Back in the day, I had a moderately strong love affair with Hello Kitty. It only lasted a few years, but it was fun while it lasted. Elementary school was a black market of Kitty pencil-box trades in the cafeteria after the day ended. Mine was double sided and could hold more sh*t in a smaller amount of space. It was probably the most popular piece of faux-contraband that I ever owned. Meanwhile, my Japanese grandmother (who embraced American culture as a Korean War import) always said that Hello Kitty was “a bunch of junk.” This is the only thing that we never agreed upon.
Sometime after 4th grade, I lost touch with Kitty. My daughter never warmed to her — because Strawberry Shortcake has a f*cking mouth and is much cooler. Now Hello Kitty is turning 40. She’s celebrating in style with a new Los Angeles art exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in October. She’s going to hold her very first Hello Kitty Convention a few weeks later at MOCA (in Downtown LA’s Little Tokyo). Boy, the panel discussions are going to be bizarre — because Kitty has no f*cking mouth. An anthropologist (Christine R. Yano) who’s helping plan these events has spoken with the LA Times. Basically, you know nothing about Hello Kitty:
Hello Kitty is not a cat: “Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.”
Hello Kitty (real name Kitty White) is British: “She has a twin sister. She’s a perpetual third-grader. She lives outside of London. I could go on. A lot of people don’t know the story and a lot don’t care. But it’s interesting because Hello Kitty emerged in the 1970s, when the Japanese and Japanese women were into Britain. They loved the idea of Britain. It represented the quintessential idealized childhood, almost like a white picket fence. So the biography was created exactly for the tastes of that time.” She is a Scorpio. She loves apple pie. And she is the daughter of George and Mary White.
Kitty is not super kawaii: “She doesn’t have this insipid cuteness. It’s something clever and creative which contributes to a certain cool factor. For example, take Precious Moments [giftware]. That’s cute. But there’s nothing cool about Precious Moments. Hello Kitty has the potential to be so many other things.”
Hello Kitty has special significance to Asian Americans: “When Hello Kitty arrived in the U.S. in the mid-1970s, it was a commodity mainly in Asian enclaves: Chinatowns, Japantowns, etc. In talking to Japanese Americans who grew up in the 1970s, they say, ‘That figure means so much to us because she was ours.’ It’s something they saw as an identity marker. This is why the exhibition is being held at the Japanese American National Museum. It’s about reconnecting her to this community. It gives the whole thing a certain poignancy and power.”
Bedhead lives in Tulsa. She can be found at Celebitchy.com.