• Fiona Glen

(ESSAY) SLIMY, STICKY, SWEET, by Fiona Glen

Fiona Glen draws us into the world of hyper-feminine cuteslime, taking over the online spaces of Web 2.0, through a sickly sweet, hyper-aesthetic video essay. The work moves between a direct, sensory engagement with hynotic slime videos, and a contemplation of their uneasy bridging of market forces, with a rebellious play between the weird and abject.


if sartre was born in 2005 he would be instagram famous for slime asmr vids


— toumeya (Tumblr user)


It starts with a video. A bathtub filled with blue, lilac, and bubble-gum pink foam. At one point, a small dog called Waffle stands, confused, in the sea of pastel-pretty colours that marble into a mess. Waffle wags, looks up at the human filming him, his eyes round in a confused search for approval. His soft, dry fur contrasts with the rubbery moistness of the slime that fills the bathtub. But the slime is fluffy in its own way. Filled with fine bubbles. I watch it be whisked into a semi-solid, jiggling froth made of glue, shaving foam, saline solution, and colouring. Nearly fifty kilograms of it. The quantity is decadent.


This YouTube video is my strange entry point into a new paradigm of slime-making. Far from the bilious green slime of my nineties and noughties childhood. Nothing like the runny gunge that Nickelodeon used to gush over celebrities. Nothing like the snotty goo inside an Alien Egg.


This slime comes with terms like ‘light pink creamy butter slime’. It is enhanced with tiny charms in the shape of paws, hearts and lollipops. This slime is cute.


Mainly produced and consumed by girls in the world’s wealthier nations, cuteslime spreads and spreads through TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube as a childish synthesis of gungy and pretty. Potion-making in the age of social media.


The Cambridge dictionary calls slime ‘a sticky liquid substance that is unpleasant to touch’; elsewhere it is ‘foul’, ‘despicable’, ‘considered filthy or disgusting.’ [1] Dis–pleasure is literally written into our definition of slime — yet cuteslime is pure pleasure — hypnotic beauty, ideal texture.


Slime is a non-Newtonian fluid, caught between liquid and solid. Officially formless, it fills what it’s given. It can be bounced, teased apart, burst as a bubble. The speed and force of your touch will change its nature. It is responsive, deviant, wandering.


Jean-Paul Sartre found this monstrous. In Being and Nothingness, he writes: ‘The slime is a liquid seen in a nightmare, where all its properties are animated by a sort of life and turn back against me...’ [2] A material taking on the movement of the living, slime becomes a boundary figure of boundaries that were never firm. Sartre feels as if his edges are lost under the adhesiveness of the slime; he is afraid of losing himself in it entirely. He writes: ‘I want to let go of the slimy, and it sticks to me... It is a soft, yielding action, a moist and feminine sucking.... Slime is... a sickly-sweet, feminine revenge which can be symbolised on another level by the quality “sugary.” ... A sugary-sliminess is the ideal of the slimy.’ [3]


Clinginess, sugar, wetness, looseness – all figured as feminine. What kind of revenge would slime want to enact? Why does Sartre perceive its existence as an attack upon his person? Where is the anxiety really stemming from?


A glimmering trail follows embodiment. Slime in sex and birth and death, hatching and rotting. It is defensive and exposing. Mucus protects – and yet mucus membranes are soft sites of intense transmission. We all ooze. The slimes our own bodies release enter another in-between: the uneasy state between self and not-self.


I want cuteslime to be some kind of reclamation of the feminised abject and the stickiness of being in any body. I want this to be some statement of proud, pink fleshliness — a high-camp assertion that all humans do live with slime, close to ourselves and material things, forever changing, slippery and free. But maybe that’s just what I want to see.

Cuteslime is a fantasy: sanitised, strawberry-scented and shameless. It bubbles up from entrepreneurs, algorithms and influencers, a craze that just won’t calm, signalled by canned giggles and swelling web shops.


Cuteslime is deeply capitalist and deeply clean. It is has left bodies far behind. No chunks, no lumps. This is not secretion. Cuteslime does not seep thin in parts or leave wet marks. It is not organic.


It is synthetic evenness, even when it is pulled out into bubbled ribbons that rip a honeycomb of curves. Pure consistent colour or clarity. It does not have the jellied dangles of raw egg white, or the mottled bands of biofilm in our saliva.


Cuteslime is hyper-aesthetic. Visually delicious. Perfectly suited to the channels which amplify, refine and intensify it. A fragment among a million other images, it is, in itself, fascinating. It needs no context; it is its total meaning.


Endlessly various, cuteslime visibility entices more looking, making, buying, playing. Companies with names like Slimeowy and Kawaii Slime sell it under complex taxonomies: galaxy, glossy, bubble, float, crunchy, clay, unicorn, smoothie, velvet.


Having been a child under contemporary capitalism, I remember what it’s like to uncritically want all the slight, bright mutations of a product — the whole collectible catalogue. Cuteslime oozes forth — creatively, hungrily — from wealth. An encounter between the weird and the market.


Perhaps synthetic slimes can only be cute because we already live among them. Freddie Mason calls ‘gooeyness’ a distinctly ‘modern phase of matter’ in his book, The Viscous. [4] Since the mass extraction of petroleum began, slippery derivatives have proliferated. Slime that is not animal or vegetal but emerges from minerals and industry has become ever-more fashioned to our needs. Lube, LCD screens, lip gloss. Since Sartre wrote on it in 1943, slime has become a far dearer friend. It brings us pleasure, speed and beauty.


Maybe the digital feels less like a cloud and more like slime. Flows gather, bits stick, polluted pools at the sites of extraction grow a rich layer of scum. Slime is a mode of life, a medium of healthy lifeforms. But it is also a signal of ecological stress and distress: the sea snot clogging the Mediterranean, the blue algae choking out lakes, the green drench on a canal flooded with fertilisers. Industrial production is filled with sludges poured into moulds, molten slurries at the bottom of tanks, by-products and leftovers. Slime is the texture of inflow and outflow, of the invisibilised waste from the industrial production of our clean bright devices. Slime moves into and out of our things.


Like capitalism’s, cuteslime’s dirt is displaced from the site of its enjoyment. It is often made of plastics: glue, glitter, polystyrene, and microbeads. In the rare case that somebody wants to recycle synthetic slime, it can be dissolved in lemon juice and vinegar to produce a thin, grey, acid soup that can then be taken to a liquid waste treatment facility. But most of the time, cuteslime is simply binned.


Cuteslime is waste, masquerading as an escape from dirt. A plaything that you believe will never excrete.


Cuteslime could be your friend. It is calming, held in your hand like a pet. It has nearly learned to sit still. It is nearly obedient.


Slime’s seeming animacy tricks us; it easily becomes an animal in the imagination. Just as cartoons smooth and simplify all animals, they pouch and gloss slime into somehow unified bodies. Animated cuteslimes glide over illustrated landscapes without sticking. They skip, skinless yet holding their integrity, bouncing rubbery.


In the video game Slime Rancher, cuteslime aliens roll over the surface of a faraway planet where you, the player, have come to farm them. Gelatinous balls, they have glossy eyes and huge, toothless manga smiles. These slimes are happily harvested. They bob, smiling, in the pens where you gather them, and in death, they burst and become a puddle of themselves – innocent colour, organ-less ooze.


Cartoon cuteslimes can take on the forms of transparent teardrops and jelly cubes. Abstractions of animality: movement and growth, no need for anatomy. Slimes are mythical beasts.


Flubber trills a high-pitched melody while spinning, sprouting limbs in a metamorphic dance. Goomy, Sliggoo and Goodra Pokémon become one another: rounded, lilac forms with dribbles and sweet eyes.


I find cartoon slime chimaeras: ice creams blended with snails, snails blended with drooling pugs. Melting into one another.


Slime cuteness is not furry, but it is soft. And the squishiness of soft-bodied animals can easily be made cute. Big-eyed frogs, bubble-like jellyfish, pink and wriggly worms. A roundness and gentleness can be brought into our caricaturing of animals otherwise cast as repulsive.


Squishiness invites compression. The gummy vulnerability. The cuteness of cuteslime makes us want to squeeze it harder, violently charmed. It is delicious to the point of self-endangerment. It makes you want to bite and chew it.


Cuteslime often appears as edible. Humans and other animals will sometimes make the mistake of eating it. It can masquerade as a cupcake or a bubble tea. I see manicured hands mould slimes into delicate food-scenes, then mulch them forcefully into sticky Mobius strips. Creation and destruction, equally delicious.


Shot from above, like cooking videos. Can’t stop watching, ocular appetite.


Voyeurism, watching it bend. Violence in the pull, the stretch, the tear. Do we want cuteslime to be punished for being so appealing?


Satisfaction is the keyword. Cuteslimes fill ASMR videos with squelching and crackling that can trigger an ecstatic tingling sensation in the scalps of some listeners. Spellbinding transmissions. Videos dare us not to be satisfied — the fulfilment of a desire, an impulse, an appetite. But as they satisfy, they appetize more.


Cuteslime is a material moment, mattering in the now, in the hands, in the fascination. It is immediate, has no future, will not last. It is present tensed. It could be an escape, folded into itself only, shaping an infinity. It has no surface. Outside and inside are reconciled: all one, all union.


A cosmos of glitter, a bending bright amorphous anywhere of caught light and iridescence. Sensual. A sea of tiny icons heavened in jelly suspense. Senseless. A soft-serve swirl of rainbow stripes. Nerveless. Cuteslime is marshmallow spacetime.


The pink dough wobbles, drops. The bath pearl bursts and weeps on skin, its own skin dissolving to a colourant smear. The glitter gel slithers from the pout of the tube and is smeared, cold, over cheekbones where it dries in a slow tightness.



References:


[1] Cambridge Dictionary, ‘slime’, < https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/slime>

[2] Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, Routledge, 1969,pp.610-12 (originally published in French in 1943).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Freddie Mason, The Viscous, Punctum Press, 2020.



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Text: Fiona Glen

Video: Fiona Glen

Published: 30/7/21