A bout of illness has me stuck in the house, and ruminating on the implications of my comic book and toy-infused decor. You know the scene in Alien where it leaps out of John Hurt’s stomach? That’s how I’ve been feeling for the last 2 days. Even though it feels like some vicious beastie is trying to claw a way out of me, it is actually just some boring little stomach flu thing. I can tell you right now that I’m not too happy about this, and it certainly isn’t conducive to damn typing, so this week my column is going to be a short, random one. My apologies for that, but I can assure you that it is worse for me than it is for you. In fact, it’s been so bad that I haven’t made it to the comic book shop to pick up my comic books from last week yet, let alone this weeks books. So I’m feeling kind of deprived. I’m not saying that I need a weekly fix or anything, in fact there are plenty of weeks when I only buy two or three issues, but with an enforced week or two off, I’m realizing that even a little habit is kind of wonderful.
This was a weird week for me, not just because of I’ve been stuck at home sick, but also because I had people for dinner who hadn’t been in my home before (before I got this bug.) This gave me an opportunity to see my place from a new perspective, since they walked around constantly surprised at every toy and bit of comic book art. You know how it is with a home, when you’re in it it is just background noise. It quickly becomes so familiar that it is hard to notice anything anymore. Apparently, for other people, my home contains a mind-numbing collection of comic books and pop-culture ephemera. Honestly, it just doesn’t seem that focused or noteworthy in any way to me. These are just things that I like. But to outside eyes I’m told that it is a bit strange. What people don’t know is that there is more stuff to go up that hasn’t yet made it, more pages of original art, toys, vintage promotional posters and postcards from comic books.
Have you ever watched one of those disturbing shows about hoarders? It’s worse than my other guilty pleasure, the BBC show How Clean is Your House? , because rather than just dirt, these people have a pathological need to collect and keep objects to the point where their homes become uninhabitable. You can see where I’m going with this right? After my enforced convalescence this week, watching this show for the first time last week I enjoyed a peek into these unbalanced people’s homes. Now obviously, my collections are relatively small, and I’m realistic about it. If I didn’t have the space for the books, toys and art that I love, they’d go into storage or be sold long before I’d allow them to crowd me or my family out – I own my things, they don’t own me. Having said that, I have to acknowledge that it is tremendously comforting to have these things around me.
Years ago I read a short article in New Scientist magazine about the endorphin levels in monkeys brains. According to the study, when shown a photo of a friend or relative, the monkey’s endorphin levels would rise. With humans, this worked not only when they were shown photos of friends, but also when shown images of cute things, like puppies and babies. They were able to prove that looking at cute things not only makes people feel better on an emotional level, but on a physical level too. When I read this article I was finally able to completely drop any pretense towards maturity, not that I’m not an adult, but I no longer see any need to try and suppress my appreciation of things which I find cute. I’m not saying I’m permanently a kid, but if I see a toy I really want , or find myself wanting to watch Monsters, Inc again, then why not? I know for a fact that it is going to be good for me.
In Japan they have a name for the cute graphic imagery that pervade all areas of communication; Kawaii. This cute, friendly graphic language is used in all kinds of municipal signage, the idea is that the cute imagery will make people feel more relaxed and amenable, thereby making them more likely to do what the signage asks of them. It makes sense, the cute builder character used to say “construction site, keep out” is much less austere than the faceless signage used in similar signs here. While we get the message, it has a lot less personality.
While I appreciate the cuteness-culture, I understand that it has an appropriate time and place, so I do my best to keep the cuteness to a few confined spots of my life and most of the toys are in the kitchen. This room seems appropriate, with the bright lighting, hard edges and strong colors, I think the toys provide a strong counterpoint to the functionality of the room. However, despite my intention to keep the toys to one room, the little things do find a way to seep into other areas of the home. There’s the life-size Alex Ross Superman in the hallway, and the Major from Ghost in the Shell by my bed, and of course the tiny Wonder Woman figure in the bathroom. It’s not that the stuff is taking over, but like an adorable little virus, they spread. Maybe new visitors do find it’s strange to have action figures watching over them while they sleep, eat, or pee. It’s possible that the cute stuff doesn’t make their endorphin level rise, I don’t know, but I do know that it makes me feel right at home.