Hyper-Cute Visual Icons: Cheesy Art or Chique Propaganda?


I am starting a new research project on hyper-cute visual icons as they are utilized by contemporary activists on social media platforms such as Weibo, Twitter, WeChat, Bilibili, TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. Socially engaged youth and netizens East and West largely belong to a generation of “digital natives” who have developed their literacies and social skills on digital platforms. They are familiar with hyper-cute/kawaii aesthetics and the fantasy characters of Japanese ACG (Animation, Comics & Games), which they appropriate and recreate as profile images, animated gifs, memes, photographs, videos, cartoons and/or emoticons in public and private communications. They use hyper-cute visual icons such as Hongqiman and Jiangshanjiao (紅旗漫和江山嬌), Pepe the Frog (佩佩蛙), Little Grape (提子), Pandaman (熊猫人) Wang Yao (王耀) and A-Bian Doll (扁娃) to express complex states of affect, as well as solidarity and hatred within civil society.  I am working with a small research group, in which each researcher follows one icon or character. Contact me if you are interested in tis research kjacobs@cuhk.edu.hk

The images are of Jiangshanjiao, a girl-idol created by the Communist Youth League, whose long hair is forcefully shaved, in reference to the Wuhan nurses who were asked to shave their hair at the onset or the Covid-19 crisis, which provoked a backlash. For reference see the Quartz article at https://qz.com/1804040/chinas-coverage-of-coronavirus-nurses-provokes-backlash/