In The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children’s Culture, Gary Cross writes that “the twentieth century was, by any reckoning, the age of the child in America.” The childish aesthetic is sustained to this day. I am not only referring to the global embrace of Kawaii – the Japanese fascination with cuteness – but most of all a certain way of aesthetical thinking. Children think in stereotypes: if something is cute and colorful, it has to be good, while outward ugliness is equal to that on the inside. Grey, brown and black are dirty colors, signifying a kind of badness. There is a reason why cool characters wear black – it marks a clear division from the childish innocence. Cute appeals to children and their parents, while black is reserved for adolescents. Cross notices that when someone turns from cute to cool, he or she is immediately labeled as a rebel. Dark colors are a threat to the current order.
Our culture teaches us to value cuteness. Videos of cute cats, dogs and other small animals make rounds all over the Internet, guaranteeing clicks, likes, or whatever else the video’s creator was aiming at. They are a welcome distraction from work, sometimes even sent to you via e-mail by your boss. Kittens and puppies are cute. They are so clumsy, so innocent. How can you not love them? Or, in other words, how can you not want to buy them? Since according to capitalism, consumption constitutes existence, the best pets are the ones that are bought. You know their parents, you can observe them for some time, and what is most fun, you get to pick which one you want. Does not that make you feel important? You go to a dog breeder, look at the beautiful pups clumsily walking around the yard and pick the one that appeals to you. Sometimes it is the one that approaches you the first, other times the one that just seems to have the most fun in the crowd. Generally you can pick the one you like, just remember to think twice about the one that is in the back, uninterested, as this dog will not love you the way the others will. Because that is the goal, right? To get something that will love you unconditionally, solely for the fact that you exist. The pet will serve as constant validation, it will jump on your knees and show you that everything is fine. The cute little face will make you smile and inspire you to come back to the endless cycle of work and consumption.
Cute puppies are made, produced on demand, while ugly dogs are just born. Nobody wants them, and yet they appear. We accidentally hear about them walking the streets or sitting in pound kennels, awaiting to be put down simply because they do not belong. In a sense, these dogs are like trash, as they are the by-product of the cuteness-industry, that is puppy breeding. According to critical geographer Tim Cresswell, belonging is influenced by a certain reading of places. Reading is understood here as a proper interpretation, according to the commonly-accepted guidelines and views. These ugly, plain dogs are obviously unaware of the fact that they are transgressing, but that does not mean that they can just do it without consequence. As any episode of The Dog Whisperer will teach you, we, the people, set the boundaries. We get to decide what is allowed. Obviously I am not implying that Cesar Milan encourages people to reject insubordinate dogs – he clearly does the opposite and deserves a lot of praise for that, despite some of his methods being questionable – but the idea of rules and control is essential in understanding the relationship between humans and pets. Pets can either follow our rules or look for a different home. Bad, unwelcome dogs are thrown out, released into the wild, or just left in front of pounds.
By visiting a pound, where these unnecessary products are collected, you are already showing an interest in someone else’s trash. It is not like diving into a trashcan, but, at least according to the neoliberal imperative, it shows some resemblance to the action. Potentiality, which is so promising in neoliberalism, may be applied to puppies, who are valued not as what they are, but what they can become. A cute puppy can be a good dog, a grown-up dog is pretty much what it is. By getting a grown-up dog from the pound, you not only know what you are signing up for – you are actually opposing the system. You do not care that your animal is plain or ugly, because on the inside it can be the most caring and polite dog there ever was. No one would ever care for that mutt, but you did, because you saw in him or her more than anyone else. Most people would not even bother with him or her, because he or she is not cute. But you know what he or she can be? Cool. And you are cool, for rebelling against the imperative of cuteness and rejecting the idea that beauty should be expected of products, people or pets. We are urged to take care of our bodies, be healthy, productive, surrounded by cute and nice objects. Internet lists inform you what dog breeds are in and what are out. Their descriptions are accompanied by cute pictures, to inspire you to buy one of these and make your family complete. My suggestion is: screw cuteness, be cool. Take a regular looking grown-up, even old dog. A dog who has suffered violence or neglect all of his life, and turn him into the happiest creature on Earth. Take a mix, a mongrel, a mutt. Make a statement. Resist.