The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Hello Kitty, Globalization, and Localization

December 8, 2006

I gave My final lecture for “Introduction to International Politics” today. It focused on the cultural dimension of globalization. After my daughter insisted I bring her Hello Kitty doll to work with me, I decided to use Hello Kitty as a thematic anchor for my discussion of various ways of thinking about identity, culture, and contemporary global processes.

It turns out that this makes even more sense than I realized at the time. My wife pointed me to the introductory chapter of Ken Belson’s and Brian Bremmer’s Hello Kitty: The Remarkable Story of Sanrio and the Billion Dollar Feline Phenomenon. The creators of Hello Kitty, it turns out, eschewed creating any sort of a back story for the character, allowing consumers to project their own fantasies and aspirations onto her. She’s a brand qua brand; a global product with infinite possibilities for localization.* At the same time, she’s been an important vector for the spread of Japanese kawaii sensibilities into other cultures. Many American toys and cartoons, for example, now involve stereotypically kawaii elements.

*On this point, I highly recommend Patrick Jackson and Peter Mandavelle’s discussion of translation in Harry Potter and International Relations, which I assigned for the lecture. An extreme form of Hello Kitty “translation” can be found at the venerable website of the “Hello Cthulhu” cartoon.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.