Precious Moments and American Kitsch
I have yet another embarrassing confession to make. I am into cuteness in a way that borders on creepy for a forty-two year old husband and father. As I’ve documented here extensively, I still watch Sesame Street even though my three and a half year old son Declan seems to have outgrown it.
Not only am I an adult Sesame Street fanatic, I particularly like its baby characters, even the semi-obscure ones that were introduced, then quickly abandoned or gradually phased out, like Big Bear’s painfully adorable little sister Curly Bear, Aloysius Snuffleupagus’ even more intensely cutesy younger sibling Alice and Baby Natasha.
I am even legit bummed that Sesame Street pulled the plug on Sesame Street Beginnings, which depicted Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Prairie Dawn as babies because, truthfully, that shit was adorable as fuck. Painfully adorable.
I follow multiple cute animal accounts on Twitter and Facebook, although I did have to leave a number of Yorkie groups due to the exceedingly high number of posts about people’s beloved Yorkies now residing in that big dog house in the sky. I wanted to look at pictures of cute Yorkies. I did not want to continually be reminded of the horrifying, ever-present specter of death that hounds all of us, even actual hounds.
I passively collect Funko figures. I couldn’t get enough of dancing Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I spend at least an hour every day admiring how adorable my dog is and how much I love him. I have semi-seriously thought about getting him cloned or having a formal painting of him commissioned.
What I’m saying, dear reader, is that I appreciate cuteness on a level that borders on unhealthy. Yet even I have my limits. This was driven home when someone on my Facebook wall posted about a set of Precious Moments figurines depicting the various members of The Breakfast Club, John Hughes’ iconic teen drama.
The Facebook friend was expressing mortification that a beloved staple of her childhood was in the hands of the notorious maudlin schlock merchants over at Precious Moments, and I realized that while I’ve always known about Precious Moments, those insufferable porcelain figures depicting big-eyed small children in a variety of poses, often patriotic, romantic, sporty and Christian in nature, I’d never actually looked online and explored the fascinatingly grotesque world of Precious Moments in any depth.
I’m happy I indulged my morbid fascination, if only because I discovered that public intellectual, playwright and My Dinner With Andre star Wallace Shawn is, preposterously but remarkably, represented in Precious Moments figurine form thanks to his scene-stealing supporting role in The Princess Bride, which is one of a number of cinematic favorites commemorating for posterity for your tacky aunt with all those hideous knick knacks in her weird-smelling house.
Precious Moments also has figurines commemorating Star Trek, Dirty Dancing, Elvis, I Love Lucy, E.T, John Wayne (who famously adored cute shit, and was always adopting kittens and puppies), Battlestar Galactica for some reason, The Wizard of Oz and Back to the Future, which I suspect they chose because it’s a beloved modern classic, not because it’s a pitch-black comedy about a dude trying to avoid his hot and horny mother’s fevered sexual advances.
In the world of Precious Moments, Marty McFly is not a time-traveling teenager dealing with a rather unique set of challenges but rather a giant-eyed moppet perched uncomfortably between toddlerhood and early childhood.
Precious Moments figurines romanticize, fetishize and sentimentalize childhood innocence for a largely geriatric audience eager to look back on their lives and their loves with sepia-toned nostalgia and rose-colored glasses designed to blot out all the pain and confusion and complexity of actual childhoods and real romantic and familial relationships.
In Precious Moments’ intensely white, Christian, homogenous world, the priorities seem to be God, then country, then family, then team, then pets. It’s a world where same-sex relationships do not exist and a woman’s place is to gaze adoringly at her husband and support him as he cheers on his favorite sports team.
I imagine the audience for Precious Moments figurine is overwhelmingly female, yet in figure after figure, the woman’s role is to support the man and his passions, whether that’s Sports Ball, hunting or NASCAR.
Precious Moments subscribes to the philosophy that there’s no such thing as “too much” or “too cute” so oftentimes it’s not enough to merely have a pair of doe-eyed baby-children gazing adorably at each other; oftentimes they’ll throw in a puppy or a kitten just to be on the safe side. After all you wouldn’t want to release a figure that fell short of the company’s standard of “stomach-churningly cute.”
This commitment to maudlin excess divorced from taste and judgment comes through most clearly in a “Precious Moments Alzheimer's Awareness "Love Never Forgets” figurine that attempts to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and raise money via a figurine depicting a little girl, a baby elephant and a purple wagon. That might seem like a jarringly strange and inappropriate image for something related to Alzheimer’s but it’s perfectly in keeping with Precious Moments’ sensibility, where there’s nothing that cannot be improved through the addition of small children and baby animals.
Precious Moments’ heteronormative fundamental conservatism, meanwhile, is represented by a USMC “Always Faithful” figurine depicting an ecstatic child bride marrying her handsome boy Marine. I’d like to believe we live in a world where, before too long Precious Moments will change with the times and depict a same-sex Marine couple getting hitched, but that’s probably not going to happen.
After all, the world is constantly evolving and de-evolving but Precious Moments aways stays the same. That's a huge part of their appeal; like Donald Trump, Precious Moments offer a campy, grotesquely romanticized vision of our collective past for the sake of people terrified of the present and the future.
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