E.T., Go Home

This is another example of a stacker (or nester).  As two separate pieces it represents a somewhat odd couple brought together, it seems, by their shared connection to outer space: One is some kind of one-eyed alien or ET; the other appears to be an astronaut in a G-suit.  Neither appears to be happy, the reason for which might become apparent when they are viewed in their stack formation:However the one landed on top of the other, neither seems to like it all that much. They ooze the unhappy feelings of an old song of my childhood about a similar situation, David Seville’s “A Bird on my Head” (1958) which was, I recall, a follow-up to Seville’s huge hit “Witch Doctor,” source of the immortal chorus “Ooo eee, ooo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla, bing bang”).  In “A Bird on my Head,” we are told,

I’m just sittin’ in a vacant lot with a bird sittin’ on my head

I’m just sittin’ in a vacant lot with a bird sittin’ on my head

Wicked, wicked, cruel, cruel world What have you done to me?

I belong in someone’s arms

At which the bird adds in a comical bird voice, “And I belong in a tree.”  In this case of further evidence of the wickedness and cruelty of the world, the astronaut belongs on some space ship or other, and the ET belongs in some alien tree.  Or treelike structure.  And instead, alas, the one is wearing the other like a particularly ugly hat.  I don’t know why, unless it’s some sort of minor joke about the dangers of exploration in unknown climes, or about the dangers of mixing with those significantly unlike oneself–a sort of shaker-world racism?

On the other hand, this shaker set does literally represent the ways in which opposites attract.     They are not merely stackers or nesters.  They also represent another special type of shakers: those that are magnetized.  In this case, it is quite difficult to separate the ET from the astronaut because the two have an actual magnetic attraction to each other–as can be seen here: (the yellow object belongs to another shaker set–I just put it there to make it clear that the ET/astronaut were suspended in space).  There is an actual set of magnets embedded in them that confirms and controls their mutual attraction.

But I’m still a little mystified about what’s supposed to be going on here.  It’s a kind of somewhat absurdist whimsy that has only the barest of connection to the world we actually live in.  It cute, but this time, a kind of cuteness more or less completely unhinged from actual living beings like babies or kittens.  It’s not the kind of cuteness that relates to specific real beings we might want to admire/despise/belittle/adore, but the kind that spreads out to become an attitude to all things generally.  Ain’t life cute?  Ain’t astronauts or aliens–or trees or lawyers or sofas or anything else you can think of–cute if you thinks of some way of making them cute, of cutesifying them?  Or at least, isn’t it a nice escape from what’s most likely to be a depressing consciousness of the world’s inadequacies to imagine a place of utter cuteness where all things are equally to be looked down upon adoringly?

Or something like that.  My thoughts about this are obviously not yet as clear as they might be.

Published by pernodel

Children’s literature critic and author of books for children

2 thoughts on “E.T., Go Home

  1. Reminds me of Sianne Ngai’s “The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde” and the related work Natalia Cecire is doing on her blog, Works Cited. If cuteness becomes one’s frame of the world, then the latent aggression of making things cute becomes absolute. Perhaps the act of cutesifying is an escape. Or perhaps its a passively aggressive way of trying to control “the world’s inadequacies”?

  2. I’ve read that Ngai piece, and referred to it in my discussion of baby books that include photos of babies (“The Mirror Staged: Images of Babies in Baby Books.” Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures 2.2 (2010):13-39). I must have been thinking about it sort of unconsciously while writing the above. Thanks for the reminder of where my context for all this comes from.

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