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Exploring a world of all things cute and the people who buy them

by David Cozy

“Hello, Cutie!” is a cute book about cute things and the (sometimes cute) people who create those things.

HELLO, CUTIE!: Adventures in Cute Culture, by Pamela Klaffke. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012, 208 pp., $19.95 (paperback)

That description will be enough to divide readers of this review into two camps. The first will have already stopped reading, so off-putting do they find cuteness in all its cloying sweetness; the second will be happy to learn of a book that will tell them more about a quality that has added fantasy and fun to their lives. Both groups — those still reading, and those who’ve stopped — will have made the right decision.

If Lalaloopsy dolls, My Little Pony and pictures of LOLCats with “humorous” captions make you want to gag, then you’re wise to stay away. If, however, you don’t have a deep-seated aversion to cuteness, and would like to learn more about some of the products that have defined that quality in the last couple of decades, then “Hello, Cutie!” may be for you.

“In a consumerist society,” author Pamela Klaffke reminds us, “it’s natural to turn to objects for comfort.” “Natural” and “normal” are important words in this compendium of information about the things that people who love cute —”cute hunters”— buy and collect. Throughout the book, Klaffke makes the case, subtly but relentlessly, that the people she writes about — adults obsessed, for example, with merchandise featuring Hello Kitty — are not any odder than, say, single-malt scotch enthusiasts. Klaffke takes pains to tell us, for example, that it’s “a full-time university student and a … mother of two” who attests: “My Little Pony has been such a huge part of my life, and I cannot imagine a world without these brightly colored treasures.” She wants us to understand that this woman, who is convinced that “MLP is worth more than anything,” is just like you and me.

In addition, however, to having much in common with the general run of humanity, these collectors also appear to have much in common with each other. First, they are all women. There’s no evidence, for example, that the one male featured in “Hello Cutie!” is at all interested in cute. He seems more excited by that slice of Japanese pop culture usually associated with otaku: “all sci-fi and hard-edged and adult and cool.”

In addition to their gender, many of the women interested in cute share a nostalgia for childhood. They hope, according to Christopher Noxon, author of a book about this desire, to regress, to go “back to the last frame of mind when they felt safe.” “Many of our best memories are attached to objects,” Klaffke explains, and that being the case, shopping obsessively for toys one played with as a child and playing with them again with one’s own children, is a natural course of action.

Those of us for whom cute is less interesting than finding out what makes cute-hunters tick will enjoy the view Klaffke gives us of the people who have helped to create a world in which a search on Etsy for “cute” brings over 350,000 hits. Klaffke, however, is one of those people, and thus lacks the detachment that might have allowed her to probe their psyches more deeply than she does. More fascinated with cute stuff than with cute people, she misses out, for example, on a cohort common in Japan: Young women who are more interested in being cute than buying cute. If you would like to buy something cute, though, this book, thanks in large part to Klaffke’s photographs, will give you a good introduction to what’s out there.

David Cozy is a writer and critic, and a professor at Showa Women’s University in Tokyo.

  • kyushuphil

    I wish David Cozy would have another go at this.

    What about all these Japanese girls — and women in their twenties — who dress in flagrant “kawaii”? Ruffles. Lace. Pleats. Chiffon. Pastels.

    Are women in Japan still expected to be “floatng,” as Hayashi Fumiko saw for both men nd women a half century ago — but now the men have become salaryman drones, and the women are massively just following the prevailing consumerism, but with a vengeance to appear childish?

    Does this cuteness in o many Japanese women say they opt out of adulthood?