i'm reading about "cuteness" in japan. it was originally a phenomenon started by youth but soon appropriated by industry.

soon the selling of cute little trinkets, some of them near-useless or entirely useless, was huge. the cute lent personality to objects such that consumers could have relationships w/their commodities that they might lack with other people in a society pervaded by alienation. in japan of the popular sense of "cute" was closely associated with "pitiful". this was illustrated by the case of a pair of 100-yr old twin women who become wildly popular as cute. thus cute was not restrained to the young (though childishness characterized much of cute), but could be evoked by anyone that appeared weak, helpless, or funny. thus, when young japanese teens (especially girls) tried to be cute, they did so by hiding their strengths and appearing weak and dependent (much in the same way that american males tend to hide intelligence and feign stupidity in an effort to approximate 'cool'). The irony of the whole thing is that cute was associated with childlike innocence, a naive spontaneity unbesmirched by adult restraints. However, cute was contrived, cultivated, bought and sold, artificial. thus most young people thought that cute behavior came to them naturally, despite the markedly unnatural mannerisms and gestures that defined cute (pigeon toes, bowl leggedness). The romanticism of childlike naivete and purity followed fairly closely on the heels of rapid Japanese industrialization; indeed it is quite tempting to find parallels in the European Romanticism that followed the European industrial revolution. Faced with the alienation and artifice brought about by modern society, people seek a purer, more primitive and elemental self. whereas in europe this phenomenon was figured as nostalgia for earlier eras before the advent of human civilization (and with the romantisizing of the "noble savage"), in japan it's a nostalgia for childhood. both romantic movement strived for freedom and individualism. in japan, adulthood is not associated with independence or freedom, but instead with subservience to company and a Confucian sense of binding responsibilities to family and bosses. thus, childhood becomes the idealized imaginary realm of freedom, where forgivable naivete absolves the child of any obligation or responsibility. another interesting point - most youth subcultures are led by men with women as auxillaries - this is the opposite of japan's experience, in which women led the charge in developing cute culture. cute culture of course had its critics within japan. punk and grunge rockers considered cute culture a weak, materialistic, consumer-culture version of rebellion that had little true social or political force. indeed, the flowering of cute culture corresponded with the most apolitical youth atmosphere in the postwar era. conservative commentators lambasted cute culture as infantile, stupid, feminine, and tasteless (all interchangable adjectives in their eyes).

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