12 May 2004

Cuteness, and punk rock

By way of Amygdala, I bring you this very thoughtful article about the unstoppable wave of cuteness rushing out of Japan.

It is characteristic of subcultural style that it should resist the interpretations of outsiders. The signs emblazoned across the bodies of these Japanese teenagers speak in code to those who inhabit the same world of meaning; that, in one sense, is the point. But more than this, the broader ‘meaning’ of style is not something that can be read off its surface. If cute means anything, it isn't going to be what it seems to mean. It isn't, for example, necessarily juvenile to dress like a child. Nor does dressing up at the weekend necessarily betray a desire to be ‘someone else’. Most important, the deliberate dumbness ... doesn't necessarily mean they have nothing to say, or that they are saying nothing by acting dumb.

Cute culture has thrown Richie and other writers off track because it doesn't conform to what the baby boomer generation expects of youth culture. Cute is not rebellious — at least not in any obvious way. It isn't cool. It doesn't seem to be about sex. It doesn't want to overthrow capitalism — cute is hooked on brand-names. It is cosy, not angry.

I love that first sentence. It's a subject I've alluded to before.

Another example: My soul sister Alysse tells a story about taking her mother to a punk show, as a way of educating her mother about what it was that her sister was getting into. Mom was, at first, horrified by the mosh pit: all those kids crashing into each other, seemingly trying to knock each other down.

“Watch what happens when one of them falls,” says Alysse.

This takes a while to spot — the energy in a good pit is powerful, but much more controlled than it appears to the unfamiliar eye. But in time some skinny punk takes a spill ... and almost before he hits the ground there are half a dozen strangers' hands helping him up. And mom Gets It.

Brotherhood. You're not supposed to be able to see it from the outside. Subcultures are like that.

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