ejacobs said...

Beauty pageants for little kids has always frustrated me. We are telling our kids at a young age that their natural beauty isn't enough for people to like them. They have to be all "dolled up" and covered in loads of makeup and a fake tan to be considered "cute." And yet we complain when our kids are "growing up so fast?" I think we need to start letting our kids actually be kids, and not become child Barbies. We are setting them up for failure.

Annette Daline said...

I personally do not agree with these pageants either, but it is a parents choice whether or not their children participate. And some of these kids really do enjoy what they are doing, they are capable of their own opinions even at a young age. I think that, with some modifications (less make-up, more realistic), these pageants could be wonderful experiences for these young girls, and guys. It can teach them self respect, and how to hold their head up high and be proud of themselves. Self-confidence is something that should be instilled in children from the start, and pageants could definitely help with that. As for the commercials and things you write about here, as much as you may like them to, companies aim to please a majority of the American population. Not just you.

Dorien/Roger said...

Good point, Annette, but your observation that "companies aim to please a majority of the American population. Not just you" startled me. The thought had never occurred to me before. After all, I've long been convinced that the world revolves around me. Wake-up calls are sometimes hard to accept.