"Cuteness does matter. It carries important social and ideological consequences." 


Ngai, N. (2023). Sugar and Spice (and Everything Nice?): Japan’s Ambition Behind Lolita’s Kawaii Aesthetics. Media, Culture & Society 45(3):545-560. 

*Honorable Mention for the 2024 Timothy Shary Award for Best Essay in Children’s and Youth Media Studies at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS)

The selection committee reported, “Ngai’s essay offers a thoughtful examination of how Lolita fashion is created, promoted, and circulated within Japanese culture. It skillfully applies a transnational framework to Lolita marketing, which provides welcome insights into youth cultural production and consumption in a non-US context. Furthermore, her study affirms fashion as a medium in its own right where cultural scripts and ideologies are (re)produced, negotiated, and contested. Her close attention to whiteness, in particular, underscores a larger globalized tension and political struggle between Japanese culture and Western culture more broadly that shapes the consumption of postfeminist media culture in a manner that transcends received understandings.” 

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.

Ngai, N. (2023). The Temptation of Performing Cuteness: Shirley Temple’s Birthday Parties during the Great Depression. Feminist Media Studies 23(7):3091-3105.

*Winner of the 2022 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. (2023). Homemade Pet Celebrities: The Everyday Experience of Micro-celebrity in Promoting the Self and Others. Celebrity Studies 14(4):437-454. 

*Winner of the 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.

Ngai, N. (2022). Women Under Authoritarianism: Precarious, Glamorous Women Politicians in Hong Kong Political News and Gossip. International Journal of Communication 16(2022):3215-3232.

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, T.L. (2021). The Mother of a Famous Child: The Media Representation of Shirley Temple’s “Mother” in Hollywood, 1934–1940. In: S. Liddy and A. O’Brien (eds.), Media Work, Mothers and Motherhood, pp.63-76. London: Routledge.

*Winner of the 2022 British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS) Best Essay by a Doctoral Student Award

The jury's comment: "A detailed and knowledgable approach to the study of Shirley Temple, this essay makes a valuable contribution to the fields of motherhood and star studies. It is a unique piece of work within the crowded field of star studies in the classical Hollywood period, drawing from both newspapers and fan magazines, as well as biographical materials." 

Abstract: Shirley Temple is a child star legend in the United States. What is less known about this household name is that her mother, Gertrude Temple, was one of the most famous and widely covered mothers in the Great Depression era, who groomed her daughter for stardom. Despite Gertrude’s tremendous professional achievements by serving as Shirley’s acting coach, manager and publicist, Gertrude was cast by the press as simply a loving and altruistic mother of Shirley to preserve the superstar’s aura of cuteness and innocence. This chapter examines the media representation of Gertrude Temple in a range of primary sources, including mainstream local and national newspapers, women’s magazines, fan magazines and movie industry trade magazines in the 1930s. It also draws on the biographical materials about Gertrude and Shirley Temple. This essay shows that despite Gertrude being a working mother – and being lauded as such – her media coverage reaffirmed the primacy of mothers not working outside the home. The press and Gertrude herself framed her actual professional contributions as primarily maternal, highly altruistic, and necessary to child development amid strong biases against women working outside the home during the Great Depression. Such a construction of a favourable identification with care work is still an effective public relations strategy today, yet it reinforced and amplified the ideology of selfless, joyful, effortless motherhood and promoted unrealistic, intensive mothering.




Ngai, T.L. (2020). Cuteness is Everywhere. Cultural Studies. September 2020.


Ngai, T.L. (2020). Why Does Cuteness Matter? A Review of The Power of Cute. Critical Studies in Media Communication 37(3):270-272.