Friday, February 11, 2011


My husband just put up a post from our trip to Kaohsiung about the preponderance of Chen Chu...for lack of a better word...cartoons. He noted that it's a huge political difference from the USA, where this sort of marketing of a political leader in Chen Chu's position (or any position really) would simply not be accepted by the public - at least not if the toys were churned out by a governor's office or worse, the White House.

Official Chen Chu toys (I bought the cell phone charm)

I agree, but take it one step further: this is a peculiarity of southern Taiwan - yes, you can buy Ma Ying-jiu bobbleheads, Chiang Kai-shek bobbleheads (which make him look like a kindly old grandfather, which is so deeply inappropriate), Chen Shui-bian and even Mao Zedong bobbleheads. In fact, one of my favorite things to do whenever I visit the Chinese Handicraft Mart on Zhongshan S. Road is to go to the Politician Bobblehead display and make it so Bobblhead Ma and Bobblehead Chiang Kai-shek are making out.

I know, I'm immature. Whatevs. :)

It's worth it to note that politicians don't always directly resemble their cartoons:

From the Taipei Times: what I love about Chen Chu is that she always looks like she's having fun. Ma - not getting into how I disagree with his policies - always looks like an annoyed zombie.

I would like to point out here that Chen is the poster girl - literally - for a major cultural difference between Taiwan and the USA. Chen is not a beautiful woman, but she is a fiercely competent one. In America, a Chen-equivalent female politician would be the object of invective-filled debate and comments regarding her appearance. American female politicians can't win: either you're a MILF, you're an outdated, unfashionable old pensioner (despite being the most prominent female public figure we have who actually has a job she can do!) or, even worse, you are a woman with a "fat ****" - despite the fact that Michelle Obama is not, technically, a "politician".

Correct me if I am wrong - in fact, if I am wrong I'd love to hear it in the comments - but this just doesn't happen with Chen Chu despite her being one of the most prominent female public figures in Taiwan next to Tsai Ying-wen, former Vice President Annette Lu and of course a small gaggle of former presidents' wives.

The worst I've heard is a student who said that it's "hard to recognize her from her cartoon because the cartoon is least the hair is the same". Maybe a little unfair, but hardly scathing. In general, I've found people take or leave Chen based on her politics and her record, not her looks. This is a cultural tic that I certainly hope the USA can acquire.


There's a key difference between Taipei and Kaohsiung here: in Taipei, the politician toys and cartoons stay in a few souvenir shops and only come out en force around election time, when they're everywhere. Otherwise, I don't know about you, but I don't see Cartoon Ma Avatars, or even Hau Lung-bin ones, all over Taipei or any other city in the north. Chen Chu has really spearheaded this effort to get her "face" - her cartoon face, at least - out there to the point where you can't not notice. I have to wonder if there's something of a cultural difference between northern and southern Taiwan here, or if it really is just Chen Chu doing her Chen Chu thing (I think she's awesome, for the record).

I also can't help but remember this piece from the New York Times, which I read back when it came out. Outside Kaohsiung and with no elections looming, Taiwan may not have that many politician cartoon avatars. Like Japan, however, Taiwan has cartoon policemen, cartoon military officers and cartoon postal workers. It seems to be a fairly clear cultural influence, at least to me.

Postal Worker Bobbleheads on sale at the Taiwan Post Office, from Dave Espionage

And, as I link to below in the caption, using cartoons to "cute-ify" authority is fairly popular in China, too.

Police Cartoons from Global Voices - the article is worth reading

But you know? I won't lie. I totally bought a Chen Chu cell phone charm.

If Chen Chu finds that this kind of exposure helps her, then more power to her. We need more competent female politicians in Taiwan and abroad, and we certainly need more beloved and competent politicians from the DPP these days.

I mean, hey, who can fault the woman? She's certainly accomplished. She's an experienced rabbit hunter:

She's an airline pilot:

She's a farmer:

And she's...a Broadway dancer? A character from Mad Men? A Vaudeville scheister? A member of the Rat Pack?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For the sake of comparison, Obama has appeared in about 15 American comic books (ranging from biographical to satirical to guest appearances alongside Spider-Man and Archie). Sarah Palin has about half as many appearances, often the same ones as Obama. The prevailing style is not so kawaii (cutesy), though.