So long, dear Astro

Every now and then a trending topic catches my attention and this week it was Astro. The proto-professional rapper from Brooklyn is 15 years old and has gained a following from his TV exposure on Simon Cowell’s The X Factor. Cute doesn’t begin to do this kid justice. Astro is ca-yoot, especially when he wears his glasses and looks sadly off into the distance.

Astro writes all his lyrics and has himself a nice little rap flow. A week ago Astro captured viewers’ hearts when he threw an epic temper tantrum, à la Kanyeezy… well, at least up until about an hour ago when fans voted him off.

As his name implies, you can’t keep him down — not if his Astronauts have anything to do with it. Who knows? If given a chance (and the right publicists), Bradley might just give Biebernation a run for their money. We shall see.

December 1, 2011. children, cute, hip-hop, TV. 1 comment.

Differend Strokes

Oh where to start? I can’t say that I have any answers to the very complicated issue of transnational and trans-racial adoptions. Nor can I claim to know what it’s like to long for a child that I’m unable to conceive through ordinary means. I won’t pretend to understand. I’m sure it can be a painful situation and I imagine opening one’s life and home to a child in need of one must surely constitute an act of great love and generosity for the most part. It is also true that there are thousands of American couples who are altruistically willing to adopt children regardless of their ethnicity or nationality.

That being said, there yet remains the problem of a premium still being placed on the value of white adopted infants over that of African Americans, for instance. Adding to this is the fact that many white couples would rather go to another country to adopt babies who conform with certain racialized ideals about European heritage and/or other exoticizing stereotypes about Asians supposedly being smarter and cuter than other kinds of children. Of course, many have raised the objection about concerns surrounding minority children being forced into racial assimilation without any alternatives of cultural exposure to their own ethnic groupings, possibly resulting in a sense of identity confusion. Additionally, there’s all types of controversy surrounding an [un]ethics of first world guilt bent on saving the poor, pitiful orphans of the global South — one child at a time (as opposed to global policy change). This has been addressed by the legal scholar Patricia Williams, who makes the argument that the practice of transnational adoption is tantamount to a form of human trafficking.

It goes without saying that I have no legal expertise about the ins and outs of how such determinations can possibly be made and I’ve only heard of these stories anecdotally — though I have met one biracial adoptee back while I was an undergraduate who often complained bitterly about her “racist white parents” to anyone who would listen. I don’t know if that was really true. They were after all paying her way through college.  I mean, how could such an accusation be fully believed?

In effect, here we have the Lyotardian issue of the differend — an event that gives rise to a situation in which an injustice is clearly perceived, but cannot be fully known because the person communicating the complaint lacks the power or credibility to communicate said injury. Alas, the problem of adjudication and resolution persists as there is no way to step outside the predominating paradigm in order to ascertain the common good. Like I said, I am not trained in the law. However, there is the problem of this woman.

      Vanessa Beecroft: an exercise in colonial narcissism, white privilege, and frivolity.

If you don’t recognize her image, chances are you’re familiar with Vanessa Beecroft’s work. She was art director for Kanye West’s long video, “Runaway”  and the 2008 film, The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins, documents the spectacle behind this photo. In it, Beecroft openly discusses wanting what Angelina Jolie has as she attempts to adopt the twins without informing her husband, while also knowing full well that the twins already have living relatives who are more than willing to care for them.

Anyway, I can’t help but think there must be other Beecrofts out there who regard the adoption of non-white or international children as the latest must-have accessory. Jeez Louise. Kanye really knows how to pick ’em, don’t he???

June 19, 2011. art, babies, children, cute, economics, family, film, parenting, race, sex & sexuality. 1 comment.

What’s in a Name?

One of the main issues of cuteness has to do with a notion called infantile citizenship as theorized by Lauren Berlant. She has been chief among other very interesting interlocutors who have grappled with this issue. The idea is that the people we consider  “minorities” are really not that at all. And this is obvious, especially if you think about it in terms of global demographics. In fact, the people we refer to as minorities here in America actually make up the majority of the world’s people. We can start counting China and India and continue from there. This is to say nothing of the youth bulge all across the rest of Asia, Africa, Latin America and, of course, the Middle East. The anxieties surrounding the “browning” of Europe and America as evidenced by the recent proliferation of reactionary anti-immigration policies speak to this reality quite profoundly.

Kanye West is not a cute teddybear, but he sometimes plays one on television.

If thought about in these terms, we can clearly see that the term minority is really meant to imply something quite different and is really only a play on the notion of minors. You know, like little kids.

Basically, decades following the Civil Rights Movement (as evidenced by the Obama/Trump birth certificate fiasco)  there’s the idea that America’s non-white folk are never truly capable of realizing a fully responsible citizenship, which justifies the reason for having to limit (or at least heavily scrutinize) their rights.

This remains a sad but true fact of life, even today in the 21st century. There are a gazillion permutations of this problematic, all of which I will attempt to catalogue exhaustively in my dissertation. The most obvious example of this is the slew of such hip-hop aliases. Even many white artists appropriate this tactic as a sign of their street creds. Examples of this include some pretty cool customers in their 20s, 30s and 40s whose professional monikers are the following:

  • Lil’ Kim
  • Lil’ Wayne
  • Lil’ Jon
  • Lil’ Bow-Wow
  • Lil’ Romeo
  • Lil’ Skeet
  • Da Brat
  • Big Boi
  • Souljah Boy
  • Young Jeezy
  • The Beastie Boys
  • Kid Rock
  • That Subliminal Kid

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but there’s got to be some deeper explanation as to why so many hip-hop figures feel so compelled to traffic in this rhetoric of cuteness. I think this list is strangely long — almost a little spooky. Can you think of some others?

June 4, 2011. African Americans, age, babies, children, cute, hip-hop, politics, rhetorics. Leave a comment.

Quite Cute


MAC just stole my dissertation idea. ;p The cosmetics company’s latest spring line is all purpley-pink and pastel. The image to the left is a screenshot of the “Quite Cute” promotional campaign. Cute is so in right now. Alas, such is the risk of cuteness; sometimes being embarrassingly fashionable.

Karl Lagerfeld has nothing to do with MAC — he heads the house of Chanel.  In my opinion, the man is absolutely hilarious!  While watching a documentary about the man and his impact on the notoriously invidious fashion industry, Lagerfeld Confidential, I howled with laughter. If Roland Barthes had been into sewing instead of writing, he would’ve been Lagerfeld. (Punchline… punctum — what’s the diff?)

Also, Lagerfeld discovered Kimora Lee Simmons — who in turn founded the now defunct Baby-Phat clothing company. Weirdly, when Simmons was not much more than 13 years old, Lagerfeld plucked her from the suburbs of St. Louis Missouri, dressed her as a child-bride and paraded her across the world’s fashion runways.  The man practically raised her. Currently, Simmons holds licensing rights to the Hello Kitty image for a jewelry line she designs. I think the quotes below explain exactly why, at least judging from her reality show, Simmons is so, um, very… eccentric. Here are some of Lagerfeld’s thoughts on fashion, beauty, children, and (of course) cuteness:

“If you want social justice, be a civil servant. Fashion is ephemeral, dangerous and unfair.”

“Life is not a beauty contest, some [ugly people] are great. What I hate is nasty, ugly people…the worst is ugly, short men. Women can be short, but for men it is impossible. It is something that they will not forgive in life…they are mean and they want to kill you.”

“[Children] grow so fast, and having adult children makes you look 100 years old. I don’t want that.”

“Sunglasses are like eyeshadow. They make everything look younger and prettier.”

“[Sunglasses are] my burka…I’m a little nearsighted, and people, when they’re nearsighted, they remove their glasses and then they look like cute little dogs who want to be adopted.”

April 9, 2011. Tags: . beauty, children, cute, design, family, fashion, film, harajuku, style. Leave a comment.

designer babies

What image comes to your mind when you think of the perfect baby?

Even though the rhetoric of the body as it pertains to the area of biotechnology is not my field of specialty, I am interested in how this subject converges with my work when looked at from the standpoint of reprogenetics or the industry of so-called designer babies.

I admire the work of Dorothy Roberts who eloquently explains how reprogenetic technologies prescribe the qualities and characteristics of the “perfect baby” as being intrinsically so. Roberts reminds that just because something is more technologically advanced doesn’t make it more liberating, or even progressive for that matter. She goes on to caution against a profit driven situation “where minority people’s eggs that aren’t desirable to most white couples for reproductive purposes (where race matters a lot) will be purchased on the cheap for stem cell research (where race won’t matter that much).”

Even those privileged women, who might seem to gain advantage from these technologies, will be increasingly subject to more intensive surveillance that is generated through reprogenetics. In effect, women from all areas of life will be subject to greater social and moralistic scrutiny because of the inordinate burden of responsibility that has traditionally been placed on women to always make the “right” kinds of choices.

April 2, 2011. African Americans, babies, children, cute, design, economics, gender, race, sex & sexuality, technology. Leave a comment.

How Racists Cynically Exploit “Cute”

This anti-abortion billboard targets a black community in Oakland, California.  It’s  just been recently covered over because the actual mother of the little girl featured in the ad complained so much to the press that it led to a bit of an outcry.  The mother of this child obviously didn’t think she was signing up to support the suggestion that her child is in any way unwanted (though she gullibly signed the modeling release form).

Similar billboards have appeared in Atlanta, Georgia and Brooklyn, New York too.  I can see why the mother was so offended.  It’s a slick political tactic that appeals to certain religious and nationalistic discourses promoted in the African American community.  The idea that black people are endangered or are otherwise inherently self-destructive (as though there is some perfectly coherent racial “self” to destroy in the first place) is a common white supremacist trope that — perhaps not too surprisingly — circulates throughout some all-black discursive communities, like barbershops and beauty parlors, not to mention far too many black churches.

Of course, blacks are no more endangered than the rest of humanity, but it’s hard to convey that to our folk when we only see social disintegration on a daily basis while, unfortunately, lacking a critical analysis that myopically attends to a world view which highlights personal agency as the end-all-be-all of human interactions. Such assumptions are mistaken because they ignore the various forms of structural and social violence that occur routinely within and across black communities — of which this billboard is a perfect case in point.

Most insidious about this billboard campaign is the suggestion that black people don’t love their children like everyone else (and by “everyone else” I mean white people). And because of this underlying pathos, I believe the billboard’s combination of words coupled with this particularly cute image is patently racist. Moreover, this ad is clearly designed to garner culturally conservative votes from the typically liberal African American voting block. This is a wedge issue similar to that of gay marriage, which has proven to be an effective political ploy to encourage portions of the African American electorate to vote against their own social and economic interests.

Unfortunately though, too many black voters are duped by the disingenuous politics of this conservative agenda. By feigning a concern for the lives and well-beings of black women and children, the right wing can claim to subscribe to a “colorblind” concern for the lives of “all humans” when, in fact, they couldn’t care less. Indeed, if the right wing anti-choice lobby really cared about the lives of women and children — regardless of race — they would make gestational and infant nutrition measures, as well as early childhood education and daycare an integral part of their political platform. If they really cared about women and children, they would make extended parental leave the norm and not just a luxury for the well-situated few. And no woman would ever get fired from her job for being pregnant. Ever.

In the end, it would stand to reason that the only way to reduce abortions is to assure expectant mothers that they will be able to safely bring children into the world without jeopardizing their own futures as well as those of their already living children. Instead, the right wing engages paranoia and fear tactics in order to impede a woman’s right to determine her own outcomes and not be condemned to breed against her will.

The poem below is from 1945 and is called “The Mother.” The Poetry Archive has posted a beautiful recitation of it in Gwendolyn Brooksown voice.

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed
children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches,and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness
I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?
— Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead, You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
All.

February 28, 2011. Tags: , , , , . abortion, advertisemnt campaign, African Americans, children, civics, cute, economics, family, feminism, gender, literature, parenting, poetry, politics, rhetorics, sex & sexuality. 1 comment.

A “Cute Kitten Theory” of Race

“‘You think you so cute!’  I swung at her and missed, hitting Pecola in the face.  Furious at my clumsiness, I threw my notebook at her, but it caught her in the small of her velvet back, for she had turned and was flying across the street against traffic.
Safe on the other side, she screamed at us, ‘I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos.  I am cute’”(Morrison 73).

“We were sinking under the wisdom, accuracy, and relevance of Maureen’s last words.  If she was cute – and if anything could be believed, she was – then we were not. And what did that mean?  We were lesser.  Nicer, brighter, but still lesser” (Morrison 74).

Of course many of you will recognize this excerpt  from  Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.  It’s the frequently anthologized scene, sometimes referred to as “The Coming of Maureen Peale.”   I believe this  scene from literature really illustrates my conceptualization of cuteness as a racial rhetoric.

A desperate chain of events ensues because of Pecola’s wish for her eyes to magically turn blue like Shirley Temple and the white baby dolls molded in the screen idol’s image. And, along with Claudia and Frieda, having to constantly hear all the surrounding adults describe the little white girls as perfectly lovely, the fragile Pecola is pushed to the breaking point. The arrival of the wealthier and lighter skinned Maureen Peale exacerbates the situation because of the way she is shown favoritism by the teachers and parents in Morrison’s semi-autobiolgraphical Ohio community in which the novel is set. The girls in the schoolyard are stunned when the favored newcomer proudly and maliciously asserts the ostensible fact that she is cute and they are not.

"Little Flower"

My dissertation is about how, similarly to Toni Morrison, this issue of “cuteness” served as productive motivation for Carl Owens and other African American artists of that generation. Owens was an African American artist and illustrator, known for a certain genre of printed paintings.  I think of his most famous image “Little Flower” as the epitome of cute kitten blackness. That the above image could be viewed as agitprop is not necessarily problematic for me. At least not, if we think about agitprop in a nuanced and more complicated way.

December 18, 2010. art, Carl Owens, children, cute, design, dolls, literature. 1 comment.

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