Meeting cartoons in everyday life
Author: Helena Patelisová
It is not just a question of books, comics or films. They become part of our everyday life because we can encounter them everywhere. Why? Mostly it is kitsch, but we cannot help it. Children love them. And we were all once children as well so sometimes we secretly love them. They remain to us pieces of our own childhood. Naturally, we usually like just “old ones,” because we feel they are somehow connected to our origin.
When I became an exchange student traveling to Finland I was extremely pleased because I considered the country important for its history of design. But on the other hand I need to admit that a small part of me was enthusiastic just because this country was motherland of Moomins, a fairly tale of my childhood. Yet, my enthusiasm stopped when I discovered that Moomins were literally everywhere… There was also a Moomin-land quite similar to Disneyland . What is nice and cute about huge fake Moomins living in the even more terrific word? Moominland is nice when it only “maybe exist” and you need to use your imagination… And did you know that Arabia produces cups with Moomins and also one with Angry Birds?
Finland is not the first country to do this… “The metamorphosis of media character into media character toy was once an interest peculiar to the Americans, because of the huge popularity of the cartoon character in the newspaper strip within their society during the 1920s and 1930s. However, like most things American, the influence soon spread to Britain and Europe.” A Collector’s Guide to 20Th-Century Toys
In 1930 there were already toys of Popeye the Sailorman and the infamous Mickey Mouse, probably the most known and widely exploited character ever. Today they are as popular as ever. Below are some pictures:
“Today many children’s cartoon programmes appear on television at the same time as the associated media merchandize appears in the toy shops; the idea being that the toy is as important to the success of the cartoon programme as the programme is to the success of the toy.”A Collector’s Guide to 20Th-Century Toys
However, we can see that these items are increasingly missing in aesthetic value. Can we still speak about design? Or is it just about business continuing to play the biggest part of it?
If it were just T.V. toys spoiling our planet then maybe it would be quite OK, but there are endless types of merchandise like such as: clothes and accessories, shoes, socks, bags, hats, gloves, scarves, jewellery, watches, umbrellas, kitchen, dinnerware, sheets, cosmetics, entertainment, pins, figurines keepsakes, snow globes, costumes and mascots. Whatever you could imagine that you could possibly need with an applied pattern of some particular cartoon. So you can always keep your “virtual friends” with you. Some people live just surrounded with those items… And we are somehow forced to see and meet them despite the fact that we would never buy them. How did we get from 2d illustration to 3d mascots walking on the streets?
David Bowie is singing in his song “Life on Mars?”:
“It’s on America’s tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again
See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads…”
it has been first released in 1971 and BBC Radio has described it as having “one of the strangest lyrics ever” consisting of a “slew of surreal images” like a Salvador Dalí painting. I am not exactly sure about “surreal image” as it is after 44 years still describing the situation extremely well and in a very “realistic” way… And yes, time to time I am also meeting those Mickey Mouse’s mascots in the centre of Prague. Somehow they are “Watteau’s Pierot” of the time we live in.
There are also adult animated sitcoms. The Simpsons is an American one, created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. You can buy any kind of marchendize also with those characters. Here is Mr.Burns as a LEGO figure.
To make business bigger we also already have seen those mutations of Barbie Doll and Disney Princess what we could had seen in basically any toy shop since the time when Walt Disney have started to produce their own dolls. (It is really hard to say if those are better or worse…) And now days you can see mixture of Angry Birds and Star Wars linked to Angry Birds Star Wars game. You meet this mixture in Tesco and you can acquire them as a stuffed toy. Great! What is going to be the next? What about Angry Birds -Batman- Popeye-Barbie Doll in the price of one month salary as all copy-rights will be respected?
This is not Wonderland, or Neverland or any other land based on pure and in the same time absurd way how can children perceive this word. It is our own sad present and we are surrounded by all of these items we maybe even do not need at all…
There is of course also reaction from artists to this products. Jeff Koons sold his sculpture of Popeye for $28 million. I like his work very much… Somehow it is so well working with the idea of Oscar Wilde that “All art is quite useless” that art has value because we give it value, and we give it value because of what it does to us… Many people criticize him that it looks like an exact 1:1 replica of the Dark Horse toy. But that is it. That is the point! It is just more polished in the spirit of our time… So what value do we give to that “original” piece of plastic?