Sunday, September 7, 2008
the symbol using/symbol creating/symbol misusing animal
Kenneth Burke is one of my favorite rhetoricians and he once said that man is the symbol using, symbol creating, symbol misusing animal. One set of symbols I find curious in China are cartoon characters. The associations are different for cartoon character images here than they are in the west. Maybe this is partially the west's fault, or the new vortex of meanings are tied up with the west in some way. I'm not sure. I'm not sure if it's even possible for me to figure out entirely what they mean here. Western cartoon characters carry some connotation of wealth and "western-ness" in China. It might not be wealth exactly, but some feeling of "modernity" that isn't easy for me to grasp. Here's what I can figure out:
These images aren't as heavily associated with children, but with something new, or the new way of life. Just to clarify, I'm not talking about manga, or images from graphic novels. Manga and graphic novels here would be a whole other conversation. A long one. What I'm referring to are images we might code specifically as children's images. Loony Toons characters. Disney characters.
I don't know how to convey the prevalence of these characters in a variety of strange places here. They are everywhere. I will often pick up an object in the store and groan when I find that Mickey Mouse is on it. It's hard to find things without cartoon characters on them. There are a variety of different cartoon characters on objects in our apartment, in order to make the apartment seem more upscale, or attractive. For instance, there is a curtain that we draw in the bedroom of our place to shut out the light from the glass-paned door. Mickey and Minnie are on that. There's a light fixture in our bathroom. Pluto is chasing Tweety Bird on that. There's a Hello Kitty light switch cover in our bedroom. The strangest one in our apartment, by far, is the cartoon image of two little boys in briefs eating ice cream next to each other. This is actually the brand label that is on our fridge. It's the company's symbol.