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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Betty Boop in Japan


Betty Boop, an American creation from the early 1930s has always been a presence in Japan, with her beguiling blend of the child-like and the adult-sexy. She taps into Japan's obsession with the comic (especially the home-grown manga comic) and with cuteness, or kawaii.

Betty Boop

Kawaii, roughly translated as “cute” is a cultural trend that began as an underground craze among Japanese schoolgirls in the 1970s for a particular writing style characterized by large, rounded letters, and interspersed with emoticon-style drawings. It was quickly taken aboard commercially, worked into manga art, and is now found even in officialdom, which freely uses kindergarten-level graphics in communications designed to persuade adults.

Emphasizing helplessness and vulnerability, the kawaii obsession fuels the “lolicon,” i.e. “Lolita complex," obsession with erotic depictions of young girls and, by extension, guarantees the popularity of that cutest and sexiest of characters, Betty Boop.

This Betty Boop figurine was snapped on the streets of Tokyo's Shibuya ward, a retro symbol of cute pointing shoppers to the appropriately named “Once Upon a Time” clothing store. The chain around her middle clearly serves the practical purpose of saving little Betty from abduction, but it would be a naïve passerby who didn't see more in it that that.

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