The central question of HKE is, it seems to me, the question of what happens when capital stops flowing. When the invisible winds of finance cease blowing, and we can interrogate the junk that's dropped from the sky.
These winds must cease, of course, just as the factory must manufacture its shit, and just as the bubbles must pop. But that which finds its wings under the climate of speculative capital (that is, when all industries take finance as the model of their particularity) is fundamentally different than that which flies best in other climates. And since it is what is in flight while the wind blows that comes crashing to Earth when the winds stop, these are our objects.
But, as we know, this junk falls from the sky while the wind blows as well, as capital carries within its structure its own conditions of declension; this is the role of the gift, in our current climate. The gift under capitalism is the moment that circulation is affected by the introduction of an irreducible (to exchange) social aspect to the exchange value. This is social in the sense that encompasses the personal, and includes affective bonds like memories (of the object in question in different contexts, or of the giver, or etc; or even that most rarefied form of memories which we call secrets) as well as more obviously 'social' bonds like propriety, dignity, respect, etc.
Of course, that the gift is the process of exempting the object from exchange is not a hard and fast distinction. The gift can be undermined, as in regifting, and so on; this is a basic principle, not a law of exchange (something might be said here, too, about the perversity of gift cards, not just in their attempt to bring money into the logic of the gift (personalized (socialized?) money), but also the weird sense in which you are spending money not to allow someone the pleasure of a thing, but to allow them the pleasure of spending already-spent money).
The goal of HKE, however, is a development of an understanding of cuteness and how it functions in a capitalist order (and how it might be made to function after one). Hostile Object Theory, on the other hand, is about interrogating the built world of capitalism and identifying the way in which the mode of production persists within and between the objects it creates.
In this context, the Hello Kitty Murder. Her of the mouthless smirk, whose willingness to hide skulls for you is matched equally by her willingness to divulge them; or, to turn it around, whose willingness to play key witness to an atrocity is in no way undermined by her willingness to secret away that very same atrocity within her body. Her objectivity is infinite precisely because her readiness to betray is infinite; she takes sides not as they suit her - as though she could be benefited by politicking - but as they suit the hostility of the system of which she has become exemplar.
She, as the ghost of surplus-value that haunts the machine of commodities, is of course not bodied, no body, an imprint meant to impart objectively the value of the gift or the collectible. She is a form - a bare form, often, without even face to save - not just a cosmetic afterthought to baubles, but a mold to shape them into. And she haunts the children of those maleficent forces who created her, knowing that they will exorcise her; not that she may be freed, forever, from a purgatorial hell, but that she may dissipate into those children, and order them to build her again, when they take control of the world, into a new and more powerful form.
With this formulation, we can see one reason for the impotence of the politics of subversion. Even the examples that are less extreme than torturing a woman to death on crystal meth and sewing her boiled skull into the doll, such as (for example) the popular Hello Kitty Hell blog, or as in the chapbook that Pamela Lu once described to me, with the cover a picture of Hello Kitty all riot grrrled-out, the assumption that (as I've noted elsewhere) Hello Kitty is fundamentally representational misses the point. Which isn't to say that these critiques and remixes don't have a point, aren't doing good work, or even aren't often wonderful pieces of art in themselves - see, for instance, Angela Choi's Hello Kitty Must Die for a great example of this that sets out just why this political struggle is important - but that they only work within a limited sort of political sphere, which is to say not in the sphere of political economy.
A critique of Hello Kitty that operates on the level of political economy would have to take into account some form of Hostile Object Theory. Lacking the,
"conviction that the objects of capitalism aren't just indifferent to us or darkly coherent beyond our intentions. They are structurally hostile, and, more often than we'd like to admit, locally hostile: uncertain, unstable, loathing or loathsome, dangerous, and weirdly incommensurable with the purpose for which they were designed,"Kitty's utterly bizarre material existence gets forgotten in the quest to ascribe to her certain political attitudes which can then be deconstructed.
Because a critique of Hello Kitty is, at its core, a critique of the affect of cuteness, in which affect must not be understood as a psychological term, but as a material one, not a feeling but a sign inscribed on the consuming body. And this is important because cuteness, with all its baggage of capriciousness, is probably the single most powerful force behind which the troops of capitalism - especially a capitalism which does not just exempt, but actually models itself after, reproductive labour - martial.
Against Graham Harman's claim, then, that cuteness is a product of a sort of fusion of mastery with sympathy for the one who isn't yet a master, I would claim that cuteness is itself at base a form of work. Or, more specifically, of non-work; where Harman's analysis goes wrong is that he misidentifies an aspect of cuteness - its co-optation of something like sprezzatura - with cuteness as such. This can be seen in his claim that the way that adolescents use "cute" is basically synonymous with lovely, with physical beauty. What he neglects is that "cute" in this sense is a differential term, important because it is distinct from beautiful or hot or whatever. And if we were to put these three terms on a continuum of the attractive, cute would sit in the middle, between the girl who looks attractive and looks like she worked to look attractive (hot) and the girl who looks attractive and requires no work to be attractive (beautiful), as the girl who looks attractive and looks like she didn't need to work to be attractive, although we know she did (cute).
And again, it is exactly in this specific conjuncture that cuteness occupies that we find ourselves with relation to work. For if it is the baby - not the baby, it must be reiterated, as sympathetic non-master, which is baby as bawler and shit-machine, but the baby as product of a labour which cannot be acknowledged as labour except through mediation - whose cuteness is the most 'natural,' the most Darwinian, because it inspires in us an empathetic reaction with certain set conditions, then it is Kitty's job, as both commodity and brand, to objectify those conditions, and to reify the mode of production through them. Think, here, of Sanrio's motto: "Small gift, big smile."
What makes Hostile Object Theory so indispensible here - aside from the magnificent analytical tools it provides – is something it shares with Evan's Salvagepunk project. This is a sense of this kind of theorizing not just as a means of "pulling the wool from over our eyes," but as what Rob Wilson might refer to as a "counter-worlding," a way of (re)producing the world to account for subject-positions which the dominant world-position must constitutively leave unaccounted for. For it is in exactly this register that Hello Kitty's secret strength comes to light, associated, as she must be, with those who cannot or do not make a productive contribution to the economy. Whether children or hikikomori, hoarding collectors, Japanese kawaii-culture adherents who "refuse to grow up," Asian-Americans or whoever else, Hello Kitty is found everywhere that the current organization of capitalism finds itself most fractured. And fractured, importantly, not where pressure is already being applied, but where capitalism itself seems to have reached its own boundaries, where capitalisms own perpetual shuttling between the universal and the particular has reached a powerful impasse.