Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid to admit I might be one of those people. Last week the trailer for Babies played before the movie I was seeing, and, well, I'm not sure I cooed per se, but I did giggle and maybe I pointed my finger a little at the screen and nudged my friend when one baby bit the other. And then when the goat drank the baby's bathwater? Remember that? "This is like the CuteOverload.com of movies," my friend whispered to me.
Of course, I've been a longtime reader of CuteOverload.com for several years now; I had a particularly frustrating day job and a little hit of cuteness in the form of a disapproving bunny or bizarre Japanese dwarf flying squirrels would be just enough to make it through until our afternoon coffee run.
However, according to Vanity Fair's Jim Windolf, this insidious cuteness is ruining American culture. No, really. That's what the tagline for his article in the December 2009 issue states on the cover: "HOW GRANDMAS AND 12-YEAR-OLD GIRLS ARE CORRUPTING AMERICAN CULTURE." You know that issue, the one with RPatz on the cover and comments like, "i love this one he seems like hes in such deep thought...i wish he was thinkin of me!!!!!!!!!" on the site?
According to Windolf, not even movies are immune:
There has also been a sharp rise in cute movies. For the past decade, the annual list of the 50 highest-grossing films has included between 7 and 13 productions with adorable cartoon heroes (among them Up, Wall-E, Kung Fu Panda, Ratatouille) or lovable animals (Marley & Me, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Hotel for Dogs). There have always been movies for kids, but in the 1990s, by contrast, there were four or five cute movies per year among those cracking the top 50. And when critics review films like Up or Wall-E, their tone suggests they're dealing with something like The Seventh Seal rather than movies designed to exploit our caretaking instinct.Other than being a totally unfair comparison – Pixar's story lines, developed characters, and incredible animation have little in common with movies like Hotel for Dogs, and that's why critics review them as such – but it does raise an interesting question. Windolf cites essayist Daniel Harris, quoting from Harris' book Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic:
"The process of conveying cuteness to the viewer disempowers its objects, forcing them into ridiculous situations and making them appear more ignorant and vulnerable than they really are... Adorable things are often most adorable in the middle of a pratfall or a blunder."
But doesn't that describe comedy itself, from Chaplin to the Three Stooges to Steve Martin's bumbling Navin R. Johnson in The Jerk? Aren't humans themselves often helpless, hapless, and ridiculous? I often laugh when I'm uncomfortable or in lieu of actually crying.
Although the topic of this doc is obviously awwwww-inspiring, and the subjects are indeed carefully chosen to reflect a "global" feeling with perhaps a more feel-good vibe than, say, a doc looking at raising children in different socioeconomic circumstances in cities across America, it does seem a little harsh to condemn it and our enjoyment of cute as the nadir of culture, as it seems Windolf does. Though I often turned to CO when particularly frustrated with work, I don't agree that "the cuteness craze may represent a nostalgia for a lost world. Or maybe we're trying, in some pathetic way, to animate our machines, to imbue them with sounds and images that strike at the deepest part of what it means to be human: our desire to take care of helpless creatures."
The process of watching a baby grow from a sleeping and eating poop machine to a cognizant being seems pretty fascinating to me, especially in cultures that I'm not familiar with. What are the trials and tribulations of raising a kid, much less in Mongolia? Beats me. Maybe I'll find out in Babies. Maybe I'll have to point my browser at Eff You, Penguin afterward to wash the cloying taste out of my mouth.