This was originally posted in another thread on the Disneyland boards. Click the quote to link to that thread if you like. I realized that I had poured my heart into these words and I wanted it to be here; I felt this is where it really belongs. I think there are two conversations to be had from it, that will likely go differently. In the Disneyland boards, I see the conversation between Duffy fans and Duffy critics, and that's valuable. Here, though, I hope for a dynamic conversation about what the Duffy fandom aims to be. Perhaps it's just me who thinks teddy bear fans should have "aims" at all?^^
I also realized - again - that I have given an extraordinary (some would say "crazy"^^ amount of thought, time and energy to Duffy and that I have some fairly strong opinions about what his role in Disney history is or should be, beyond simply being a cute mascot character. And, really, about what exactly Duffy is a mascot for. I think this is one of my best long posts about Duffy, but I wonder if people who don't take him so seriously will even be interested in it? I offer it here, to share my ideas about the growing Duffy fandom, its roots and direction. I'd be very interested in hearing other ideas, too, about what being a Duffy fan is all about, and also whether my perspective is one that people outside Japan share?
Your simple post has dramatically
alteredenhanced my perspective on the issue. It is exactly like having Figment in Tokyo Disney Resort - where no one would have a clue what he's really about at all. Tethered to nothing and out of context, he would be meaningless. And imposing some kind of artificial half-baked context would be futile. And if things about him are changed to suit other places' whims, it's as if our mascot has been stolen and given away. And if he's stripped of the commitment to quality and heart that defines the character's emotional and physical sense of place in Tokyo, then why bother? I don't imagine Figment's fans in EPCOT would be very happy to see Figment come to Japan and suddenly be given cheaper merchandise and a less compelling story context. Of course that would never happen anyway, because if the Oriental Land Company brought over Figment, they would put in the care and the resources to produce the defiinitive version. That's how they roll.^^
Duffy seemed to be able to go to America or Hong Kong or Paris because his message is universal and his backstory in Japan actually grounds him even more in romantic Americana and globe-trotting than anything happening in the US. So it seemed like it should be okay. But somewhere along the way I forgot or ignored or began to deny something I used to write extensively about - Duffy is the embodiment of the Japanese Disney fan culture and the passion of the Oriental Land Company. Duffy is inherently, fundamentally tied to the Tokyo Resort and specifically DisneySEA. No matter where else he's sold, Cape Cod is Duffy's hometown and Duffy always exists in the space where Disney aesthetic meets Japanese character-for-its-own-sake enthusiasm. For Duffy fans who understand what it is in the sensibility of Tokyo DisneySEA that leads so many people to describe it as "the most beautiful theme park in the world," for those who understand and respect Japanese character culture, for those who appreciate and admire Oriental Land Company's deeply seasonal and ridiculously high-quality operating standards and vision for what a Disney park experience ought to be; Duffy will travel, with his essence intact. Remove any piece of that perspective, though, and Duffy is destroyed. Duffy could conceivably work in any culture or region, but his fan base would always need to be people who understand that very particular sensibility, or the defining core of Duffy is lost. In that way, yes, he is particularly the mascot character of Tokyo DisneySEA and all that it represents. So when the American version dumbs down or cheapens elements, it is not just frustrating because it dilutes and corrupts the character. It is offensive because it dilutes and corrupts the character that embodies the entire DisneySEA/Oriental Land/Japanese Disney culture and perspective. The reinterpretation of "the Disney Bear" into Duffy is precisely the same embodiment of the way the Oriental Land Company runs and defines its business as Mickey Mouse is the representation of the Walt Disney Company. It is a slap in the face of the artists and the fans who make this the most magical, innovative, vibrant, stylish and sophisticated Disney park culture in the world.
Because of your post, I realize that my feeling is not simply "That's NOT Duffy!" but also, and perhaps more frustratingly, "He's NOT YOURS!" But then I realize one more thing. The Tokyo Disney experience may only be fully realized in Japan, but it is the park experience nearly every guest and fan longs for - incredibly helpful CMs, polite guests, meticulous attention to every detail, constant renewal and genuine passion for the genus loci of the Resort itself from guests and operating staff in equal measure. Duffy so deeply embodies all of this at this point that it is impossible to separate him from it. And there are Disney fans everywhere in the world who understand that. Duffy is, at heart, the mascot of the Japanese way of doing Disney, but there are people outside Japan who dream of seeing Disney do things this way.^^ There are fans everywhere in the world who are waiting for Disney to fall in love with itself again, to demand excellence in everything it does, to go for the over-the-top ridiculous quality and still find a way to make it affordable enough to be in every home that wants it. There are Disney fans all over the world who want to believe that Disney still remembers how to be obsessed with creation itself, innovation itself, dreams and magic for the sake of keeping the eye of the imagination open for as long as possible in as many people as possible.
Duffy embodies all of that. And whether Disney understands how to market this or not, whether they care to or not, whether they respect Duffy or not; if the fans who find Duffy understand all of this, then Duffy is simultaneously a mascot of Tokyo DisneySEA and the pinnacle it represents, but also so much more. If Duffy's fans understand this, then everywhere you find Duffy, you find the exact opposite of the people who accept Disney's tendency to go for the "shameless cash-in." If Duffy's fans learn the history and understand that Duffy is truly so much more than the American representation of him, then the more Disney pushes him, the more he spreads the question: Why doesn't Disney look like Disney anymore and when is it going to? Why is a licensee better at creating this experience than the world-class originator? "Duffy Brings Love," but he also brings qualm, for both corporate and fan apathy. As a character whose sole existence is unique, even compared with Figment, in being simply a piece of merchandise, Duffy calls attention to what is being bought into and what is being sold. He forces the question of whether it is right or wrong. He demands - from both company and fandom - that if it be supported, it be worth supporting. And when he does not demand this, Duffy is not Duffy and Duffy does not matter. When he does not do this, Duffy does not translate.
As long as Duffy fans are asking these questions, Duffy is still jamming Disney's agenda. As long as Duffy fans don't buy into (or buy) crap products and half-baked representation, Duffy is still challenging Disney. And as long as Duffy is doing that, Duffy is Duffy. Duffy demands excellence. Duffy is synonymous with only the very best done meticulously for its own sake. Duffy fans understand and believe in the possibility of a world where Disney is fundamentally and thoroughly defined by a sincere commitment to dreams and magic and "just happens" to make money, versus our present reality where most seem to just accept it as a comfortable given that Disney is primarily motivated by profit and greed. The fans who truly understand Duffy, wherever they happen to be in the world, are fans who love Disney so much, they are willing to recognize that the current corporation is not Disney, and hasn't been for a while. They will simultaneously support Duffy, but not what Disney does with him. They will do what Japanese fans have done, albeit for entirely different reasons; they willcreate the culture. In many places that will mean rejecting Disney's crass marketing and accepting that everyone cannot understand Duffy, especially because of Disney's convoluted presentation and message. That's okay, though, because these fans are both demanding and hopeful, fully aware of the irony of both Duffy's complex history and his current existence, including the irony of buying a heavily-branded product that is inherently critical of the company it represents. Duffy is devotion and disdain, simultaneously and for the same reasons. It is the Disney fan's burden, and we get how Duffy epitomizes this. It makes us smile.
That smile is for everyone who feels it. That smile is the standard in Tokyo, so Duffy is a celebration rather than a commentary here. It's just how the Oriental Land Company does things, their operational standard. But that sensibility, that standard, that spirit - that smile - is open to everyone who wants it. Duffy Brings, Inspires, and Demands LOVE, with everyone he meets, everywhere he goes. He is the mascot of everyone who understands that, as long as they truly understand it and aren't just buying into more Disney malarkey. Duffy is not "shameless," but proud. Duffy is not "soulless," but the very spirit of Disney and monetized creativity. Duffy is not a "ripoff," but worth every penny, provided he is both produced and purchased with this standard and this smile. Duffy is not just a mascot of DisneySEA, though he is that for sure; he is the mascot of every Disney fan who sees this discrepancy, demands integrity, feels this burden and could use a hug.