It Came From Japan

It Came From Japan
Hail to the Kitty

Erin Hoffman | 15 Apr 2008 14:32
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This behavior is, on a commercial, social and economic level, exactly what gamers engage in when customizing avatars, exchanging online memes or quiz results, and even advancing on achievement ladders by obtaining rare goods. In a very basic way, all of these behaviors tap into our instinctive mechanisms for commodity gathering and self-differentiation. Sid Meier says that a game is defined as a series of interesting choices; Sanrio offers, as of today, over 22,000 positive, inexpensive, upbeat choices.

Defiance Kitty
Despite Sanrio's best efforts, the Hello Kitty phenomenon has not been without criticism. Within Japanese cultural studies themselves - which have focused on Hello Kitty as an Egyptologist would examine a sarcophagus - some suggest that the "kawaii culture" that arose in Japan's heavily consumer-oriented post-occupation society acts as an emotional handicap on women, promoting a culture of "weak, submissive women who purposely act clueless and never want to grow up."

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Hello Kitty's very femininity itself, suggested by her inoffensive colors, conservative dress and demure, mouthless politeness may in fact be why feminist "grrl" culture has so defiantly sought to reclaim her in recent years. The tattoo phenomenon is an echo of this; there is certainly nothing girly about slicing open your skin and injecting ink underneath it. Where earlier, more rigidly defined generations of feminism would have rejected Hello Kitty as an example of female oppression, some modern feminists embrace her and challenge society to deny their strength through this symbol of demure femininity.

So why did I experience that surge of terrifying desire when faced with the overwhelmingly pink Hello Kitty keyboard? I still don't quite know. Did some part of me identify with this incarnation of the Kitty attached to my beloved technology? In my ascetic undergraduate pursuit of the cerebral, did I secretly yearn for the simplicity of childhood? Or is one quarter of me really just a squealing Japanese schoolgirl, written down to my DNA? It remains a mystery. But I do know that I still find it disturbingly hypnotic.

Oh yes. It will be mine.

Erin Hoffman is a professional game designer, freelance writer, and hobbyist troublemaker. She moderates Gamewatch.org and fights crime on the streets by night.

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