Friday, September 27, 2013

The World vs. Asia's Cute Culture

My Opinion:

"little understood in the West" sounds like a cop-out. An excuse to justify that a different culture might dislike or have a neutral opinion on something. I still think it's all about the design and how it matters to many people, especially those who do not live in Asia. It's not just IN America-- it's all over the globe like Australia and Europe! It's popular in Asia because the kawaii phenomenon is integrated into their beliefs and culture.

For the rest of the article, please click the link below. I've only highlighted the parts of the article that interest me.

Taiwan Today : Taiwan's Culture of Cute

Publication Date:09/29/2013
By Steve Hands

Cute things and phenomena are constantly in the news in Taiwan. The nation has recently witnessed the birth of a giant panda cub, the giant Rubber Duck by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman is floating in Kaohsiung City harbor and EVA Airways has just added a further Hello Kitty route to Los Angeles. Not to mention a steady release of cute mobile phones, tablets, laptops and just about any other consumer product imaginable.
The obsession with cute is a huge East Asian phenomenon, little understood in the West, and what many Westerners find most surprising is that not just young girls, but ostensibly sensible adults, are smitten with the bug and have large amounts of cash to drop on their hobby. The pink pound might be about gay purchasing power in the U.K., but in Japan the pink yen is mostly about Hello Kitty.
Caroline Favier, a Dutch toy collector whose extensive collection contains hundreds of curios from the region, might be expected to be readier than most to sympathize.
“Like most Westerners I don’t like cute,” Favier said in an online interview. “Actually, I like classic and tacky. I remember I couldn’t believe the first time I saw a 40-year old secretary’s Hello Kitty collection on her desk, and that was allowed in an office environment! It looked so unprofessional.”
But in Taiwan the young-at-heart like to buy cute things, irrespective of seniority. “My customers are of all ages, but mostly students, as this store is right by National Taiwan University,” Carolyn Lin, manager of a Non-no fashion accessories store in Taipei City’s Gongguan District, told Taiwan Today. “But we also get people in their 40s and adults bringing in their kids.”
Asked why people buy socks and apparel emblazoned with all manner of cartoon images, domestic and international, Lin seemed slightly dumbfounded, as if cuteness was so ubiquitous as to be beyond need of explanation. “They’re necessities. They just like the products because they’re fashionable.”
The phenomenon is so well-established that academics have taken an interest in cute mania, or ke’ai as it is known in Taiwan. What started in Japan with Hello Kitty has turned into a multibillion dollar global industry, which everyone from sociologists to psychiatrists is trying to understand.
“Ke’ai is a Chinese term that simply means loveable, and has a very long history,” Teri J. Silvio, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Ethnology in Taipei City-based Academia Sinica, told Taiwan Today in an email interview. Silvio has a huge collection of dolls, puppets and other figurines, as well as it being a serious research interest.
“The concept of lovability is probably universal. Anything that people feel positive about, in any way, can be ke’ai. In Taiwan today, ke’ai is often used to translate the Japanese term kawaii and the English cute. All of these terms have slightly different ranges of meaning.” 

Naturally, academic discourse has focused on the situation in Japan, where ke’ai culture began to take off in the 1970s. “There are many different explanations for why the kawaii aesthetic is so popular in Japan,” Silvio said. “Because kawaii products are most popular with young women, one explanation is that it reflects the sexist structure of Japanese culture, where women are expected to be weak and men to take care of them.”
However, Taiwan’s culture is far less sexist than Japan’s, so other arguments appear more pertinent to local conditions. “Others argue that the exaggeration of the kawaii style expresses dissatisfaction with the rigidity of adult gender roles,” Silvio added. “Many people in the popular culture industries argue that kawaii style is popular because it is comforting. Kawaii objects provide a kind of respite and healing from the competition and struggles of daily life in the contemporary world.”
The explosion in popularity of ke’ai also appears to have a demographic and material basis. Japan’s kawaii culture coincided with the huge increase in the number of young single women, often still living at home as real estate prices shot through the roof, but with large disposable incomes. Taiwan’s own demographic changes followed hot on Japan’s heels.

Continued here...

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