If you’re like me, the way you watch tv has shifted and your consumption of movies and television is now heavily mediated through social networks like Twitter and Facebook. More and more of us are likely to be in the know about the latest infotainment buzz through trending tweets and the latest status feeds. In fact, since I haven’t been too gung-ho about pricey visits to movie theaters these days, I hadn’t even heard of Quvenzhané Wallis until last week. I learned of the precocious child actor like most others when she became the youngest person ever to earn an Oscar nomination for her lead acting role in the critically acclaimed fantasy drama, Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Of course, though not too surprisingly, the media commentary that followed in regards to the young actor’s breakthrough film performance was heavily burdened by the usual laziness of poorly thought-out racist mainstream media tropes in the form of celebrity gossip, ignorance, and out-and-out refusal to pronounce Wallis’s first name correctly. No surprises there. This sort of thing happens like clockwork and is understood as par for the course among even the most casual African American media watchers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB8CGNbrI4c But I admit that I was taken aback and was quite unprepared for the social media firestorm that ensued on Oscar night when the satirical news organization, The Onion, issued a tweet referring to this little girl as a cu*t. Now let’s get this straight: that’s the “c” word that rhymes with “hunt” and not “hoot” and is definitely not the type of descriptive one would normally expect a decent human being to use in the labeling of a small child, not even in the most extreme circumstances. Likewise, the Onion tweet was not a hoot – wasn’t in the least bit funny. And as though on the hunt, the Onion’s slur of choice (along with the fake news organization’s snide and snarky follow up apology) was issued in the same mean spirit as the sexually predatory racial politics that black women in this country have faced for centuries. Though unlike the verbal attacks that many black women have come to expect and subsequently learn to live with, few of us were ready for this particular incident because… well… because Wallis is a child. And children, we thought (hoped?), are supposed to be off limits when it comes to show-business’ usual racism and misogynistic feeding frenzies. But then again, she is a girl… and a black girl at that. Unfortunately, violence against women is normal in our culture and youth exploitation is ordinary. It continues to be the case that for most African Americans – whether child or adult – neither cuteness nor the genuine innocence of childhood will fully provide our folk refuge from the casual viciousness of racism. The basic ideas of merit and the routine presumption of innocence in the case of black folk hold little sway in the history of US politics and culture. Because the fact still remains, no matter how smart, how talented, or how earnest you are or strive to be, in the eyes of far too many white adults, if you are both female and black you can only ever be nothing but a c-word(even if you’re an adorable, Academy Award nominated prodigy). And that’s the sad truth.
It’s really not a surprise that cuteness is the preferred design characteristic of super-commodity merchandise and is therefore the chief brand aesthetic of multinational mega-corporations like the Disney media empire and the Mattel toy company. The predominance of soft rounded plastics makes it so. Known for their pop culture icons, Mickey and Barbie, you’d be hard pressed to come up with examples of more successful and durable branding.
And along comes cute hip-hopper, Nicki Minaj fashioning herself as a Japanese street Barbie. Her name both rhymes and alliterates with Mickey’s. I think she’s brilliant.
Toys can have different characteristics and don’t always have to be cute, per se. Toys can be quaint like wooden blocks or like cloth teddy bears or Raggedy Ann & Andie. Different kinds of toys definitely have different auras. What I’m talking about in terms of Minaj is a plastic aurality, bereft of all sentimental value, simultaneously stripped and sealed. Not only does Minaj perform the strip/tease, but she does so through offering herself up as a sealed object — almost hermetically so. And in true hip-hop tradition, she’s the first to brag about how airtight her entourage is.
Her über lavish lamé and latex costuming makes her seem impossible to undress. Just go ahead and try and get her out of her clothes. She’s tightly corseted, though nothing like a genteel Victorian. She’s walking around literally sheathed in rubber, her gear is like… well, like a condom. Her stylized plasticity seems to be almost hygienically engineered. The overly shellacked make-up and wigs seal the deal. (Get it? seal the deal? like sealed… oh never mind.) It seems like whatever they try to hurl, spit, or squirt at her, it just instantly wipes off. All antibacterial and whatnot.
The image to the left is by Gordon Parks, called “Black Children with White Doll.”
The title of this post is “daddy-mommy-me” and is a quote taken from the introduction to Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia and is related to my cute theory of race. The baby subject feels loyalty to the primary [racialized] nuclear unit in a libidinal economy of desire. The cuteness of “daddy-mommy-me” is abject sentimentality in the most profound and fundamental sense. (This is something I’m not going to tease out in a few paragraphs — it’s Deleuze for crying out loud, people!) I have a year and a half before I have to trace this economy of family cuteness more fully.
Of course, there’s this lovely piece by Japanese theorist, Akira Asada “Infantile Capitalism and Japan’s Postmodernism: A Fairy Tale” that really has fun with notions of cute economy, infantile capitalism — to be specific, and is all Deleuzianed out with wild proclamations about software & play v. hardware & hardwork. Very fun.
And then today I played around with I-Ching to focus on the question of a fruitful 2011. After six coin tosses, I built the 37th hexagram or ䷤ The Family (the family, in this case is according to the standards of traditional Chinese gender and birth order norms). This notion of family, of course, operates from a particular logic of oikonomos quite different from the context of Western cultural site of oedipal exchange, but I believe there is a similarity. The Wilhelm and Baynes translation I use talks about the “family is society in embryo… the native soil on which performance of moral duty is made easy through natural affection… within in a small circle of moral practice… later widened to include human relationships in general” (144). Hmmmm. Now I’m not saying I’ll be citing or actively using the I-Ching in my diss (though I’m fascinated by Gregory Ulmer’s ideas about the system’s flash logic as an ancient hypertext), but it’s certainly possible for me to appreciate this reminder of my social situation while also objecting to the basis of it on philosophical grounds. The oracular reading connects quite verisimilitudinally to this subject of “cute” in my dissertation, though. Or it just might be that I’m seeing “cute” everywhere because I’m so immersed in my topic. Either way, it can’t be too bad of a thing; I’ll need all the imaginative energy I can muster these next 18 months. (For realers.)
The line in the first place is 9 and changes 37 to the 53rd hexagram or ䷴Development/Gradual Progress. The image of 53 involves the gradual progression of a sapling on the side of a mountain. Influence and weight develops over time. Need I say more?
I think this is an auspicious reading for a/cute growth