cover image Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic the Aesthetics of Consumerism

Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic the Aesthetics of Consumerism

Daniel Harris. Basic Books, $24 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-465-02848-1

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)