Tuesday 17th October 2017,
Televisual

Brilliance of Cute: ‘Babies,’ Documentary and Digital Culture

Next month, the world will fall prey to the most brilliant idea in cinema since the extremely popular March of the Penguins and the most popular movie in history Avatar:

Babies (Bébés, dir. Thomas Balmes).

Coming out Mother’s Day weekend, the film (click for trailer) follows the first year in the lives of four babies around the world: the U.S. (California), Mongolia, Japan and Namibia.

It seems pretty inevitable a film like Babies would arise. Here’s why:

-The desire among liberals to see a world united in the face of global political and economic unrest.

-The growing popularity of documentaries in the aughts: 1) the top six highest grossing documentaries of all-time came out in the last eight years, mostly thanks to Michael Moore; 2) 38 of the top 50 documentaries came out between 2000-2009 (not inflation-adjusted!)

-The particular strain of popular documentaries that are not expressly political, but rather focused on global humanism, togetherness, environment: March of the Penguins (#2), Earth (#3), Winged Migration (#10), Mad Hot Ballroom (#12).

March of the Penguins specifically, which proved to distributors people will watch something informative and realistic, so long as it’s adorable. (Farenheit 9/11 proved people will watch something semi-informative and semi-realistic so long as its hilarious).

-YouTube, which showed us the tremendous viral possibilities of cuteness: kittens, cats, babies, lions, puppies, etc. This along with the cottage cute industry online, most notably I Can Has Cheezburger and its many subsidiaries (I’ve learned they actually have a “cutologist”). As much as media theorists discuss, both giddily and cynically, the creation of niche markets and complex/rich forms of storytelling created by fragmented media and digital technologies, the lowest common denominator still exists and it works! Who doesn’t love babies?

Now, I’ve been wrong before about predicting the success of films. One movie might seem right on time and yet be five minutes too late. Still, I have a hard time imagining Babies not grossing at least $10 or $20 million, which is a lot for a documentary. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it grosses several times that.

YouTube’s famous “Hahaha” baby, viewed over 100 million times

What to expect? 80-minutes of spitting, stumbling, splashing, crying and burping, of course. You thought these were special babies? I saw this trailer a few months ago in New York; it even had me disarmed, and I’m not particularly keen on having children. The entire LES-sophisticrat audience, there for Broken Embraces, were reduced to piles of mush.

I’m assuming the film will not address, as one blogger noted, issues of environmental depletion, carbon footprints, overpopulation or structural inequalities. Why spoil the fun? I’ve sometimes claimed people who have children should take into account the environmental and resource impact of their decision (as opposed to adoption, which is admittedly expensive), particularly those in privileged countries whose children will drive cars, buy lots of products and eats tons of food. But who am I to tell anyone how to reproduce? And I’m not a scientist. Besides, the vast majority of films don’t address these issues. I digress.

Might the dominance of cute be telling us something meaningful? Sheila C. Murphy (University of Michigan) thinks it might. She’s been thinking about whether the “LOL” phenomenon (LOLCats, LOLTheory, etc.) might be a way for people to theorize or think meaningfully (or, perhaps, radically un-meaningfully) about the world, incorporating both text and image. (I think; I’ll link to her paper when it comes out). Provocative!

Is this cute to you?

A documentary called LOLFoucault? Sure makes me laugh. Every. Time.

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

2 Comments

  1. gabi May 20, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    nice 🙂