Cute, Quaint, Hungry And Romantic: The Aesthetics Of Consumerism

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9780306810473: Cute, Quaint, Hungry And Romantic: The Aesthetics Of Consumerism

Call it an encyclopedia of low-brow aesthetics. In Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic, the writer whom Steven Millhauser called "the most original essayist since George Orwell" examines with devastating wit and in a style distinctly his own the contagious appeal of that which is not art, the uses of the useless, the politics of product design and advertising. Here is a psychic voyage into the aesthetic unconscious of the consumer, as well as "the perfect companion for any foray through Restoration Hardware or the freezer compartment at Dean & DeLuca" (Village Voice Literary Supplement). From teddy bears to Mars Bars to Leonardo DiCaprio, this is the refuse of consumerism unflinchingly—and very entertainingly—observed.

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Review:

From his perch somewhere in Brooklyn, New York, essayist Daniel Harris launches a loquacious jeremiad against the way in which consumerism and its ideologies have insinuated themselves into our sense of self. Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic is a critical examination of the everyday things that surround us--from washing machines to vitamin supplements, reproduction antiques to supermodels. Taking aim at cuteness, quaintness, coolness, the romantic, zaniness, the futuristic, deliciousness, the natural, glamorousness, and cleanness, he seeks to expose just how tangled is the web we have woven, his goal being to show "how the aesthetics of consumerism are the lies we tell ourselves to preserve our individuality." Buying a four-by-four does not make us roughriders or adventurers, despite the names such vehicles bear. We know this as we drive our Wrangler or Jeep through the smooth streets of suburbia, yet the off-road ads still appeal. The perversity is the way in which attempts at iconoclasm are themselves domesticated into corporate opportunity: dirty denim, pick-up trucks as general vehicles, "wackiness."

Harris is not a man to mince his words. The reader sits almost breathless in the face of his vituperation. For example, discussing teenagers and coolness, he writes: "The romantic movement's cult of the child has created a foul-mouthed enfant terrible who has turned the playground into a necropolis, where prematurely aged Byronic figures stagger from the merry-go-round to the seesaw to the jungle gym, striking poses of misery and ennui, convinced that their solemnity lends them an air of sophistication and maturity."

The critique is scathing and often penetrating. Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic is a bracing read and a call to consciousness. Even the least sophisticated consumers know they are manipulated. Even the most sophisticated, Harris argues, do not really acknowledge how much they, too, are willing dupes.--J. Riches

About the Author:

Daniel Harris is the author of The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture, a New York Times Notable Book in 1997. His essays have appeared regularly in Harper's, Salmagundi, and the Nation and have been included in the Anchor Essay Annual and Best American Essays. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Harris, Daniel
Published by Da Capo Press (2001)
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