So last week, I wrote articles saying that Hello Kitty is not a cat, and that yes, Snoopy is a dog. Now, it looks like I have to modify one of those a little. Don’t worry, all you Peanuts fans — Snoopy is still a Beagle. But all the Sanrio fans who felt like their universe was coming apart at the seams can breathe a little easier. Sanrio says that yes, Hello Kitty is a cat — sort of.
After the Internet hordes reacted with shock and horror, Kotaku, the gaming and geek outlet of the Gawker Media empire, went directly to the source. A Sanrio spokesman told Kotaku writer Brian Ashcraft that “Hello Kitty was done in the motif of a cat. It’s going too far to say that Hello Kitty is not a cat. Hello Kitty is a personification of a cat.”
Once again, to clarify, I asked the Sanrio spokesperson, “Then, it would be going too far to say that Hello Kitty was not a cat?” The spokesperson replied, “Yes, that would be going too far.”
So there you have it. Hello Kitty is a cat, albeit in the same way that Donald is a Duck and Bugs is a Bunny. She’s in that cartoon Twilight Zone between human beings and four-legged fur buddies.
That all makes sense to me, but I don’t think that it counts as a black mark against either curator Christine R. Yano or the Los Angeles Times, which quoted her. Yano was pretty clear that Sanrio had firmly emphasized Hello Kitty’s non-catness to her, so it’s entirely possible that the whole thing can be chalked up to miscommunication from one side of the Pacific to the other.
What I find even more tantalizing? There’s some kind of doctrinal split within Sanrio itself, much like the way that Protestants and Catholics disagree on whether the communion becomes the body and blood of Christ through the miracle of transubstantiation, or whether it’s just symbolic. In the case of Hello Kitty, I imagine adherents of each doctrine watching each other warily as they pass in the hallways of Sanrio’s corporate headquarters, each struggling to convert more followers to their belief in Hello Kitty’s humanity or felinity.
If I didn’t need to pay my cell phone bill in a few days, I’d consider blowing off all the cat and dog writing right now so that I could write a 1980s-retro cyberpunk novel about a futuristic holy war between Hello Kitty factions. Kind of like the Wars of the Roses, but with cute cat faces on the insignias.
It’s also possible that, seeing the fuss that was kicked up online, Sanrio decided to moderate its stance on Hello Kitty’s species, or at least clarify it. After all, as Ashcraft points out in his piece, the original quote never said that she was human; only that she wasn’t a cat. And, unlike American English, Japanese apparently does refer to pet animals as “girls” and “boys”:
The character’s official profile never says she is human, and among cat lovers in Japan, it’s very common for cats to be referred to as “girl” or “boy,” instead of by the Japanese gender markers designated for animals (namely, “osu” or Úøä for “male” animals and “mesu” or Úøî for female animals). The reason for this is that by using terms like “girl” or “boy” for animals, they can personify them through vocabulary and raise them above the status of mere “pet” to a member of the family.
What do you think? Are you relieved that Hello Kitty’s catness is a matter of official record again? Does it even matter what Sanrio says?
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