As resident Queen of Kitsch, you may be surprised that I’m often reluctant to discuss my so-called “kitschy” collectibles. Out and about, buying and selling, I can avoid mention of the kitsch stuff simply by discussing my feminist and women’s issues collection. However, once people are in my home, it’s rather hard to escape the comments, questions, and criticisms. The kitsch is everywhere, and some of it literally hides the more lofty tomes of my scholarly pursuits.
Questions will come up. And so do will my defenses.
Honestly, I’m not ashamed of what I collect. Any of it. But what most people call “kitsch” or even “creepy,” I call “cute”. (Personally, I prefer to save the term kitsch for the misogynistic, racist, and other things which are truly in bad taste.) But still, people freak out upon seeing my vintage rubber squeaky toys, my masked and rubber-headed stuffed animals, my vintage figurines with fur, and even my vintage animal figurines with red bow ties. And this bad attitude about my dear collectibles can hurt my feelings — because these things, like my eyeless teddy bears and poodles, are my “collectible babies.” I know they are not alive, but these vintage odd fellows have personalities to me. And that means my protective (projected) feelings.
Even the vintage nudes I collect are easier to discuss than the cute kitsch items because the nudes are easily discussed as part of women’s history. But the cute items? They usually aren’t even seen as cute!
Cute, in fact, is a subjective thing. Which makes it rather like porn, in that it may be difficult to define it — but “we know when we see it”. This know-it-when-we-see-it quality is something author and collector Pamela Klaffke knows all too well. And she should know; not only did she look up the word cute in the dictionary, but she’s written a book specifically about all things cute.
Yes, a book about cute.
In Hello, Cutie!: Adventures in Cute Culture, Pamela Klaffke explores the cute phenomenon which many feel is exploding in our culture right now. From food, edible or inedible, to fashion, baby animals, and comics, Hello, Cutie! covers cute, vintage and contemporary. But primarily, Hello, Cutie! is a book about cute collectibles themselves and those who make and collect the cute as well.
Here are pages on — and photos of — My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Sailor Moon, Hello Kitty, and a plethora of Big Eyed art, figurines, toys, and other objects, handmade and commercially produced, to adore and collect. Heck, there were even photos of objects of my collection-affection: ceramic big-eyed animals with red bow ties! While not pieces from my actual collection, it’s validation all the same.
Sadly, for me, there was very little other than photos or mention of such adorable objects because Hello, Cutie! is heavily focused on dolls. Blythe dolls, Susie Sad Eyes dolls, handmade dolls, pose dolls, kokeshi dolls, Uglydolls — dolls, dolls, dolls! While dolls rarely make it into my collections, the pages in this cute book are compelling… Dangerously so. For along with cute, artsy, vintage-looking photographs by Klaffke herself, there are the stories themselves which have rather seduced me into considering new, cute, doll collections.
Those stories are what really makes Hello, Cutie! so, well, beyond cute. While our definitions and personal tastes may limit our individual ideas of cute, there is something to bond over here. I may neither collect nor covet Blythe dolls — but I completely identify with the stories of those who do. And I really dig the context Klaffke provides. It may only be a sentence or two poking through the cuteness, but it’s important to note the history and psychology as we smile our way through cute. Or kitsch. Or creepy-cute. Whatever you might call it.
I received a review copy of the book from the publishers; this did not impact my review. What did affect my review was the joy of connecting to collecting kindred spirits, DIY-making hands, and cute-loving minds. You don’t have to collect or even love cute itself to enjoy this book, either. Maybe you just want to understand this whole cute-madness thing. Hello, Cutie! will introduce you to cute and those of us who love it and, I think, have you understanding, if not agreeing with us. And if you, or someone you love, gets high off low-brow, this is the book to get for certain.