Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cultural and Social Context

First off, a note of celebration. I have a picture of my object! whoo. However, I do not yet have clearance to post the photos and I was not bored enough at work this weekend to draw a picture. Granted, now that I have a picture I must re-do my first and sort of re-do my second blog post. Alas. But what is grad school without challenges? So in this week's installment of let's talk about a stuffed tiger, we discuss cultural and societal context. This particular tiger, admittedly, has little social or cultural context. In fact, if most people saw him they wouldn't think very much, or would construct a story about who it belonged to (probably a small child) and what its purpose was (comfort). They'd be sort of right. In order to actually get something out of this post, I will once again be broadening the subject to stuffed animals in general, and point of some specific tigers in the process.

Cultural Social Context of Stuffed Tigers/Animals:

Original design Tigger at left.
America, surprisingly enough, has a handful of stuffed tigers that function as pervasive cultural references. Two feature prominently in my blog title: Tigger and Hobbes. Tigger is the rambunctious pal of Winnie the Pooh (who much to my five year old self's annoyance is a constantly plague to Eeyore). Tigger in plush form takes two styles, that of the original A.A. Milne design and the more cultural pervasive image produced by Disney. Tigger is well known in America and England among both children and adults, even if they have not read the Winnie the Pooh stories or seen the television show.

Hobbes is in some ways, arguably less well known. Since  Bill Watterson's comic strip ended in 1995, Calvin and his anthropomorphized  tiger pal Hobbes are increasing less recognized by people under the age of 12.* Hobbes, who appears as a stuffed animal to all other characters, comes to life when accompanied by his owner Calvin. He serves often as Calvin's voice of reason and is up to frighten Calvin with a good pounce. Hobbes often waxes lyrical about humanity, life and other philosophical subjects. Both tigers who are stuffed animals to one set of viewers but talking, responsive characters to others allow the creators to play with understanding of childhood versus adulthood, the role of toys in a persons life and influences of ones imagination. In an interview with Honk Magazine in 1987 Watterson noted "'When Hobbes is a stuffed toy in one panel and alive in the next, I'm juxtaposing the 'grown-up' version of reality with Calvin's version, and inviting the reader to decide which is truer'", noting the flexibility of signifiers of  age.

Stuffed animals in general also function as a shared experience in society. As exhibited by the popularity of and emotional response illicited across the population by the story The Velveteen Rabit  and the Toy Story movies, stuffed animals play an important and recognizable role in our society, whether we are willing to admit it or not (returning to the conflict of childhood vs. adulthood). They symbolize traumatic events (the Oklahoma City bombings, the death of Princess Diana, for example), comfort and a myriad of other emotions, demonstrated by the ability to buy a stuffed animal for any event, their display smartly placed right next to the greeting cards in most drug stores. In other cultures, specifically in China and India, stuffed tigers can be representations of gods, faith and power and are presented as ceremonial and celebratory gifts.

For the rest of this post, I am going to indulge myself and post some Calvin and Hobbes strips.

*Cultural understanding gauged on an oh-so-scientific study done on the poor visitors at work who are increasingly my public history guinea pigs. 

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