The quirky seduction of ‘cute’.

Last Updated: 4 Febbraio 2024By Tags: , ,

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The quirky seduction of ‘cute’.

(Antonella Zangaro)

Cute, adorable, has been exercised for some time, but the Web amplified its immense power.
In London, on the occasion of Hello Kitty’s 50th birthday, Somerset House is dedicating an entire exhibition to the concept of ‘cute’ to explore its seductive power and the evolutions it has undergone from the 1500s to the present day. It does so by passing through the first true icon of contemporary and timeless ‘cuteness’, the godmother of all web kittens.


That the magic of cuteness was seductive had already been realised in the Italian Renaissance (explains the curator, Claire Catterall) when putti and cupid, in the guise of chubby, angelic children, began to recur on canvases, drawing attention and liking.
And that it worked; they also realised after the Industrial Revolution that the need to sell products and ideas was becoming pressing.
In 1870, the English artist Harry Pointer grasped the potential of cats, starting to humanise them with his photos, forerunners of the contemporary memes that flood the Web. Marketing experts, the music world, artists, and politicians looking for shortcuts to convey their propaganda have all taken advantage of this.

La perturbante seduzione di ‘Cute’. Dal web alla musica. ph. Credit David Parry PA


In the exhibition, which will remain in London until 14 April, Hello Kitty’s disco (music curated by David Gramson from Scritti Politti) and the 1934 picture of Hitler with fawns go hand in hand; rainbows as backgrounds for Instagram publications and six-legged kittens created by AI, all the way to robotic puppies disguised as ‘cute’ like the Furby, who was not exactly cute. The illusion of adorable innocence opens the door to the dark side by overcoming the barriers of consciousness through immense doses of sugar and treacle.


When Tim Berners-Lee, the Web creator, was asked in 2014 what the most unexpected Internet use was, he replied with one word: ‘kittens’.
A veritable invasion from computers has infiltrated mobile phones through social networks and texts full of icons, memes and smile-worthy video clips. A reassuring bubble to escape from the ‘evil world’; a style that, starting with images, has transferred to the objects surrounding ourself, how to dress, and the music to listen to.
Hello Kitty now looks like an innocent, candid creature in all the versions in which Generation X will find itself: from pencil cases to school notebooks to trolleys for modern little girls who travel.

La perturbante seduzione di ‘Cute’. Dal web alla musica. ph. Credit David Parry PA


Leaving the confectionary disco room that remixes hits from the 80s and 90s, from The Archies to Olivia Newton-John, Donna Summer and The Human League, and anticipating electronic dance music, one finds oneself in the room dedicated to a slumber party for young girls. Here, amidst giant pillows and diffuse monitors, there are all the songs, video clips and suggestions of artists such as SOPHIE, XG, Kim Petras, Marky B, Charli XCX, Carly Rae Jepsen and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, contemporary artists in pigtails, sugar and dark backgrounds.

Throughout the long exhibition, images drenched in pink and ‘pretty’ things alternate in a gradual immersion in the dark, stress-free but sharp. This is how one slowly sinks into the space of ambiguity, of deepest fears: the quirky.


The ‘Cute’ bubble has created a modern Trojan horse for making propaganda without disturbing consciousness and directly addressing the most secret recesses of the unconscious. Nothing new has been discovered at Somerset House since what Freud and Jung theorised and already expressed in the tales of Edgar Allan Poe and E.T.A. Hoffmann, with his Sabbiolino Wizard. The best way to circumvent the filters created to protect oneself from fears and monsters is to bring them closer to what one knows, perhaps by colouring them pink, enlarging the big eyes, rounding off the shapes, and playing with the whiteness of puppies, especially cats.

Hello Kitty, who towers in giant size before the Thames, celebrates her 50 years of ‘innocence’. At the same time, artificial intelligence moulds her great-grandchildren with ‘cute’ aesthetics and a deeply manipulative soul. Politicians who make extensive use of it know this well.