I’ve been thinking about Hello Kitty. Yes, I know that sounds a bit insane. After all, I’m not a 14 year old Japanese girl. But the thing is, even though it started out that way, 14 year old Japanese girls are not really Hello Kitty’s demographic anymore. Oh she’s still popular in Japan, although far less popular than she used to be. But what’s really something is that her products–and they are endless in scope–are sold in 60 countries, including Italy, which has become obsessed with her if endless shop windows filled with endless Hello Kitty products is any indication of obsession (and I believe that it is). And she’s worth $5 billion a year (the same as Mickey Mouse). A very silly looking cartoon cat! With a pink hair bow! And no mouth!
Here’s what I’ve been able to find out from a few of the 75 million websites devoted to Hello Kitty worship (and a very funny site that doesn’t think much of her). A product of the Japanese company Sanrio, she was born in suburban London on 1 November 1974 (she’s 37! And a Scorpio!). Odd that. Why London? I think of many things when I think of London, but cute is not one of them. Her real name is Kitty White. She lives with her parents and twin sister, Mimmy. Her sweetness endears her to everyone she meets (except for the people who find it super nauseating). She loves to have tea parties for her friends. Her hobbies include listening to music, reading, eating cookies and apple pie, and making new friends. Hello Kitty weighs the same as 3 apples, and loves small cute things like candies, stars, and goldfishes.
$5 billion a year.
Although mainly aimed at the pre-adolescent female market, Hello Kitty products range from purses, games, stickers and pen sets to toasters, televisions, clothing, massagers, shower curtains and computer equipment. And ice cream.
She has a cult-like following among adults as well, especially in Asia, where Hello Kitty adorns cars, jewelry and many other high-end consumer products. There’s a Hello Kitty Stratocaster guitar and a Hello Kitty jet plane. Hello Kitty Wines were conceived by Camomilla S.p.A., a successful Italian fashion company that does a big business manufacturing and selling Hello Kitty licensed merchandise. Tagline: “Our favourite girl has grown up.” In 2008, a Hello Kitty themed maternity hospital opened in Yuanlin, Taiwan.
It must be said that not everyone is a fan. In Bangkok, police officers who commit minor transgressions–being late for work, parking in the wrong place–are forced to wear bright Hello Kitty armbands for a couple of days in order to shame them into better behaviour.
I find this all pretty fascinating. And the thing I find the most fascinating is that Hello Kitty, which was spawned by Japan’s love of cuteness in popular culture (which in turn was spawned by 14 year old girls), has gotten a very firm foothold in cultures that are not very cute at all. Like Italy, where we continue to be treated to tales of the Prime Minister cavorting with underage hookers. Or America, where the extraordinary nastiness of political discourse almost certainly contributed to the terrible events that transpired in Arizona last week.