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Cute, Quaint, Hungry And Romantic The Aesthetics Of Consumerism Hardcover – May 2, 2000

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Editorial Reviews 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

From Publishers Weekly

In an attempt to elucidate the intricate cultural interaction between the consumer and the consumed, Harris (The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture) examines a wide sampling of cultural relics, such as wood-burning stoves, Taco Bell Meximelts, Absolut Vodka and television sitcoms. While he is occasionally on target--as with his observation that the more destructive the product (e.g., cars, cigarettes), the more likely its advertisements will feature gorgeous nature photography--he more frequently states the obvious. For example, he notes that cute dolls are really parents' wish projections, aimed at compensating for the more ambivalent reality of kids, and that the "quaintness" sold by stores like Renovation Hardware doesn't reflect a desire for a less commercial past so much as an unthinking commercialization of that fantasy. All too often, Harris makes sweeping generalizations--such as his argument that hardcore porn and beautifully photographed food "interfere with our ability to appreciate real" lovers or food--that ignore the complexity of human existence and interaction. As Harris reveals in his afterword, he doesn't have any solutions, but "as a cultural critic and not a visionary... I have always felt it is sufficient for me to destroy--to slash, to burn." Unfortunately, his unrelenting negativism undercuts his arguments and makes for arduous reading. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465028489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465028481
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,697,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Yaumo Gaucho on August 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
There are some thought-provoking ideas here about the aesthetics of pop culture, and interesting mini-histories of topics such as changes in the shape of popular teddy bears. Harris's short essays are entertaining and well-written, but fall far short of the academic lit-crit standards to which they aspire.
The subject matter is clearly inspired by Susan Sontag's wonderful essay "On Kitsch," but Harris never lives up to Sontag's reading breadth or intellectual relentlessness. Links to other theory, besides a shallow few pop-theorists, are nonexistent. The essays, in exchange for their commendable brevity, don't explore their subjects very deeply, yet sometimes contain so little core content that they manage to be repetitive even in the few pages they are allotted.
Many of Harris's examples seem ad-hoc: why did he pick this specific movie to dwell on for a few pages, instead of another one that may disprove his point? He often quotes without attribution, confusing the reader with quotation marks around sentences or passages whose original sources remain unattributed. And lastly, despite the year 2000 copyright, many of these essays are clearly ten to twenty years old. They talk about "new" phenomena such "Miami Vice," "L.A. Law," and touch-tone telephones.
Lastly, Harris is a bit of a lit-crit Holden Caulfield. To him, everything is fake, stupid, and contrived. He doesn't like anything or anyone. Do you eat hamburgers? Harris will tell you that you're a stupid fawning corporate slave. Do you shun hamburgers? You're also a stupid fawning corporate slave.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In "Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic", essayist and cultural critic Daniel Harris proposes a simple thesis: consumer choices and their underlying aesthetic expressions are crucibles of self-deceptive individuality actually embedded in unseen, and often ignorant, mass-market conformity.
Claiming to avoid the usual critiques that define our spending habits and material acquisitions as blatant attacks on the bad taste of the average American, Harris instead claims that this work approaches "consumerism" from the vantage-point of the immediate, sensual, tactile and "experienced" world. Consumerism rooted in the senses.
In this regard, Harris succeeds magnificently. He captures the often pathetic, frequently silly, and always magical associations between what we feel, what we think, and the way our product choices define for ourselves a sense of self.
Along the way, Harris reveals the inherent contradictions that inhabit our pathetic need to make a "me" out of what is purchased. This is hardly a groundbreaking hypothesis. Where he departs from the usual and typical is in identifying the insidiously clever way that advertisers pander to our individual and collective, self-created, personas by masking the true nature of the very stuff we wear, listen to, watch, eat and take into our homes.
Broken down into delightful chapter heading such as, "Cuteness", "Coolness", "Deliciousness", "Glamorousness", etc.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Chris O'Neill on May 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Daniel Harris is that unusual essayist who writes about popular culture in an informative, unpretentious and humorous way. He doesn't spend all of his time trying to inflate the importance of the subjects of his essays to make himself seem more important. Instead, he just goes about selecting familiar yet unexamined niches of popular culture and reveals the ironies that turn up with wit and enthusiasm. These 10 essays on the aesthetics of consumerism may embarrass some readers when they show how we've been manipulated by corporate marketing, but, ultimately, one can't help but feel enlightened and thoroughly entertained by Harris' writing. As essays as good as these rarely appear in mainstream publications, I would recommend buying this book without hesitation.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Diatribes on conumerism are certainly nothing new, but Daniel Harris attempts to be more than, as he states, "simply a covert attack on the bad taste of the lower classes."
Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out that way. Much of the book is easily-gathered theories popular in anti-consumerist essays (Hey, did you know that most food ads don't have anything to do with hunger? Oh, you did? Ah well...) and when Hariis strays from simple ideas, he gets himself into a bind, countering with lots of gross generalizations (to Harris, it's completely inconceivable that someone might be collecting antiques due to a genuine interest in history, or that it's possible to enjoy the humor of "Airplane!" alone) that just sound like the rantings of someone who never got over being unpopular in high school.
Sure, you could buy this book--it's not bad, it's quite densely written, and I finished it, albeit taking a grain of salt with every other page. To save money, however, you could simply type "You're a big phony because you fall into the trappings of consumerism" over and over for 270 pages and get the same effect.
Douglas Rushkoff does this sort of thing better (and, god forbid, includes facts and research), and Kalle Lasn is full of himself, but at least he's optimistic. Harris reeks of nothing but bitterness.
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