What is cute? From kittens to kitsch at new exhibition in London

Category: Lifestyle/Entertainment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. permeate / ˈpɜr miˌeɪt / (v.) – to spread throughout something and influence every aspect of it

    The love for baseball permeates our town, bringing people together whenever there’s a game.

  2. provoke / prəˈvoʊk / (v.) – to cause something, such as a response, reaction, or emotion

    The community project was launched to provoke a spirit of unity and collaboration.

  3. immerse / ɪˈmɜrs / (v.) – to completely involve oneself in a particular activity, experience, or interest

    The language student immerses himself in the Japanese culture to better learn the language.

  4. saccharine / ˈsæk ər ɪn / (adj.) – too sweet or sentimental, often to the point of seeming fake or not sincere

    The saccharine love story in the movie disappointed the viewers, who preferred something more realistic.

  5. cutesy / ˈkyut si / (adj.) – cute, charming, or sweet, often in an annoying or artificial way

    The teenager designed her room with cutesy dolls and colorful posters.


Read the text below.

What could be cuter than Hello Kitty, the popular Japanese cartoon character? She’s the star of the show at a new exhibition in London.

‘CUTE’ at Somerset House brings together all kinds of adorable exhibits. From popular culture icons, like everyone’s favorite aliens, E.T. and baby Yoda, to charming children’s toys such as Sylvanian Families figures. There’s even cute fashion, with boots decorated with those classic cuddly characters, the Care Bears. Even exhibition visitors are dressed in the theme.

“This is a whole show really asking ‘what is cute?’ What are the many faces of cute which we all know and love? But it’s a huge cultural phenomenon and it permeates every aspect of life and has everything to do with our relationships and our communities and our pets and our children,” says Cliff Lauson, Director of Exhibitions at Somerset House.

The exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of Hello Kitty. The little white kitten was created by Japanese designer Yuko Shimizu to decorate products made by the brand Sanrio. Originally, the character was marketed towards pre-teen girls, but over the decades she’s become an icon with much broader appeal.

Cute is big business.

“One of the amazing things about cute is it has this ability to provoke an emotional response, and it can generate an effect in all of us,” says Lauson.

“I’m really interested in the cute aesthetic because I think it has this deceptive power to it. It’s something that feels kind of very innocent and very light on the surface, but actually you get kind of the soft power and you get the kind of way it immerses itself into people’s consciousnesses, which I think is a really interesting, unique ability of the cute,” says artist Sian Fan who was inspired by growing up in the early 1990s and watching hyper-cute and hyper-feminine anime television characters.

So, does cute melt your heart? Or is it just too sickeningly saccharine-sweet for words?

According to art critic Tabish Khan, that’s the whole point of the exhibition. “I think cute actually divides people. When you see something really cutesy, like kittens with rainbows, some people love it and some people find it almost vomit-inducing. They find it a bit too much,” he says.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Cliff Lauson said that the concept of “cute” has the ability to provoke an emotional response in people. What specific things or creatures do you find cute (ex. kittens, babies)? What emotions do cute things make you feel (ex. delight, comfort)? Why? Discuss.
  • Do you agree that “cute” is a huge cultural phenomenon? Why or why not? How would you describe the perception of the concept of “cute” within your own culture (ex. it permeates our culture, it is only apparent to kids)? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Do you agree that “cute” is big business? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • Do you believe that it is important to have an exhibition of cute things? What cute activities do you think you would be interested in attending (ex. dog show, DIY plush toy workshop)? Discuss.