The Current

What the cuteness of characters like Mickey Mouse can tell us about our world

Could there be more to cuteness than we think? U.K. philosopher and author Simon May explains what the concept can tell us about our world.

Philosopher Simon May explains the power of cuteness

Philosopher Simon May tells us why Mickey Mouse became a more gentle character after the Second World War. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Read Story Transcript

You may think of cuteness as silly entertainment, but a philosophy professor at King's College London argues it's a broader phenomenon that can tell us a lot about our world.

"If that was all cute was about, it wouldn't be the multibillion-dollar, international, continuous sensation that it is," Simon May told The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay,

May has written about the success of characters like Hello Kitty, or artist Jeff Koons's balloon dogin his book The Power of Cute.

He cites Disney character Mickey Mouse as another example.

Simon May is the author behind The Power of Cute. (Princeton University Press)

Following the Second World War, the cartoon mouse evolved from a more aggressive character to a gentler one, he said.

"The participants in that war — especially the Western world and Japan — just felt that we need an alternative to might is right," he explained.

"Figures that embodied the power to persist but nonetheless who were gentle, there was … an attraction to that kind of figure, and Mickey Mouse changed in accord with that new change in atmosphere."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Produced by Karin Marley.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.