Skewering Normative Cuteness with Latinidad

Curator's Note

Latinos are terrific consumers of cuteness (Hispanics are the second largest market for Hello Kitty after Asians), but Latino identity bears an ambiguous relation to the racialized and classed aesthetics of “cute”. In the US, cuteness tends to be racially and culturally aligned with whiteness, which is itself aligned conceptually with middle-class familial and emotional structures. Ugly Betty and Jane the Virgin play with the relationship of Latino/a identity to normative “white” culture in ways that good-naturedly skewer the latter, in part by playing “cuteness” against the shows’ more pronounced camp aesthetic. These clips from Ugly Betty and Jane the Virgin serve as a small sample. In season one of Ugly Betty, Betty meets Henry Grubstick, an accountant from Tucson. Just as he and Betty are on the verge of romantic attachment, his ex-girlfriend Charlie arrives, hoping to rekindle things. Here, Henry has been beat up by a co-worker at a medieval-themed sports bar. Betty soothes Henry, but Charlie tells Betty to back off, saying “there’s a reason why fairy tales don’t have two princesses.” Clearly assuming that she is the princess here, Charlie ignores Henry’s preference for Betty and the crown on Betty’s head. Charlie’s actions reflect an everyday cruelty made possible by Charlie’s physical cuteness and privileged whiteness. Betty steps aside, but her pain emerges as a nightmare in the form of a telenovela, Las Pasiones de Betty. In the final clip, Jane Villanueva, having been accidentally artificially inseminated and given birth to Rafael Solano’s son, here sits with Rafael’s ex-wife Petra, who has just given birth to two more Solanos after sneakily self-administering the rest of Rafael’s precious frozen sperm (it’s a long story). Petra and Rafael clearly don’t know they’ve just named their twins after mega-popular Disney characters. Jane is kind enough to be quiet, but the parents’ cluelessness indicates a classed distance from cute consumption that we, the audience, are assumed to share with Jane. Cuteness is a balm the heroines turn to in tough times, but consumption of and engagement with the cute cannot change the change the fact that the heroines are not normatively “cute” objects themselves; the program’s self-knowing humor fills in for what the heroines feel. Loving the cute becomes an alibi by which viewers are invited to identify with the powerlessness of the heroines as part of the viewers’ own experience—and pleasure.

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