Apr 28, 2014

    Hello Kitty, hello crazy people

    BACK in 2001, my first book discussed the obsession with Hello Kitty dolls. I suggested our addiction was more symptomatic of our need to follow the herd.

    It wasn't really about owning the world's ugliest toys.

    If it was, Barbie would've gone bust years ago as we craved a toy that looked like it had been run over by a truck.

    I said the Hello Kitty fad would soon be replaced by another pop culture craze. And it was. Another Hello Kitty phenomenon came along.

    They returned time and again, taking over the McDonald's display cases with their freaky faces pressed against the plastic.

    They go away eventually. There is a brief respite. And then they are thrown up at us once more, a bit like a fur ball.

    I've tried to understand this love of awkward, weird-looking things. My wife married me, so it happens.

    And there's no harm in a pop culture collection either. I began collecting Star Wars figures the moment I realised I had a closer relationship with C-3PO than I did with the girls in the playground.

    I tried to woo them with a robotic walk across the football pitch, shouting "I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations." But they always ran away.

    As the collection grew, so did the beginnings of an addiction to acquire even rarer figures in the Star Wars universe. I once trekked across town, on foot, to buy a discounted Admiral Ackbar.

    Now I'm not sure if you're familiar with the lobster-headed military commander with a speech impediment and a dribble. He made the Hello Kitty dolls look like the Pussycat Dolls.

    Still, Admiral Ackbar and all the Star Wars figures had one overwhelming advantage over the ugly cats - their arms and legs moved, they were mobile. They were at home in any environment, particularly the Barbie jacuzzi in my little sister's bedroom.

    At the time, I thought nothing of running a bubble bath in the jacuzzi and slipping in Admiral Ackbar, C-3PO and Chewbaccca alongside a trio of Barbies in bikinis.

    It seemed a healthy play date for a nine-year-old. Now it looks like a meeting for perverts anonymous.

    But that is really the fundamental difference. I was a kid when I hunted down Admiral Ackbar. As a man approaching 40, I wouldn't line up outside McDonald's for six hours to buy him.

    If it was a rare Han Solo, on the other hand, I'd shove crying kids through the window to get to him.

    But I've seen long Hello Kitty lines in the past. Curiosity drew me to the queues like an old Victorian freak show.

    I've witnessed important businessmen waiting in line. They had the phone holster on the hip and the glowing phone piece in the ear, so they must have been important.

    I've heard them on the Star Trek earpiece, shouting things like: "No, it's got to be 1.4 million. Heck care lah, got sea view from bathroom window.

    "Just tell them to stand on toilet seat, can definitely see East Coast in one corner. So 1.4 million. That's it, must be ruthless... Okay, give me one Hello Kitty Bubbly World, that one with the red and white stripey knickers."

    Of course, the latest Hello Kitty craze has gone digital. In a bid to be more convenient - and pick up the free publicity - McDonald's opened an online showroom, allowing customers to use a website to buy the Hello Kitty Bubbly World Series (are they sure they used enough capital letters there?).

    Almost immediately, demand forced online sales to be suspended. Mock outrage swiftly stirred among the masses.

    Apparently, diehard fans were so inconvenienced that they had to place an order a second time - one woman had to do it on the phone while watching a movie in the cinema.

    What a traumatic experience.

    It stopped her from talking to friends on the phone while watching the movie.

    Within hours, the collector's sets were available on eBay for $1 million.

    No, they weren't really a million bucks. They're not a limited-edition Han Solo figure.

    But the Hello Kitty Bubbly World Series is now back online until stocks last.

    As a nation, we must not fall for the transparent hype and obvious marketing gimmick. We must rise above such childish behaviour.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got the jacuzzi running for Barbie and Chewbacca.