I've been a lifelong fan of Hello Kitty, but if someone actually asked me why I like her so much, all I could really muster is that she's cute (and to be honest, I'm not sure the answer has to be much more complicated than that). Thinking about it further, I suppose she represents some vestige of my childhood, but my attachment to her has remained far stronger than to any other icons of my youth.
"Idea Channel", a new PBS show that examines the connections between pop culture, technology and art, recently debuted a fascinating new episode dedicated to unraveling the mystery behind Kitty White's enduring, worldwide success. The clip focuses on the idea that minimalism, and more specifically her trademark lack of mouth, is what makes Hello Kitty so popular. They conclude that she is possibly "the world's best salesgirl," who "assumes everything", while "representing nothing" at all.
Sanrio has always claimed that the reason she has no mouth is because they want people to "project their feelings onto the character" and "be happy or sad together with Hello Kitty." Another explanation given is that she "speaks from the heart. She's Sanrio's ambassador to the world and isn't bound to any particular language."
While I tend to buy more into the latter line of reasoning, I can think of one very specific example to support the former, which occurred when I visited Japan in 2010. On the first day of my trip, I came down with a nasty case of food poisoning that landed me in the ER, and left me bound to my hotel room for two days. On the third day of my nearly ruined vacation, I dragged my weak self on an almost two hour journey by bus and train to Sanrio Puroland (an indoor, Hello Kitty themed amusement park), where just being in the presence of my favorite cat and her kawaii group of pals unequivocally helped boost my spirits, both emotionally and physically.
So what does Hello Kitty mean to you, and why do you think she remains so popular? Is her lack of mouth the secret to her success, or is the real reason much less interesting?