Draw a circle, and ray out from it the abject, the melancholic, the wicked, the childlike. Now in the zones between add the erotic, the ironic, the narcotic, and the kitsch. Intersperse Romantic/Victorian, the Disney/consumerist, and the biologically deterministic. At the center of this many-spoked wheel lies a connective empty space. Label it CUTE.
Cute marks a crucial absence. It guarantees, by definition, the nonappearance of malice, premeditation, irony, self-consciousness, accusation, or mercenary agenda. However, in its manufactured form cute remains a major locus for- in some ways is synonymous with- the manipulative gesture, the prepackaged, consumable, demonstration of (necessarily factitious) innocence, spontaneity, and need. Cute arises by manipulating the guarantee of non-manipulation. Professing its own demure and complete powerlessness, it gains power over and directs all interactions with it: parents wait upon the infant, not the other way around. Simultaneously referring to and negating its own vulnerability, cute functions as a self-fulfilling system, maintaining its image as 100% stolid and happy and obvious only by virtue of utter contingency.
Cute might be thought of as a watered-down version of pretty; which is a watered-down version of beautiful; which is a watered-down version of sublime; which is a watered down version of terrifying. In this regard, the cute is akin to the ridiculous, which is a watered-down version of the absurd, which is again a watered-down version of that which terrifies. By extension, this suggests that all representation, whatever its stylistic bent, is tinged with an experience of terror: the terror of the convincingly ersatz, the killing disjuncture of the otherized, the pseudo-real.