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  1. #1

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    Perspectives on Duffy fandom.

    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?

    Quote Originally Posted by strikeuptheband View Post
    Is anybody familiar with Figment at Epcot? That is simply what Duffy the Disney Bear is, the mascot for Tokyo DisneySEA. I do not believe he is a "shameless cash in" because he's the face of that park, the mistake that Disney made was to bring him to another park. It's like having a Figment meet and greet at California Adventure.
    Thank you deeply and sincerely! It's obvious. But it never occurred to me to think this, not just this way. I have just wanted people to love Duffy, or at least accept him as valid. I wanted it to be okay for him to be global, and travelling the world is inherent to his nature anyway. I always had reservations, but as more people outside Japan chimed in that they cared about Duffy, I wanted to be supportive. Skeptical, but ultimately supportive.

    Your simple post has dramatically altered enhanced 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.

  2. #2

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    Re: Perspectives on Duffy fandom.

    This is a great post that sums up your feelings, and pretty much mine too. It's a shame that it went unnoticed in the Disneyland thread. It seems like people there just want to complain without seeing the other side. It's like your post exists in a vacuum there...they step right over it and complain.

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    Re: Perspectives on Duffy fandom.

    DuffyD - That was a wonderfully eloquent post. It was also enlightening to me. I had never thought of Duffy as the mascot of TDS or a representation of the Japanese way of doing Disney, but I think my own feelings about Duffy evolved as I realized this, albeit unconsciously.

    I started out as one of those DL'ers who thought Duffy was superfluous. He had no connection (from the American perspective) to Disney other than (how I felt was) a rather artificial/forced story of being Mickey's teddy bear. I thought he looked cute, but I didn't get why I should otherwise care. I think the comparison of Figment in DCA is very apt.

    Despite this, I bought a Duffy and a costume purely because I thought he was cute, and I liked the idea of changeable costumes for plushes. Then I started reading up about Duffy's real world origins and what he means to TDS and his Japanese fans. I drooled at photos of the gorgeous TDS costumes, discovered the existence of Shellie May, marveled at the devotion of Japanese fans who dutifully stood in 7+ hour lines to buy new release merchandise, and realized just how special he is.

    I hope Disney will give Duffy the respect he deserves and treat him not like just another UPC code to add to the bottom line but as the icon he could become.

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    Re: Perspectives on Duffy fandom.

    Like I've mentioned before, I've liked Duffy since he was known as Disney Bear and really kicked myself for never getting one and then he was gone. Then he showed up in Japan with a proper name and a new backstory and we know what happened from there. So for years I drooled over photos from Japan and kept saying to myself, "Girl, find a a way to get one, even if you have to pony up and go through ebay!" I've always been highly fascinated with the awesome merchandise the Japanese parks put out and have managed to get my hands on things here and there. But then the US parks brought Duffy back over here and I was beyond happy and bought one the next time I was in Orlando (not quite a month after he arrived). I was instantly hooked, but was not impressed with the US costumes for the most part and held off until this past spring when the US sailor suit and pirate costumes came out. But I found ways to "plus" them using accessories from BAB.

    The comparison to Figment is really quite spot on. But I loved Figment from the first time I laid eyes on him in the 80s because he was just so stinking CUTE. He immediately became one of my favorite Disney characters. Right now if you asked me my top 5 Disney characters, they would be: Tigger, Pluto, Figment, Duffy & Tod (from the Fox and the Hound, which is my all-time favorite Disney movie). That's right... Mickey Mouse doesn't even crack the Top 5 for me! He's definitely in the top 10 though.

    Anyhow, I just love how Duffy's personality is really larger than life. He's really a rock star in his own right.

    Hopefully someone at Disney will finally wake up and smell the coffee regarding Duffy and finally do him right and proper and treat him with respect. Because otherwise I may have to drive to TDO (where the theme park merchandise headquarters are), find out who's in charge regarding Duffy and smack them upside the head. Even my CAT could do a better job!

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    Thumbs up Re: Perspectives on Duffy fandom.

    Quote Originally Posted by madoka View Post
    …I hope Disney will give Duffy the respect he deserves and treat him not like just another UPC code to add to the bottom line but as the icon he could become.
    …Beautiful.

    Quote Originally Posted by aimster View Post
    Like I've mentioned before, I've liked Duffy since he was known as Disney Bear and really kicked myself for never getting one and then he was gone. Then he showed up in Japan with a proper name and a new backstory and we know what happened from there…
    It's great that you liked the Disney Bear, but I can't help noting that the Disney Bear is not Duffy. To my mind, it is precisely WDC's refusal to understand or accept this fact that is at the heart of the problem with their current strategy and offerings.

    Quote Originally Posted by aimster View Post
    …Anyhow, I just love how Duffy's personality is really larger than life. He's really a rock star in his own right.

    Hopefully someone at Disney will finally wake up and smell the coffee regarding Duffy and finally do him right and proper and treat him with respect. Because otherwise I may have to drive to TDO (where the theme park merchandise headquarters are), find out who's in charge regarding Duffy and smack them upside the head. Even my CAT could do a better job!
    You said your "CAT!"

    Yeah, they'll have to notice that he's a fundamentally more developed and heartful concept than just some "Disney Bear," that they have to do more than "own him;" they have to love him. The more time passes, the more convinced I become that such realization would require, at the very least, a smack upside the head.

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    Re: Perspectives on Duffy fandom.

    Quote Originally Posted by DuffyDaisuki View Post
    It's great that you liked the Disney Bear, but I can't help noting that the Disney Bear is not Duffy. To my mind, it is precisely WDC's refusal to understand or accept this fact that is at the heart of the problem with their current strategy and offerings.
    I totally understand Duffy and Disney Bear are two separate things. But it's the Disney Bear concept that eventually evolved into Duffy, so we can't forget that. But I do agree Duffy is a totally separate entity and should be treated as such.

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