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Volume 70, Issue 147, Thursday, June 16, 2005

Life & Arts

The power of cute compels you

My 8 Bits

Jason Poland 

Cuteness is a science of survival. By possessing the qualities of cuteness, an organism like the puppy is granted a distinct advantage over less attractive animals like the sewer rat or street pigeon. Not only are cute animals electromagnets for nurturing and cooing affection, but cuteness also keeps people from eating them. 

Large eyes, rounded, disproportioned bodies and a harmless demeanor are the calling cards of cute. While these attributes are survival tools in nature, they also apply to survival in mass marketing.

Sanrio, the company that introduced Hello Kitty to the world, became the forerunners of the "culture of cute," a phenomenon that grew up in Japan during the 1970s and '80s and spread like a pink venereal disease across the globe. Without a doubt, cute sells, and no other company has bottled it and distributed it to the public like Nintendo. From Yoshi to the hordes of screaming Pokémon and Pikmin flower people, Nintendo has often been chastised for pushing the "cute card" once too often. Ever since 8-bit, cuteness has had a place in the video game world, and it doesn't appear to be leaving any time soon.

What's cuter than a chubby snowtoddler in OshKosh B'Gosh and earmuffs? In Kickle Cubicle, a puzzle game about turning cute little monsters into ice cubes, our pint-sized hero Kickle must collect all of the dream bags so he can save the frozen inhabitants of the Fantasy Kingdom. He travels by red balloon to various islands, eats popsicles and converses with talking food. Can you handle that kind of intensity? 

It's surprisingly addictive -- you'll question how you could put up with the saccharine levels for so long when you're up against the giant chicken with the eye patch.

Scientifically proven to be the second cutest bird in existence besides the puffin, the cuteness of the kiwi is paid homage to in Kiwi Kraze, an insane platform game that will take you on a surreal tour of New Zealand's zoos in an attempt to rescue your kiwi kin from an evil walrus. The bow and arrow, laser gun and cherry bomb are the weapons of your sneaker-wearing kiwi warrior. Teddy bears in sunglasses will pursue you on floating cow heads while you hop through Technicolor Teletubbies landscapes. Lastly, we have the pink puff who made eating disorders endearing. On account of his ability to inhale his enemies, Kirby shares his name with a famous vacuum brand. By sucking up everything in sight, Kirby's task is to return dreams to the sleepy citizens of Dream Land by rescuing the Dream Rod from the clutches of King Dedede, a duck with a redundant name. In addition to anything that moves, Kirby also consumes lollipops, ice cream, microphones and the hearts of NES players. The next time you bite into a pink Hostess Snowball, pretend you're eating Kirby. The irony will taste great.

Japan's national motto may soon be "We didn't invent cute, we just made it cuter." The country's cuteness per capita is reaching new levels everyday with no end in sight. If cute ain't your thing, build a bunker and watch the heart surgery channel; cute is here to stay.

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