Wednesday, January 23

What's Up, Pussycat?

I am fascinated by Hello Kitty.

You'll noticed that I have not confessed to being a Hello Kitty fan. I have just written that I am fascinated by Hello Kitty, and nothing more. I do not collect Hello Kitty merchandise. I haven't worn out the magnetic strips on my credit cards at the Sanrio store at the mall. I don't know the histories of all the creaters populating the Hello Kitty universe, except for this one bit of trivia: even though Hello Kitty was concocted in Japan, her character was born in London.

Get nailed by Hello Kitty! (Recently spotted in Target.)

Here's what I wrote about Hello Kitty on the original Daily Dave on Jan. 14, 2003, explaining why I'm intrigued about the entire Hello Kitty phenomenon:

So, what's the fascination with Hello Kitty? It's hard to explain. I'm certainly not a Hello Kitty fan, I don't know the characters names, and I don't collect Hello Kitty ephemera. My interest is more sociological -- I'm really amazed at the whole freaky Hello Kitty phenomenon and how it has silently become an American institution as well as a Japanese one.

I don't remember when I started paying attention to Hello Kitty. It may have begun in college, when America's Favorite Japanese History Expert Mark Ravina explained that Hello Kitty can serve as a warning sign for Americans in Japan, sort of like the canary in a mine shaft. His theory: If you're in Japan, and Hello Kitty starts to make sense to you, then it's time to return to the United States.

What intrigues me most about Hello Kitty is how she ends up on such a ridiculously broad range of products. Just when you think you've seen the silliest Hello Kitty licensed product -- like the toaster that chars Hello Kitty's face onto each side of your bread -- something even more ludicrous comes along. To wit: the Hello Kitty automated toilet paper dispenser.

If the idea of a Hello Kitty laptop computer seemed too ordinary, then how about one encrusted in Swarovski crystals?

Hello Kitty truly knows no boundaries. She's popping up on contact lenses and AR-15 assault rifles. (Imagine the bumper sticker: "You can have my Hello Kitty when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.")

(Sidenote: Comedian and activist Margaret Cho raises another concern about Hello Kitty. She wonders what it means when millions of Asian girls idolize a character that has no mouth. Cho points out that with no mouth, Hello Kitty can't speak up for herself, can't talk back, and can't eat -- hardly a role model for strong women.)

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