Anthropomorphizing Intrusion: Google Street View and the Armies of Cute

A basic lesson of history: a spoonful of cute helps the social medicine go down.

Bert the Turtle prepared us for Global Thermo-Nuclear War. Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck helped us hate the Nazis and (briefly) like Stalin. Now Google has harnessed the power of cute to sell Google Street View.  I think the approach will work in Japan and America, for Europe I’m not so sure.

Brief background: Google has decided (apparently) to photograph every inch of the Earth. To accomplish this feat, it has enlisted a fleet of camera-laden vans to create Google Street View. This approach occasionally captures private individuals in private settings (think the sexual and the scatological, or better yet, think both). Americans, aside from some crazy homeowners, have generally embraced this possible invasion of privacy. Europeans and the Japanese have been less receptive.

In Japan, the height of the cameras was problematic, because it allowed Google to see over fences and to capture too many private moments. Google responded by lowering the cameras and junking the film for the twelve Japanese cities it had already canvassed. But even that wasn’t enough to sate Japanese privacy groups. So Google, beset by opponents in a land obsessed with the cute, has broken out the big guns: Adorable Stop Motion Animation!

My God, I’m not sure this could get more cute: A mix of the anthropomorphic, the old-timey (love the ancient telephone and paint-brush), and the new fangled. If any more adorable was packed into this video, I’m sure it would reach critical mass and destroy us all in a blinding light of kitties and bunnies.

My bet is that this is going to go over gangbusters with the Japanese. But I’m not so sure this approach will win over citizens of the EU. The Greeks and the Brits don’t have anything comparable to otaku culture.

Unfortunately for Google, the cute approach might be even less successful in Switzerland. The country has problems with street view and has been inoculated against the twisted synergy of cute mascots tackling serious social issues. The far-right Swiss People’s Party has been using black sheep and crows to represent shifty foreigners for a few years now (see below for terrific fascist propaganda, I especially like the unsubtle focus on color . . . stay classy SVP!). 

I think that Google has already recognized this cartoon immunity and found another way into the European heart – Tricycles! Yes, that’s right, the Google Street View (quasi-child-rapist) Van has been replaced in many European locales with the goofy rickshaw. While this change was ostensibly made to facilitate travel on narrow roads, I think it also seriously upped the CQ (cute quotient) of Google’s omni-photographer.

There has actually been some fascinating research into the importance of the cute in protecting nascent protest groups in developing countries. When a protest video is intermingled with lolcats, a regime must block access to sites filed with cute animals and the political cost can be enormous. It is not hard to imagine the same reaction occurring in Japan or Europe (kick out Google and the cute commercial camera-thing and wacky bicyclist will die).

I can only hope that Google’s rediscovery of the power of cute inspires other groups to unleash the dogs of cute.  For crazy Republicans, meet Kenyatta, the phantom Birth Certificate! Come on Democrats, how’s about a singing needle pushing for health care reform (Hi Kids, Say Hello to Mr. Prick!).







(Andrew Moshirnia is a second-year law student at Harvard Law School. He is tired . . . so very very tired. He hopes you enjoy the anti-immigration SVP propaganda.) 


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