Sunday, February 14, 2010

Is Hello Kitty even that cute?

My older sister and I were also THE Sanrio consumers back in the days of "Saved by the Bell" and TGIFridays. While the "Cuties in Japan" article references old characters that I've never heard of (Button Nose? Tiny Poem? Duckydoo?--No, I'm not just putting a "cute" word in front of anything), I still vividly remember going into Sanrio for some Badtz Maru and Ahiru no Pekkle "fancy goods" while my sister went straight to the Pochacco section of the store. And I'll never forget the day we went to Sanrio with my bratty younger cousin, and she cried hysterically in the middle of the mall when my aunt wouldn't buy her that Pekkle mini backpack. Cute stuff brings out the worst in people, and I'm glad it's in the past (although I am still using my pink "Hello Kitty x Blues Clues" wallet with a Cinnamaroll accessory hanging off of it).

"Fancy goods" brought out the crazy in a lot of people, and it took over my elementary school life. Not because I was giving in to the cutesy, kawaii-ness of pastel colored pencil cases and cute cartoon bears on organizers, but because it was the norm of being a twelve year old girl in Cerritos, California. Every day after school my friends and I would walk to the Korean-owned stationery stores--all having names like "Fancy Box", "Art Box", or something that sounded cute--and then would trade our cute stationery paper during class. I didn't even use my organizer besides to write down the birthdays of my classmates using my metallic gelly roll pen, so my spending half of my lunch money on this market is still absurd to me.

Kinsella's article touched upon the evolution of cute culture. Hello Kitty and the "kawaii" culture that emerged from Japan has become something else since the new millennium, at least in the US. Now we see Hello Kitty's face plastered on to just about anything, and not because it's "cute" but because it's become a pop culture phenomenon adorned by many celebrities including Mariah Carey and Lady GaGa. And why, of all the characters, did Hello Kitty survive the cut and keep from falling into irrelevance like the beloved Ahiru no Pekkle?

Hello Kitty has evolved in many ways--there's the original HK, the tanned "Hawaiian" HK, and now the somewhat realistic-catbodied HK called "Charmmy Kitty". Seriously, the photo above is being put onto lunch boxes and being sold in stores.

Some interesting facts about HK, and what the designers of HK chose as background for her character:
-Her birthplace is in the suburbs of London
-The first design of the character was of HK wearing overalls
-Her last name is White (her real name is Kitty White)
-Her boyfriend is Dear Daniel
-"Kitty is a cheerful, warm-hearted little girl. Baking cookies is her forte, but what she enjoys most is eating a slice of Mama's apple pie!"
-She has no mouth

Did marketing strategies build her up to be something beyond cute, and beyond the 2-D cartoon? While some people may really find Hello Kitty adorable, I think for the most part a majority see Hello Kitty as a representation of something else now. When I look at Hello Kitty, I don't see "cute"--I see a cartoon cat version of Britney Spears.

Even though I went to SF this weekend, and made two trips to Union Square, I didn't shop! The bad news is I haven't been able to replace my Hello Kitty x Blues Clues wallet because of the challenge.

Amethyst Wang
Blog Post #7

Sharon Kinsella, "Cuties in Japan".
"Lady Gaga x Hello Kitty" photo.

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