Cute: A Conspiracy Theory?

I’m always interested in the presence of abstracts in reality. I touched on this with my question of good and bad in my last post, but I come back around to it this week. (Because midnight and the end of Monday looms? We shall never know).

The question turning over in my mind right now regards cuteness. What makes something “cute?”

This idea was put to me in, I kid you not, honors Philosophy 101 my first semester of college. Of course, the prof didn’t use such a useful object for consideration. Instead, he presented the question of abstracts by means of a table.

We all know what a table is. What it looks like. We can consciously picture one if we try. And we could all definitely spot one from a hundred yards and say, without doubt, that it is neither a chair, nor a flamingo, a slide, or a plate. It’s a table.

But what makes it a table? Is it what it is made of? Wood or other materials? (So are chairs and some plates.) Is it what it has? A flat surface and legs? (So does a chair and a slide.) Is it what it does? Something you eat off of? (Like a plate or a very confused flamingo.)

The point is that in reality, any of us could see an object and correctly identify if it was a table as opposed to, say, a pink, stupid-looking bird. This is because (and I think this is from Plato, but I’ll defer to my philosophy-buff fellow writers, who’re probably fully erect right now because I said philosophy and abstract in the same post) we each have an abstract idea of what a table is. Without having to picture a distinct table. We know what a table is. Unassailably.

Back to my question. Forget the stuffy table example. Forget Philosophy 101 (erections drooping, I know). Back to cute.

I’ll ask again. What makes something “cute?”

Let’s start with an unassailable, we-may-even-rightly-call-it-borderline-abstract example of cuteness:

baby tails

This is a picture of my dog, Tails, when he was a 3-month-old puppy. No one, and I mean no one could argue that he’s not cute. Look at him. (To put it in perspective, that orange toy, Mr. Binky, is about 4 inches tall.) He is A-dor-a-ble. And cute.

But this post isn’t about a gushing dog owner’s infatuation with his pooch. It’s about understanding the greater depths of thoughts. About pushing boundaries.

So, as I was sitting here, thinking about what to write, I looked at Tails and thought, “why is he so cute?”

Bear in mind, he’s now over a year old and looks like this (still pretty cute, I think).

older tailsSo, while I can admit that he’s not as cute now, my question remains. What makes something “cute?” We have an abstract sense of cuteness. We can judge cuteness in variable spectra (e.g. “Tails was cuter as a puppy, but still cute as an adult”).

But would I know cute if it walked up and smacked me in the face?

Can I see what cute is? What it does? How it’s used? What it looks like?

Cute, unlike the easy table example my philosophy prof used, is even more abstract. But no less important.

I offer this post as a chance to wake up to the abstracts that surround each of us. Recognize the cute things around you today. Or the beautiful things. Or the any-number-of-other-adjectives-things.

Abstracts, they’re all around you. And you didn’t even know it.

davidrsheehan is a contributing writer for Get instant updates for this blog via Twitter: PGTblog. You can also tweet directly with him: davidrsheehan. He is happy to provide more cute pictures of his silly dog Tails, if anyone would like to counter his statement that Tails is unassailably cute.



Filed under philosophy

6 responses to “Cute: A Conspiracy Theory?

  1. I read somewhere that usually what people find “cute” is usually found in people, animals, images that mimic features found in human (and sometimes the more broad category of mammalian) babies. Big eyes, roundness or softness, vulnerable appearance, and body proportions indicative of youth. In whatever source I am paraphrasing (and hopefully not completely fabricating), I believe animators have deliberately used these features in cartoons to make the distinction between the good guy and the bad guy. Generally, villains will have beady eyes, spiny and angular features in comparison.

    These parameters don’t necessarily apply to everyone. I find many reptiles and amphibians cute, and I know generally people tend to disagree with me on that.

  2. kevinkmjr

    Cute is a very abstract and opinionated definition. My ex-girlfriend, for example, would glow and smile and talk about how hers was the cutest baby in the world; meanwhile her sister made me laugh out loud talking about how ugly the baby was when I ran into her one day. The mother said cute while the aunt and rest of world quietly winced at the ugly baby.

    This is not meant to poke fun at my ex-girlfriend for spawning such a creature, although it does give me some pleasure of which I’ll surely burn for, it simply shows that cuteness truly is in the eye of the beholder.

    Another example is Tails the dog. I love dogs and agree that Tails is cute. We had a student from Africa spend the holidays once and he viewed our cute puppy, and any puppy for that matter, as terrifying creatures. So this man would have viewed Tails as a beast rather than a cute little puppy.

    In this example, the student from Africa only new of canines as feral animals that roamed the wild, and in Africa, there’s NOTHING cute about that.

  3. davidrsheehan

    Haha, I like your example, Kevin. Perhaps the African student would refute my unassailable statement. And he’d be correct.

    SkinHorse, I like your point too – round, small, and vunerability do indeed seem to go hand-in-hand with cuteness.

  4. Dave, if you want to get me hard, it’s best not to use Plato. Either cut straight to Socrates, or skip the Greeks and talk to me about something Continental and reasonably contemporary.

    Nonetheless, I was aroused enough for a first date. See you next week, tiger….

  5. davidrsheehan

    Hahahahaha. Mike, your reply made my day.

    I’m intrigued by the theory that Socrates never existed. I know it’s pretty much impossible, since there are too many sources corroborating Plato, but the idea that Socrates – such an influential figure – was nothing more than a figment of Plato’s imagination – dreamt up to play out his theories – sits well with me.

    But then, I’m enchanted by the similar theory that the wonderful Roman poet Ovid never had a mistress, nor was he exiled by Augustus; rather, that he too created these plots and characters, imagining them up in the style of others who had actually had these things happen to them, and then twisting the events in his fictitious lives with his own brand of superlative humor.

    Essentially, I want the ancient authors to have developed plot devices and created layers to their personal life writings that dramatized themselves.

    But back to my point – great reply, Mike.

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