Say It Once More: 'It's Just a Fad; It Won't Last Long'It is indeed a world of diversity when no product is too ugly to sell. For Korean teenagers, amiable characters like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny are passe. Bizarre characters that fall short of the standard of "lovable" are in.
Gogebbang, an overbaked bread bun character, looks eerily like a ghost at a first glance (it's no wonder that he's always depicted isolated and alone). The idea is allegedly based on the social phenomenon of bullied and isolated children. This is a serious problem referred to as ijime in Japanese and wangdda in Korean. Bullied children often identify themselves with Gogebbang, and are perhaps comforted by the idea that theirs is a shared loneliness. In the original Japanese versions of Gogebbang, the character even appears with logos reading, "Let's commit suicide," which were thankfully cut from the Korean versions.
Stressed out people in modern society relate well to another hit character from Japan named Tarepanda. The creator is said to have been inspired by her own dead-tired image when her ideas were continuously rejected by seniors at work. Unlike other pandas whose lives are picture-perfect, Tarepanda looks down and out with a vacant, drugged-out expression. Tarepanda's body is strangely droopy, and looks more weird than cute. Since it first started appearing on stationery goods in 1996, Tarepanda became a smash hit, with sales reaching 30 billion yen ($230 million) so far.
But this is only the beginning of weird character goods. Lest you think that only Japanese come up with bizarre fads, meet Dongchimi, which is, you may be happy to know, in the shape of human excrement. Believe it or not, many Korean teenagers are desperate to possess Dongchimi in the form of cushions, soft toys and stationery. For them, Dongchimi is something intriguing, not filthy. "Just as people feel comfortable through relieving their constipation, I wanted to unbind people from existing stereotypes, manners and rules through Dongchimi," says the creator, Nam In-sook, with a straight face.
So don't be too upset when you see aloof teenagers carrying feces-shaped fans, cell phones with blackened bread bits dangling from them or bookbags with droopy pandas; it's just another fad. For better or for worse, something new will come along.
by Chun Su-jin