"Cuteness does matter. It carries important social and ideological consequences."
Ngai, N. (2022). Sugar and Spice (and Everything Nice?): Japan’s Ambition Behind Lolita’s Kawaii Aesthetics. Media, Culture & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/01634437221126082
Abstract: The global media and marketing phenomenon of Lolita fashions has charmed many with their kawaii (cute) aesthetics. This study argues that the kawaii aesthetics not only allows one to perform non-conforming femininity playfully, as previous studies have suggested, but it also embodies racial and national ideologies. This study uses an intersectional, transnational approach to investigate the retail catalogs of Lolita brands and fan publications. Findings reveal that Lolita marketing in Japan artfully appropriates whiteness through the kawaii aesthetics, which renders whiteness/Westernness less threatening and covers up Japan’s ambition to surpass the West with a spectacular and innocent mask. When kawaii aesthetics is repackaged for the Western market, the over-representation of whiteness is replaced by a fantasy of cross-racial sisterhood, subtly celebrating the superiority of the East Asian race. I call for an awareness of the appropriation of whiteness outside the United States and an intersectional reading of ‘postfeminist’ glamor.
*Winner of 2022 The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) Entertainment Studies Interest Group Top Student Paper Award and Anne Cooper-Chen Research Award.
Abstract: This study uncovers the national deployment of cuteness in the multi-year birthday celebrations of the enormously popular child star Shirley Temple during the Great Depression in the United States. These widely publicized media events promoted the ideology of consumerism through Shirley Temple’s brand cuteness, addressing the prevailing anxieties about poverty and patriarchal capitalism in the 1930s. Moreover, Shirley’s brand of cuteness necessitated material protection for the child by promoting that if the little girl is “cute”—––innocent, pure, vulnerable, and loyal to the father figures–––, the adult would love her and indulge her with material abundance. Shirley Temple epitomizes girly cuteness and embodies the hope of girls and women for being rewarded by patriarchy. I use archival research and textual analysis to investigate how Fox film studio packaged Shirley’s stardom around her birthdays in her movies, media profiles, and publicity stunts between 1934 and 1940. The primary sources include Shirley’s movies, mainstream newspapers, women’s magazines, fan magazines, and the motion pictures trade press. This study fuses cuteness theories with girls’ studies to discuss the temptations for girls and women to perform cuteness.
Ngai, N. (2022). Women Under Authoritarianism: Precarious, Glamorous Women Politicians in Hong Kong Political News and Gossip. International Journal of Communication. https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/19292
Abstract: This study combines content analysis and critical discourse analysis to examine how the media representation of politicians is shaped by their gender, political identities, political leanings of the press, and journalism genres, with a sample of 946 news articles during the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Results show that women legislators in Hong Kong are more visible in softer journalism than hard news. Under authoritarianism, women politicians with liberal, prodemocracy agendas are particularly vulnerable to what Gaye Tuchman terms the "symbolic annihilation" by the media. Although celebrity journalism tends to portray more women politicians over men regardless of their political leanings, it often stresses women's gender over their profession. This study brings in an intersectional, cultural studies approach to research on gender and news.
Ngai, N. (2022). Homemade Pet Celebrities: The Everyday Experience of Micro-celebrity in Promoting the Self and Others. Celebrity Studies. https://doi.org/10.1080/19392397.2022.2070714
*Winner of 2022 Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Fan and Audiences Studies Graduate Student Paper Award
Abstract: Pet influencers are rising stars on social media, and many everyday social media users also curate profiles for their pets for fun. This study established a cat Instagram account and uses ethnographic methods to investigate the phenomenon of pet Instagram as a kind of affective community co-habited by humans and nonhuman others. Recent studies of micro-celebrity have emphasised the practice of micro-celebrity – engaging in self-promotion and addressing followers as fans – as a calculating self-presentation strategy used by many successful influencers to update their status. In fact, as this study shows, many everyday social media users also perform as a celebrity to promote themselves and others, like rescue cats, without striving for money and their own status. This article reaffirms that the micro-celebrity is an ordinary, somewhat pleasurable experience for everyday social media users, whose selves constantly cross boundaries to build affinity with others, rather than merely presenting the extended self to serve one’s ego. Moreover, this case study of pet Instagram shows that the practice of micro-celebrity on social media as teamwork can affectively, productively, and playfully reaffirm how the self is always part of and constituted by multiple others, including nonhuman animal others.