Author:Irene Stengs (Meertens Institute)
Paper short abstract:
Focussing on the cute cartoons published by King Vajiralongkorn, this paper investigates the political dimensions of cuteness in present-day Thailand. Building on Brian McVeigh's notion of 'authority cuteness', it is asked what attempted domination and control are behind this royal use of cuteness
Paper long abstract:
This paper aims at a further understanding of the political dimensions of cuteness in present-day Thailand. It takes as its main ethnographic focus the cartoons publicized by Thailand's new king Vajiralongkorn (Rama X). His first royal cartoons appeared in 2017, in the course of the year of mourning for his father, King Bhumibol (1927-2016). The king's cartoons depict - in a white-picket-fence fashion - happy families in the midst of equally happy houses, cars, pets, trees, airplanes and even suitcases. An amalgamation of hearts, angels, cosy nightcaps and anthropomorphic, lovable plants and other objects give these cartoons an aesthetic of cuteness and happiness. King Vajiralonkorn has been publicizing his cartoons through various media, such as the uniforms of his in 2017 established (mass) volunteer organisation, bill boards, special occasion booklets, Christmas cards and as decorations of the, monarchy-owned, Om Sin bank. For one part, it is argued, the cartoons may be understood as the new king's royal signature, specifically designed for public spaces.
Building on Brian McVeigh's (1996) notion of "authority cuteness", which McVeigh understands as an effort by "those in power" to mask their use of power by convincing "those below they are not intimidating" (299), we may wonder what domination and control are behind this royal use of cuteness and how the new king aims to construct a relationship with his subjects. Moreover, as will be shown, the royal cartoons are part of a broader process of 'cute cartoonification' of potentially ambiguous political topics.
Cuteness: forms, politics, transformations