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  • The Sacrificial Economy of Cuteness in Tamala 2010:A Punk Cat in Space
  • Emily Raine (bio)

There seems a certain fundamental link between cuteness and cruelty, something in cuteness that simultaneously provokes both a doting affection and desire to throttle. As Sianne Ngai puts it, there is "violence always implicit in our relation to the cute."1 Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space plays with this tension, articulating animal cuteness within an economy of sacrifice.2 Cuteness and sacrifice are drawn together by their mutual assimilation into a smoothly functioning capitalism in the film's disorienting mash of narratives, animation styles, and arcane allusions and allegories. The film addresses the deployment of cute images as soft power by and for capitalism, showing how cute objects promise to help us forge affective relations with others, while actually displacing this affect onto mediated commodities. Such displacement serves to reproduce this model of capitalism, while cuteness masks the enigmatic and diffuse threat of violence that underlies it. This essay explores this articulation, first looking at how Tamala 2010 reenacts theoretical accounts of sacrificial expenditure, and then addressing the consumption of cuteness; it concludes with a consideration of the relation of the two to information economies as embodied in the film by the robotic goddess Tatla. This analysis serves both to stage a reading of Tamala and to use the film's [End Page 193] engagement with sacrifice and mass consumption to demonstrate the applicability of theories of sacrifice to the regimes of signification in which the postmodern economy reproduces itself. In other words, while theories of sacrifice enable us to better understand what drives the internal economy of Tamala 2010, the film in turn works to prove the aptness of this body of work as a lens for interpreting contemporary capitalism.

Tamala 2010 follows a sweet-faced kitten named Tamala to Planet Q, where violent battles rage between the dogs who control the planet and its downtrodden felines. She befriends a local cat named Michelangelo, and, as they circulate through Hate City, it is gradually revealed that Tamala is somehow affiliated with the ancient and mysterious Tatla cult, manifest as Catty & Co., the conglomerate that controls 96.725 percent of the GDP on Tamala's home planet and is in the process of establishing a foothold on Planet Q, beating out the native H.A.T.E. brand. At around the halfway point of the film, Tamala and Michelangelo go for a romantic picnic in the countryside, where Tamala is killed and eaten by Kentauros, a sadistic police dog. After her death, the planet's cats gain political and economic control, and the Catty logo emblazons every visual plane.

The film then moves into the future. Michelangelo has grown into an old man, Professor Nominos, who has obsessively researched Tatla, the Minervan cult, Catty & Co., and the perpetually young kitten named Tamala selected to market and represent them. He reveals that the Minervans, after centuries of persecution, moved underground, establishing themselves as a secret postal service. They ultimately moved into consumer goods as Catty & Co., employing Tamala to colonize markets and using their control over communications to exercise power. They worship the robotic goddess Tatla, who is capable of self-propagation to such a degree that her excess is presently creating another world. The locus of the cult's activities is sacrifice, what Nominos describes as "repeated destruction and rebirth, the progress of an undying world. Their activity is based in a crazed doctrine devoted to live sacrifice," with Tamala as their recurring victim.

The tale is presented in nonlinear fashion, as a palimpsest of elements in multiple and overlapping periods and spaces. Each layer operates in a distinct visual and sonic register and is accorded its own color palette, symbolic motifs, animation style, generic musical scoring, and sound effects. For example, the majority of sequences featuring the robotic Tatla are executed in [End Page 194] strongly saturated color CGI, accompanied by a droning score and echoing tinny industrial sound effects—all elements that serve to exaggerate her unnaturalness, while Tamala's segments are fashioned entirely in inviting grayscale Bezier curves.

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Figure 1.

Tamala is...


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pp. 193-209
Launched on MUSE
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