For those who inquired my well-being last week after the mega revelation, thank you for being such sweethearts. Yes, I’m fine. Yes, my column didn’t appear last week but no, it was not because the cat lover in me was in wreck after knowing Hello Kitty is not a cat.
Across different media platforms, however, millions worldwide felt scandalized by the revelation that Hello Kitty, the Japanese cartoon character widely assumed to be a cat for decades, turned out to be a cat-looking British girl named Kitty White who lives with her parents in a London suburb. Sincerely or mockingly the reactions were so virally palpable that Peanuts felt the immediate need to announce that Snoopy is 100% a dog.
Hello Kitty was launched by Sanrio in Japan on 1974 and made its way overseas shortly afterwards. Its 40th anniversary later this year (she’s a Scorpio, we also know now) will be celebrated from a marathon in Singapore to the glitzy exhibition at Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles whose curator, anthropologist and author Christine Yano, was the one revealing Hello Kitty’s true nature and identity. That its initial entrance to the US market in mid ‘70s was through Asian-American communities made many Asian-American girls felt like finding a connection to their heritage makes it very ironic now that Sanrio’s revelation suggests Kitty’s British identity might be based on Japanese girls’ infatuation towards anything British in the ‘70s.
Japanese, British or American, however, Hello Kitty was never my kind of kitty. For starters, it has no mouth. What the heck is the point of a mouthless cat that can’t meow and purr? Garfield sulks all day but at least it purrs, while Tom and Sylvester meow while not busy chasing away some annoying mouse and bird. Beyond being soundless Hello Kitty’s is also blatantly expressionless– failing cats’ unique trait to conjure a wide range of expression that has made cats known to having personalities. Hello Kitty not a cat? She was never much of one to begin with.
What would really funk out the fluffy felinesphere is if DC Comics announced that Catwoman was not a cat. Think about it. Hello Kitty was never shown on all fours or purr, but Catwoman pounces and paws in all feline glory. She earns a living by snatching off other people’s idle properties, the ultimate cat-burglar in action. She does have a human alter-ego named Selina Kyle, but Catwoman is the whole other creature who materialized initially after a series of episodes involving and surrounding cats. While both Hello Kitty and Catwoman walk and sit like a two-legged creature, Catwoman has openly shown appetite for fishy catnips, relish for catnaps, and disdain over dogs.
If DC Comics ever wanted to pull a Sanrio shock, the best they might claim was that Catwoman was some sort of a cat from the future or a parallel universe, but I don’t really see how they’d somehow ever venture to say that Catwoman was not a definitive feline form.
Even if DC Comics could pull it creatively, would they? While she doesn’t paw or pounce at her opponents Catwoman sultrily prances around with a whip at hand, setting a high bar of sex kitten image for other kittens to jump over and opening up another demographic fan base Hello Kitty hardly taps to: male. Boys and men who hog their comic books, or DVDs for that matter, and come to share the love-and-hate sentiments their hero Batman harbors for the unapologetically petulant, pretty, prowling pussycat. Created initially as a sidekick it stole enough scenes to have earned its own popular franchise that now also includes a standalone Hollywood movie.
Since its 1974 launch Hello Kitty’s value is estimated at USD 7 billion p.a.—but Catwoman is a 74-year-old character whose story is tightly linked to a host of other characters that as a total cast should worth at least tens of billions of dollars. I’m slightly curious to see how much brand Hello Kitty would worth after the not-a-kitty announcement but if DC Comics should ever decide to gamble with Catwoman’s identity it would be a true major branding exercise to hold, in this 24/7 news cycle no less. And that I’ll watch, with notepad and spreadsheets at hand.
So wake me up when Catwoman is not a cat. Me-owwwww.