The Cuteness of the Avant‐Garde
"I’m interested in the surprising power these weak affects and aesthetic categories seem to have, in why they’ve become so paradoxically central to late capitalist culture"
Our Aesthetic Categories
In her book Our Aesthetic Categories, Ngai makes a simple argument about the Zany, Cute and the Interesting: That these three aesthetic categories, for all their marginality to aesthetic theory and to genealogies of postmodernism, are the ones in our current repertoire best suited to grasping how aesthetic experience has been transformed by the hypercommodified, information-saturated, performance-driven conditions of late capitalism
"Cute" is a much more ambivalent description than social niceties will allow us to admit. When we snatch up something cute in an embrace, we pantomime the act of defending a defenseless little pal from an imaginary threat, but the rigid urgency of our embrace, and the concomitant 'devouring-in-kisses' suggests that what we're protecting the cute thing from is ourselves. Using the example of a frog-shaped baby’s bath toy, Ngai illustrates that cuteness is an aestheticization of powerlessness, as the purpose of the cute bath toy is for it to be pressed against a baby’s body, and squished in a way guaranteed to repeatedly crush and deform its formless face. The nonaesthetic properties associated with cuteness - smallness, compactness, formal simplicity, softness or pliancy thus also index minor negative affects such as helplessness, pitifulness and even despondency".