Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cultural Difference: Political Cartooning

When I went to Kaohsiung last summer, I saw cartoon avatar pictures of Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu everywhere I went.

I assumed it was all politicking for the upcoming mayoral elections (which Chen won easily). But I returned to Kaohsiung this month, over Chinese New Year, and Chen's avatars were if anything even more ubiquitous.

These posters are all over Kaohsiung. To celebrate the Year of the Rabbit, Chen appears to be wearing a rabbit head as a hat.

Portraying people as cartoon avatars is more common in East Asia than in the West, and it's not uncommon to see little cartoon figures of other prominent politicians on official city merchandise elsewhere in Taiwan. But I haven't seen any politician portrayed in cartoon form quite as much as Chen.

You can buy Chen merchandise in Formosa Boulevard MRT.

I'm not offended by any of this, or think it is improper. But I do think it illustrates a cultural difference between East and West. This would never fly in the United States. Sure, there are lots of souvenir shops in Washington DC where you can buy Barack Obama bobblehead dolls. But that's just the market filling a demand; it's not as if the White House is actively producing and promoting them.

Chen Chu's official title is Mayor. But Greater Kaohsiung includes a huge hinterland and is not part of any larger administrative unit, so Chen's position is really equivalent to a state governor in the United States. I'm trying to imagine the reaction if American state governments started distributing official signs, leaflets and brochures with adorable cartoon depictions of Andrew Cuomo or Rick Perry or Chris Christie or Deval Patrick.

I'm guessing the reactions would include quite a bit of mockery.

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