Steve Cutts
Steve Cutts' two most popular YouTube shorts, "Man" and "Happiness," will leave you reconsidering the way you live. (Illustration by Luca Bowles, Kingston University)
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Steve Cutts

The animator uses his YouTube shorts like public service announcements.

Illustrator and graphic designer Steve Cutts doesn’t shy away from highlighting the grisly aspects of modern society through cartoon-like illustrations and short animations. Poverty, corruption, greed, consumerism and drugs are some of the things Cutts bluntly portrays in his work, revealing the underbelly of society and its affects on humanity in disturbingly unforgiving ways.

In one of Cutts’ many illustrations, he shows a horde of businessmen with mechanical grins surrounding a colossal-sized brain like pestering ants, manning fork machines and ladders to carve logos, from McDonald’s infamous “M” to Nike’s swoosh, into its flesh with chain saws. In another, the artist depicts one of the businessmen balding, eye-less and gritting his teeth as he forces the planet through a chipper-shredder that spews out $100 bills.

In a humorous take on the miseries of life, Cutts transforms a can of Campbell Soup into one labeled “Modern life condensed and highly under-nourishing, with 200 percent WTF. Made with genuine tears. Now with massive disillusionment & lasting disappointment.” In one simple illustration, Cutts manages to simultaneously sum up the downsides of consumerism and criticize society’s quality of life.

In a comic strip, Cutts shows the planet Saturn, decked in a lab coat and a “Doc Saturn” name tag, diagnosing planet Earth, saying, “I hate to tell you this but … you have humans.” The look on Earth’s face in the following panels is priceless although devastating in light of the level of environmental destruction the Earth is facing.

The planet has already lost 80 percent of its forests, and at the current rate of deforestation, 5 to 10 percent of tropical rainforests are expected to go extinct every decade. The ocean’s coral reefs have been decimated — 27 percent already gone and expected to increase by 60 percent in the next 30 years. The population is using up 50 percent more natural resources than the Earth can regenerate.

For the amount of resources the population is consuming within a year, it takes the planet a year and a half to regenerate, and in 2018, the population used up more resources much earlier than expected. “This year’s Earth Overshoot Day is the earliest ever,” AccuWeather reported.

Cutts purposefully depicts the harsher aspects of society, recognizing that they are a part of reality whether people recognize it or not. “I see a lot of insanity in the way we live, and to progress I think we need to become more aware and look at the options we have more clearly” he told Now Then Magazine.

Beyond Cutts’ illustrations, he has collaborated on projects for networks like Adult Swim and Fox in the United States. He is the man behind the “LA-Z Rider” couch gag for “The Simpsons” and the music video for Moby’s “Are you Lost in The World Like Me?”

To Moby’s lyrics of “black days and a dying sun,” Cutts shows a harrowing tale of a young boy lost in a crowded city that’s literally attached to their phones and completely oblivious to anything that resembles love, authenticity and even mindfulness. All sense of humanity is dead, leaving the boy as the only reminder of it, raising the long-time issue of how technology has connected the world but disconnected people from the human experience. Cutts’ ability to animate dark truths in morbidly shocking ways carries over into the short animations he’s created on his YouTube channel, including “Man” and “Happiness.”

His short “Man” has gained over 32 million views. Illustrated in black and white and mostly 2D, the first few seconds set nature under a golden sky to the sound of fluttering wings and finches, a stark contrast to the end. The film observes mankind’s relationship with nature from pre- to post-industrialization. It’s a cruel and destructive relationship that spares nothing and is played to Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”

Cutts’ portrayal of a lone man with a protruding stomach and a smirk turning trees to paper with a magical wand, dressed in a shearling jacket and snake boots as he prances through the paper stacked forest is enough to show the wasteful, polluting and thoughtless nature of mankind, but Cutts doesn’t stop there. From animal abuse to polluting, noisy and overcrowded cities, Cutts displays mankind’s haughty idea of self. The ending is comically well-deserved and telling of what all destruction ultimately leads to — no return.

In his short “Happiness,” Cutts creates tons of allusions to popular brands, people and holidays — including Pepsi, Trump and Black Friday — scattered in the midst of a densely packed and fast-paced city of rats. Cutts cleverly places the words “buy” and “happiness” throughout the short and follows one rat’s search for happiness, which evolves from blowout sales, to drinking “Happiness” (mirroring the popular brandy Hennessy) and then to taking prescription happiness. “Sponsored by Happimeds” adorns the clinic’s walls, and the film’s raw sketch turns Disney. In a disconnected and consumerist society, the film explores the Band-Aids society uses to feel connected, fulfilled and happy.

Cofounder of Short of the Week Jason Sondhi called “Happiness” one of Cutts’ best works: “[It’s] his most full-throated damnation of the dehumanizing effects of capitalism and consumer culture, and is arguably his best work to date. Depicting a literal ‘rat race,’ the film adopts the structure of Cutts’ most popular work … ‘Man,’ to tell a fast-paced linear montage of one rat’s quest for happiness through the tropes and traps of modern society.”

One of these traps is prescription drugs. According to NBC news, the prescription rate of benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium and Ativan (sedatives commonly used to treat anxiety), is skyrocketing. The dangers of benzos, though, such as addiction and overdoses, receive far less attention as the opioid crisis grips the United States.

Cutts described his work as “a satire on the way we live, using black humour to convey a darker message,” but thinks of humor as a way of getting to the truth and helping people live through the insanities today. “Humour is interesting in that it lets you talk about uncomfortable truths while also releasing the pressure that creates, so it’s a fun yet real way to get a message across.”

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