Hello Sarah. Hello Kitty.

| October 9, 2008 | 8 Replies

I’m currently reading Rob Walker’s 2008 book, Buying in: the Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are. I’m finding Walker’s chapter on “Hello Kitty” especially interesting in its own right and also because his description of the success of Hello Kitty has helped me to understand Sarah Palin.

Walker repeatedly points out that corporate logos are symbols and it is the consumers of modern corporate symbols (not those who create or promote those symbols) who imbue these symbols with meaning. Hello Kitty is an especially good example.

The Hello Kitty logo was created out of thin air in 1974 by the Japanese firm, Sanrio. Hello Kitty was not a character in a movie or story. When Hello Kitty was created, the symbol was “empty of specific meaning.” The Hello Kitty artwork was the work of an employee of Sanrio, Yuko Shimizu, who had been asked to design some logos to place on some small vinyl purses. Fast forward to the present. Hello Kitty can now be found on toys, clothes, computers, watches and lingerie. The symbol has had “astonishing success.” The Hello Kitty line has developed under licensing arrangements worth more than $1 billion a year in sales.

What is the secret of hello Kitty? According to Sanrio, “We work very hard to avoid things that would define the character.” The “mouthless cat” cannot be said to stand for any social or cultural idea, according to Walker. “Hello Kitty stands for nothing.” Yuko Shimizu indicates that she was simply trying to make an image that would appeal to little girls. A scholar named Brian McVeigh (quoted by Walker) indicates that Hello Kitty succeeds because the symbol has “projectability.”

Hello Kitty’s blank cryptic simplicity, he argues, is among her great strengths; standing for nothing, she is “waiting to be interpreted,” and this is precisely how an “ambiguous”– and let’s be frank: meaningless– symbol comes to stand for nostalgia to one person, fashion ability to another, camp to a third, vague subversiveness to a fourth.

“Without the mouth, it is easier for the person looking at Hello Kitty to project their feelings onto the character, explains a Sanrio spokesman quoted by McVeigh: “A person can be happy or sad together with Hello Kitty.” Hello Kitty, McVeigh argues, is a mirror that reflects whatever image, desire or fantasy in individual brings to it.

Belson and Bremner (also mentioned in Walker’s book) return to this theme repeatedly in their own book on Hello Kitty.

“What makes Kitty so intriguing is that she projects entirely different meanings depending on the consumer,” they write. The cat is “an icon that allows viewers to assign whatever meaning to her that they want.” . . . not only can Logos have meaning, and not only can that meeting be manufactured– it can be manufactured by consumers. Ultimately, a cultural symbol that catches on is almost never simply imposed, but rather is created and then tacitly agreed upon by those who choose to accept its meaning, wherever that meaning may have originated. That’s what Hello Kitty is: a cultural symbol. And a successful brand.

(Walker, pages 15 to 19). This idea of an empty and projectable logo also seems to describe Sarah Palin. Many conservatives loved Palin before they knew anything substantial about her. Granted, they knew Palin could read a teleprompter and rev up a crowd of conservatives, but what did they know about Palin’s character, her knowledge base and her ability to govern? They knew nothing about those critically important issues early on, but that didn’t stop them from making wild claims that Sarah Palin would make a great Vice-President. Now that freely available information shows that Palin is actually an ill-informed, spiteful, secretive woman deeply entrenched in cronyism, many conservatives love her all the more.

Those who, in the absence of substantiating evidence, believe that Sarah Palin has what it takes to be Vice-President are projecting. They are defining Palin rather than taking the time to learn who Palin really is.

Even though Sarah Palin actually has a mouth, her well-rehearsed beauty pageant smile, combined with the serious office she seeks, leaves us with a wide range of interpretations of who she is. Is she your girlfriend, your mother, a small town mayor, a Vice-President, an attack dog, a flirt, a hyper-moral woman, a neo-conservative, a maverick, a super-mom, a neglectful mother, a quick-study or someone who is proudly ignorant? Palin offers a lot of real estate to you as material for your personal projection as to who she is. And, vague as all of this is, this is as coherent as it gets–this is who she is, at least for those of us who are allergic to facts.

Hello Sarah.

Share

Tags: , , , , ,

Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Politics, Psychology Cognition, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (8)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Tim Hogan says:

    Erich, everything is empty and meaningless. We embue whatever with meaning based upon criteria we choose or some which may be decided for us.

    Sarah Palin is no different for those of the far right. I've seen posts where people rail she is a latter day Esther. It's most interesting to note when Palin is off the leash, she demonstrates a singular lack of, and disdain for knowledge. The current campaign to hide Palin from scrutiny allows the red meat masses to consume her pre-digested wrathful protein and go home sated, making up for her filling for the gaps allowed by a conscious strategy of deception and omission. The scrariest part of Palin is that I cannot imagine her with any imagination. Palin's snarky view and contempt for truth would allow her to lie for God and justify it in the name of the Lord!

    Imagination is at the heart of creativity. These vicious folks have filled their hearts with hatred and crowded out possibility, all in the name of McCain-Palin which after inciting the crowd to scream "kill him!", "terrorist!' and "off with his head", smile and go their dispicable way without denouncing the fanatics they might incite to anger or action.

    John McCain has completely lost any integrity he may have once had, and I feel sorry for him. Sarah Palin never had any integrity to lose, and being so consumed with ambition, she will never have any.

    When I'm done praying that America makes Barack Obama its next President, then I'll pray for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

  2. Jamie says:

    The analogy is brilliant… Makes you wonder if "anything to anyone" was an intended strategy.

  3. arnisha says:

    i was wondering can you please send me some picures of hello kitty

  4. Rorbulant says:

    Unbelievable!!! Speaking of shallow, empty, etc, etc, etc. Ms. Palin makes you all sound like bitter, angry juveniles throwing a tantrum. By the way, how's that hope and change working out for you now???

    (Bet this one won't make it on your comments page, but I know you read it. I also suspect that you now realize how have been deceived. You'll understand more when you grow up)

  5. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Nice tantrum Rorby….

    There is a glimmer of hope, as the precipitous drop in the economy seem to be slowing. Business failures and plant closings have dropped off, and new manufacturing industries are beginning to appear.

    But change is slow to come as there is much persistence from the Republican party who cohesively votes down any idea they did not think of, a practice that, while showing their allegiance to their party, while doing a great disservice to the those in their constituency that they should be representing (The constituency is not 100 percent Republican.)

    Of course there are also Dems that vote along party lines as well. But the Dems seem to present less of the mindless pettiness that has tainted the Republicans as of late. Personally I am fed up with the two party-system and would like to see more campaign reform that would allow other parties a better chance at office.

    BTW, pretty much everything makes the comments here. But just calling us "bitter, angry juveniles throwing a tantrum" is not very convincing. You must explain why you have concluded this, you must elaborate a bit.

    On another note, there are a few laws against making money. They apply when the money is made through the sales of goods and services that are detrimental to the buyers or to the well-being of society. There are also laws that prohibit making money by selling things that don't exist.

  6. onna says:

    all i know is that i love hello kitty… i have so much hello kitty stuff… i really dont care what anybody else says about her… #DUHH!!!

Leave a Reply


Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.