By Tiffany Ran
For Northwest Asian Weekly
“Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe),” a cheeky statement made famous by Rene Magritte’s painting The Treachery of Images came to mind recently. But Magritte’s painting is of a pipe. It is very clearly a pipe, despite it saying otherwise. Mais non, argued Magritte, as the object before in question is a painting of a pipe, which cannot be lit, smoked, or used as one. It is not a pipe, but a visual representation of one. Magritte’s painting made us question our perception, and the painting remains an icon.
So when “Hello Kitty is not a cat” became the headline that blew minds and shattered hearts recently, I couldn’t help but chuckle at what is the best marketing maneuver Sanrio could conjure. The bombshell came on Aug. 26 as this Kitty (a non-cat) prepares for her exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Minds blown out of craniums across the interweb and chatter, debates, and snarky tweets ensued with everyone weighing in from celebrities to The Huffington Post and The New Yorker.
“But what of her button-like nose, her pointy ears and whiskers?” some would ask. Well, what of her being everything from a rock star to a princess, doctor, airline pilot, and a nurse? Is it more shocking that she accomplished all these feats as a cat or a young girl? Luckily our debate was quickly put to rest as Sanrio followed up with some coy back peddling with the Washington Post. Hello Kitty is not a cat per se, she is an anthropomorphism, a personification of a cat.
“This is nothing new. We’ve always had this setting since Hello Kitty made its debut 40 years ago,” explained Mr. Tohmatsu to the Washington Post. “It is more of an anthropomorphism.”
This would be the biggest “no ****” statement known to man if the hubbub did not suddenly bring attention to the excessively elaborate backstory assigned upon the blank-faced, all-adapting icon. Her full name is Kitty White. She is British, has Type A blood, is about five apples tall, and is a Scorpio. This fascinated me even as someone who has never cared for Hello Kitty before. This is not an op-ed where I admit to suddenly giving a crap about Hello Kitty; except, it is.
The whole charade called into question about what we know and love about our childhood characters, and so yes, admittedly, I did some digging. Badtz Maru is confirmed a penguin. PomPom Purin is not only a dog, but a male golden retriever. Keroppi is a frog. My Melody is ambiguous still (but so clearly a rabbit). If this isn’t proof of the effectiveness of this bait and switch, I don’t know what is. Hello Kitty’s exhibit may be in Los Angeles, but her mystique has invaded our brains.
We’ve been seduced (duped), folks. Despite not buying a single Sanrio character since the third grade, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m wondering whether Pochacco is legal and likes long walks on the beach. I’m willing to bet his blood type is O and I’m resisting the strange urge to buy a doggy (or not? But let’s not tease) eraser. While the credit should go to Magritte, it’s safe to conjecture that the effective siren song of Hello Kitty-gate will only lead to more “revelations” to come. Princess Jasmine is not a princess? Ursula is not an octopus? Maleficent is not a villain (Oh wait, that has been done)? Nothing is as it seems in this crazy world but hey, every girl’s (erh…cat) gotta have her secrets. (end)