indecently cute

If you are not weak then I will start to feel like I have had enough of you…

But if you are weak…

Then this is a poem because it squeezes you…

It is a shimmer like flushing sequins down the toilet…1

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1. pandas have low sex drives. poised more than most for platonic love, they still experience their share of romantic hardships. male pandas are keenly interested in nibbling on bamboo to their hearts’ content, and little else. they grow pleasantly round, while their female counterparts remain the same size. their gentleness is harmful; copulation is put off indefinitely, and birth rates keep falling. zookeepers have taken to showing captive pandas ‘panda pornography’ in an effort to solve the problem. an online search for ‘panda porn’ yields pictures of pandas having sex, presumably (the pandas look like they’re just hugging). other results show lithe lolitas dressed in knee socks and pigtails, posing suggestively with men dressed in fluffy panda suits. the names of the videos - they all take place in a cheery bedroom decorated with plush toys and kung-fu panda posters - follow the standard form of pornography titles: fun sex things to do with panda, sexy girl having fun with her panda, panda toy fucks a cute teenage girl...

2. teenage girls so cute you could squish them

cuteness grows in direct correlation to the smallness of its object. pomeranians already look like animated cotton balls, but teacup pomeranians are actually the size of cotton balls. imagine the tender plight of the teacup pomeranian owner: they could accidentally step on their beloved pet, or purposely place it in the waste-bin if it caused too much trouble (who would know?). the now-discontinued konapun toy came with materials for ‘cooking’ miniature, non-edible food: tiny burgers, tiny noodles, tiny biscuits. the consumption of sugary confections with no nutritional value - negative nutritional value, even - holds its own aimless pleasure, which konapun carries to its (il)logical conclusion. cuteness is small in size (form), devoid of intellectual merit (content), lacking motivational pull. hence the cuteness of crafts (in opposition to ‘art’), the endless accusations of decorative indulgence leveled against the illustrator of cats and childish things, the sunday painter. in the not-so-distant past, proclivity towards decoration was considered a ‘primitive’ moral shortcoming.2

(cuteness as twittering, besides-the-point-ness)

3. uglycute: this exists. ugly dolls, tim burton animations, pugs. not cute in spite of being ugly, but cute because ugly. not ugly-ugly, but an unspecified, immeasurable wrongness. pugs are wrong because they should not occur in nature; nature would not willingly make a creature who has such difficulty breathing. daschunds are wrong too, sausage-like things whose long backs can’t support their stubby legs. daschunds are particularly prone to anxiety and depression, as if possessing an innate knowledge of their purposely defective bodies. perhaps they are afraid of being stuffed into a bun, sprinkled with relish, and eaten.

cute is always a ‘but,’ a gentle let-down.3 cute means ‘he’s cute, but not for me.’ cute means ‘that’s a nice tablecloth, but it wouldn’t match my kitchen.’

4. cute is functional, but a little broken. take for example kogepan, the sanrio character sianne ngai writes of in her essay ‘the cuteness of the avant-garde.’ kogepan is a bread bun who was burned in a bakery oven. kogepan is acutely aware of being different from the other buns, unintentionally scaring them away with his lengthy lectures on the life of being a bread bun. he resolves to stave off depression and days spent getting drunk on milk after reading a book called how to become a delicious bread.

cute things can easily be hurt (because of smallness, softness, emotional or physical vulnerability), can even inflict pain upon themselves.4 hence the self-deprecating cuteness of kogepan, eyore, or charlie brown. cuteness can be a coping mechanism, a band-aid for psychic traumas or a plea for affection using feigned sweetness and naivete. cuteness, as ngai writes, is ambivalently aestheticized powerlessness.

5. kogepan is known to bake miniature versions of himself. though hurt and weak, kogepan can still exert power over objects smaller than himself. he can even eat his likeness, if it is small enough. this suggests a relationship between smallness, cuteness, agency, and edibility.5

gertrude stein’s poems are filled with anthropomorphized foods. her potatoes are ‘tamed’ by boiling water, whose ‘fury’ turns them ‘soft and tender.’ not alive in the normal sense of the word, the potatoes are still sadly ‘left for dead.’6tender buttons is organized into three sections: ‘food,’ ‘objects,’ and rooms,’ none of them quite living. they have human qualities (nice ones and mean ones - tenderness and fury) cutely imposed upon them.

6. what to make of will cotton’s photographs of elle fanning? cotton is known for his paintings of young women lounging in clouds of pink candy. he is also responsible for the image of katy perry shooting whipped cream out of her brassiere. at fifteen years old, elle is cotton’s youngest subject to date. she is shown posing daintily in a flared skirt, its upturned hem covered in pastries. elsewhere, she squeezes frosting onto her body in the shape of a corset. for her portrait, she stands in front of a tall pink cake (taller than her) with a fleur-de-lys pattern matching the one on her dress. her dress is transparent, its pattern applied in white and pink frosting. the cake is smudged, and elle’s fingertips are covered in frosting.

elle stares straight ahead, an unsurprised deer in headlights.

7. there is such a thing as too cute. this is where accusations of tweeness issue from; the feeling of being manipulated by a put-on helplessness, a fake innocence. the word ‘twee’ has already been made cute - it’s ‘sweet’ pronounced in babytalk. while the right amount of cuteness inspires sympathy and delight, a surplus of cuteness arouses suspicion and irritation. anyway, the sympathy invoked by a cute thing is something like pity. if not filled with loathing, then tinged with it.

8. the artist lily van der stokker once joked to john waters that she would ‘cutesy’ him with a gun.7 if cute were a verb, would it be dangerous? van der stokker cutesies minimalist sculptures, covering them in pastel curlicues and swirly handwriting. and of course there’s flowers. her wall paintings are especially flowery, making real harold rosenberg’s fear that modernist painting would become ‘apocalyptic wallpaper,’ mere decoration.of course, it’s difficult to tell whether the macho posturing of old modernist men can simply be defeated by its opposite, the cheery ebullience and irreverence of ‘girlishness.’ but van der stokker’s reminder - that ‘lack of content’ applies equally to formalist painting and to grandma’s macrame - is evocative.

9. some titles of lily van der stokker paintings: wonderful (1993), thank you (1997), darling (2008), not so nice (2010), whoopy i am ugly (2009), motherfucker (1994).

10. the art critic peter schjeldahl once praised van der stokker’s work for ‘moving towards friendliness, childishness, and stupidity.’ at least he thought it was a compliment.

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1 from poemland (2009) by chelsey minnis

2 this is one of the main theses of adolf loos’ ‘ornament and crime’ (1910)

3 sianne ngai: ‘To call something cute, in vivid contrast to, say, beautiful, or disgusting, is to leave it ambiguous whether one even regards it positively or negatively.’

4 sianne ngai, from ‘the cuteness of the avant-garde’: ‘The smaller and less formally articulated or more bloblike the object, the cuter it becomes… From here it is only a short step to see how the formal properties associated with cuteness — smallness, compactness, softness, simplicity, and pliancy— call forth specific affects: helplessness, pitifulness, and even despondency.’

5 sianne ngai: ‘…the ultimate index of an object’s cuteness may be its edibility.’

6 sianne ngai examines stein’s poetry in detail in ‘cuteness of the avant-garde.’ on ‘the potato,’ she writes: “The Potato” further underscores a crucial aspect of what we have come to call cuteness—the ability of the object to withstand the violence its very passivity seems to solicit.One might call this the violence of domestication or “tenderization.”

7 in ‘Towards friendliness, childishness and stupidity: Lily van der Stokker in conversation with John Waters,’ Tate etc. 19 (Summer 2010)

8 harold rosenberg, ‘the american action painters’ (1952)

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    If you are not weak then I will start to feel like I have had enough of you… But if you are weak… Then this is a poem...
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