Published April 13, 2022 7:00 AM
Was one of the last direct messages you received on Instagram a video of ducklings wearing flowers instead of hats or swimming in a sink full of water? Or is the Cockapoo dog too happy to dance on the couch with his human? Husky throws a tantrum because he can’t fit in the house?
If you enjoy sharing cute animal content, know that you are not alone: you are part of a huge cultural phenomenon called the cute economy.
It consists not only of a network of people who create, share, and distribute content, but also of a multibillion-dollar industry that has sprung from the ability of creators to monetize content posted.
What is a “sweet” economy?
Media researcher James Meese defines the cute economy as the creation and distribution of user-generated content that features things (animals, children, plants, objects, etc.) that are perceived as cute.
While researchers and journalists are shedding light on this social media phenomenon, sharing photos of cute animals is nothing new: more than a century ago, photographer Harry Whittier Fries created innovative postcards featuring anthropomorphic animals.
Our research is focused on a specific but important segment of this economy: the one that distributes animal content. We found that the appeal of animal content comes from a variety of archetypes: bizarre or commonplace animals, babies or young animals, multi-species content, baby-animal pairings, extreme sizes and proportions (very small or very large), unusual appearance, and animals. . behavior that we interpret as human.
While some animal accounts have more followers than politicians and celebrities and thus can generate their own virality – for example, Jiff Pom with 9.9 million followers, Nala with 4.3 million followers, Doug the Pug with 3.9 million followers and Juniper with 3 million followers — cute animal content circulation is also catalyzed by meme accounts or featured accounts. They, like this one from Matt Nelson’s cross-platform company WeRateDogs, reuse content and curate it.
Interspecies creators and families
Just like influencer mothers create social media accounts about their children, pet parents also create social media accounts to show off their pet companions.
Because people have been humanizing their pets since before the advent of the internet, making sure your pet has a social media presence is a lot like pretend play.
Pet managers visually humanize their furry wads through clothing, accessories, or jewelry. They also humanize their text by giving them a human voice.
Content creators even add species-specific vocabulary such as cat chatter, also known as meowlogism, or infantilized language such as lolspik, internet slang derived from lolcat memes.
Cuteness does have a limit, though. Several participants interviewed for our study did explain that even if the anthropomorphism is likable, behavior that feels forced or unreal will make them feel the opposite.
In fact, a lot of creators have figured this out and are making sure their content isn’t disgusting.
One interviewee (who maintains his turtle’s account) expressed discomfort and hesitation about creating subtitles. She says it’s hard to find “the balance between what makes your teeth cringe and what entertains. »
The impact of consuming and sharing cute content
Develop Relationships: Cute content is shared because it provides an experience that people identify with. It is also a sign of caring and closeness in a relationship.
Another conversation partner knows that her sister-in-law loves horses, so she sends targeted content to her. In our opinion, this gesture shows that the sender knows what will please the recipient.
Looking forward to the future: Viewing “cute” content can be a form of ambition. For example, one interviewee hopes to get a dog when she moves into a building that accepts animals. She follows accounts that talk about the lifestyle she aspires to, such as The Golden Ratio.
Cross-species proxy connection experience: “Cute” content makes its consumers happy because it allows them to interact with animals from a distance without devoting resources to caring for them.
Another respondent who loves otters avidly browses online content on the subject but is not interested in either taming one or learning how to do it.
Serve the Cause: Likeable content can act as a catalyst for change. A creator or connoisseur may share content to raise awareness of a cause or to change the minds of others.
For example, one of the interviewees keeps a record of his domestic duck. In it, she shows her pet as kind, loving and endowed with a unique personality just like any other pet. Through her duck account, she wants to show her followers the ill effects of speciesism and fights for a ruthless coexistence with all animals.
Research has shown that cute animal videos are good for your mental health.
Whether you’re a creator, connoisseur, or both, cute content helps start conversations and strengthen relationships: it breaks the ice when people have nothing to talk about or when they want to show others their empathy.
Given the inability of people to get together as often and close as before due to the pandemic, we have been able to share our love from a distance thanks to these little signs of care.
The ability to strengthen social bonds through technology is a valuable asset. But just as not everything can be beautiful, there is also a dark side to the cute economy, so be careful not to share content with animals that could have been used.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Zeynep Arsel, Research Fellow, Department of Consumption, Concordia University, Canada