Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Is Hello Kitty® 'Culturally Odorless'? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I confess I never really noticed Hello Kitty® until three years ago, when I adopted Snoë, a large entirely white cat who bears a striking resemblance to the cartoon character. With a real-life version in-home, I now see how pervasive the Hello Kitty® franchise really is: she's bigger than Mickey, but without a mouth she can't swallow the Mouse.

The Bizarro Empire of Hello Kitty (Corina Zappia in Village Voice):
In their book, Hello Kitty: The Remarkable Story of the Billion Dollar Feline Phenomenon, authors Ken Belson and Brian Bemner describe Hello Kitty's ability to appeal to all: "With few exceptions, her creators at Sanrio Ltd. have shied away from developing any story to her life, instead leaving her personality to the eyes and minds of the beholder. This Zen-like technique, intentionally or not, has allowed Kitty to become at once the princess of purity to toddlers, a cuddly playmate for young girls and a walk down memory lane for adults yearning for another taste of childhood."

Sanrio itself ties Kitty's lack of mouth in with her universality: "Hello Kitty speaks from her heart," the official Sanrio FAQ says, explaining Kitty's mouthlessness. "She is Sanrio's ambassador to the world who isn't bound to one certain language."

Without a mouth, Kitty can exclude no one. But on the other hand, do we really want more women, even if they're cats, unable to speak up for themselves? [keep reading]
Chanpon: Hello Kitty Has No Mouth by Mizuko Ito:
A discussion of Hello Kitty is nearly impossible without an explanation of kawaii and the culture that surrounds the term. Historically, the rise of cuteness is traced back to the 1970s, with the popularization of cute handwriting and manga and disillusionment with earlier student riots and subsequent capitalization of those trends by the fancy goods industry (Kinsella, 1995:225). Though the general meaning of the word is “cute,” the qualities and connotations associated with the term are many. As Kinsella writes, a survey among men and women in 1992 revealed a number of other terms associated with kawaii, including: childlike, innocent, naïve, unconscious, natural, emotional contact between individuals, fashionable, associated with animals, and weak (1995:237-240). Kawaii is a produced style and aesthetic as well as an inherent quality a person, place, or thing possesses.

The rise of Hello Kitty in the global consumer market, like other successful pop cultural imports, may be attributed to the process of removing traces of Japanese origin. Iwabuchi has coined the expression "culturally odorless products" to describe the ways in which Japanese products erase their "Japaneseness" in order to be more successfully marketed overseas (Allison, 2000:70). Moreover, "effacing the identity—the Japaneseness—of Japanese products appears to be even more prominent in the US Market" (Allison, 2000:70). Making a product "culturally odorless" somehow reduces resistance to a product through its reduction of difference. [read full article]
And, the $64,000 Question: If Hello Kitty® has no mouth, is she also missing the opposite end of the digestive tract, another (perhaps more literal) manifestation of "cultural odorlessness"?

"Hello Kitty Has No Mouth" - the poem
Sanrio Hello Kitty® FAQ
["Darth Kitty" costume image found on Linkbunnies]
Also see Sanrio's "grown-up" Hello Kitty® line, Momoberry

Labels: ,