Cuteness and Culture

The Cute Factor, Natalie Angier
Angier struggles to find some deeper biological meaning in our responsiveness to “the cute”, ostensibly evolved as a means of assuring adult human responsiveness to defenseless and oh-so-cute human babies.

Cuteness is distinct from beauty, researchers say, emphasizing rounded over sculptured, soft over refined, clumsy over quick. Beauty attracts admiration and demands a pedestal; cuteness attracts affection and demands a lap. Beauty is rare and brutal, despoiled by a single pimple. Cuteness is commonplace and generous, content on occasion to cosegregate with homeliness.

Though I am willing to concede the possibility of a “hard-wired” responsiveness to cuteness, the idea begs the question of why this responsiveness waxes and wanes over time and from culture to culture. Why do some people even in our currently cute-obsessed culture see cuteness as a thing to be destroyed (e.g. kids who kill puppies), and why is cute so fashionable at the moment (as documented by Angier) but wasn’t before the 1960′s (again, acc. to Angier)? How do cultures like the one described by Nancy Scheper-Hughes become able to disregard the influence of cuteness and the parental attentiveness it supposedly engenders?

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