When I have googled “cute baby” and “cute babies” for this blog, my computer screen is almost immediately flooded with images that make my eyes water and my heart throb. However, I noticed that all of the babies Google presents to me are white. “Beautiful newborn” and “beautiful baby” present similar results.
In fact here are some of the pictures that come up before any non-white presenting babies:
This realization got me thinking about how Google organizes data to present “a nearly seamless connection between you and the knowledge that you seek” (Google, 2016). Jasanoff explains that the the ways in which one understand what it means to be alive are inextricably linked to how people attempt to and successfully structure the world (Jasanoff, 2004). Additionally, it is interesting to consider how beauty ideals are co-constructed through the technology of the search engines we use.
Google uses complex and ever evolving algorithms to create profiles about users and provide them with “relevant” information (Google, Accessed 2016). If you want to learn more about how Google algorithms work work, check out this article by Wired and this video put out by Google:
The control of images and search results by search engines like Google brings to mind Mary Douglas’ conception of dirt and taboo as matter out of place (1996). In attempting to provide the most relevant content to users google, Google also sets the precedent for acceptable content, making other content taboo.
How does this relate to babies? If we accept that the information we access on the web is filtered then we can see the inherent structural violence in a search engine that uses incomplete data to determine the content and imagery that becomes “truth” due to accessibility.
In this way, Google comes to define who is and who is not a “cute baby” through my experience on the Internet. Therefore, one must ask how are people’s preconceived notions of cuteness and desirability both being created and perpetuated by Google search results?
After searching “cute babies”, Google asks, what next? “New born”, “newborn twin”, “blue eyes” “tumblr” and “mixed race”. How does Google putting mixed race babies into a separate category both fetishize and exclude them? They are categorically othered; the suggestion is not “cute mixed race baby” but “mixed race”, “cute” having been dropped. This inequity mirrors the structural violence faced by certain groups within society, and it is important to recognize and think critically about how these images and the bodies of babies are deeply politicized (Galtung, 1971).
Douglas, Mary. (1966), Purity and Danger, Routledge and Keegan Paul.
Galtung, J. 1971. A Structural Theory of Imperialism, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 8, no. 2 pp. 81-117.
Jasanoff, S. (2004), States of knowledge: the Co-production of Science and the Social Order, Routledge.
How Google Search Works: https://www.google.co.uk/insidesearch/howsearchworks/algorithms.html