…Are self-respecting males and adults welcome on this voyage? Should we be? Someone said to me recently that Duffy is truly a character for artists and creators (of all ages), and the only way the mass market can understand him is by crippling his true potential, dumbing him down, and cheapening the brand until all that's left is, "Oooh, cute!" Is this true, and are we glad about it? Do we accept and embrace it? Do we accept and embrace stereotypical limitations about what boys or girls or grown women and men are allowed or not allowed to like just because society says so? Do we accept some things as "creepy" just because they're ingrained? Isn't Duffy fundamentally about fresh perspectives and challenges to traditional perspectives? Isn't he also about a love so universal that it embraces anyone and so positive that anyone who embraces it is someone we respect? Is mass awareness worth the loss of the core elements of the character and the culture of love, thoughtfulness, creativity, playfulness, experimentation, innovation, craftsmanship, integrity, independence, community, celebration and adventure that have driven the Duffy fan community? As Duffy's presence grows, I feel these are questions worth asking and examining. I hope others agree.
As so often happens, what started as a simple desire to explain myself more clearly in another thread became an essay that would have been off-topic unless it has its own. I hesitated about posting, cos of the length, but woke to find that theead veering off-topic and thought perhaps others are actually interested in such a conversation. Feel free to ignore what follows if you dislike long, thoughtful, or controversial posts. But I would really love to talk about this earnestly with some genuine investment. For me, that's what MiceChat is all about. It should be remembered that everyone here loves the MiceChat community and its members, as well as both Disney and Duffy a great deal, or we would be spending our time otherwise.^^
Growing up, there was no part of me that felt teddy bears were "for girls," even in the mainstream brainwash vision of the order of things. When I look back on the eighties, it seemed that teddy bears, while non-gendered, of course, were push-to-shove, the boys' answer to dolls as a "badge of childhood." Teddy bears and army men and dump trucks. And Transformers. I had them all, but the teddy bear was for us "sensitive" boys. My G.I. Joes negotiated peace treaties and married COBRAs...seriously, literally. I feel that BAB has changed that, but that's very recent. Teddy bears were first and foremost born from political satire and a story of mercy and kindness. They were a cultural phenomenon across all age and gender lines before settling into the child's room. And though they may belong to boys or girls; Christopher Robin and Pooh, Paddington, Teddy Ruxpin, UK Rupert, Stewie's Rupert, Garfield's Pooky, even the recent film TED — all of these are in line with placing the teddy bear as the little boy's symbol of childhood and sugarplum dreams. I cannot think of the same list for girls (though Lancelot from LABYRINTH is memorable, there's no comparison to the above). Keep on mind that for boys, any interest in "girly" things is met with painfully serious scorn, while girls who like cowboys and construction are "tough" and "cool." Certainly all of the teddies I mentioned have been relevant to many females, but Christopher Robin is a boy, as are nearly all teddy bear characters, including the aforementioned Lancelot. This is one of the things that helped ShellieMay establish herself so quickly; iconic female teddies are so hard to think of that I can't think of any others. Also, I think cars and construction sets are iconic in the same way. Of course, these are symbols for boys, too, but the teddy bear is the magical companion, much akin, in my mind, to girls' dolls in numerous stories. Teddy bears are little boy dreams and imagination, fantasy and social play. They don't serve the same function as cars and battle toys; they are soft and safe. The teddy bear is the sensitive side of the male, something powerful and potentially violent made cute and cuddly. They are not only for boys by any means, but the media message has been ingrained fairly clearly and consistently over the past century, though the marketing message is admittedly different.
I hope that no one imagines even for a moment, though, that I personally think in a "for boys/for girls" paradigm... I'm like a broken record about the damage done by both age and gender pre(mis)conceptions in our societies, and the fact that so few dare to challenge them...and the unfortunate judgments and consequences when they do. What bothers me is that such a paradigm exists for anyone, anywhere. I hope and believe that Duffy is beyond such limitations. In case I did somehow misrepresent my thinking, I just wanted to set the record straight. I'll see you out on the limb where I'm always sitting, relaxing and reading and enjoying the view. Bring snacks!^^
One other thing you said confused me, Aimster, about the men with the dolls. It feels like you're making two opposing points, so I feel sure I've misunderstood you somehow, which I pre-apologize for. Why is it "creepy" for adult men to take photos of dolls in parks? How is that different from Duffy? You don't think when men take photos of Duffy that's creepy, do you? Is this something that's "ok" for a woman, but not for a man? Or is it that as adult Duffy fans, we know we're likely being perceived as "weirdos" so we point out someone else's hobby that's "actually creepy, not like us?" I can't imagine that you think any of that, so...Idongetit. Cos they're men with dolls? That seems antithetical to the point I thought you were making, so I can only really feel more confuzzled. Please help me understand about the "creepy."
I agree completely with the strategy re-think, though. Duffy had an installed collector appeal before the Disney "debut," due largely in fact to the MiceChat community. Though there were many lurkers, myself and a couple of others were the only people in the English-speaking world who talked positively, publicly, and regularly about the significance of Duffy for both Disney and the world before Disney took him back. We were often ridiculed, even on MiceChat, before the Duffy forum was created. There were only really the three of us for years, before the Disney marketing team started driving out the bandwagon of mediocrity. That wagon, armored in "the real Disney" brand, has forced through a dishearteningly "toddlered-down" version of Duffy that has alienated collectors to the point of, I imagine now, making that market utterly uninterested and unreachable. Not that Disney is really interested in connecting Duffy to that market anyway. If Tokyo Duffy had been in 2008 what global Duffy is now, I would never have been the slightest bit interested. The energy that's fueling Duffy fever is still the heat of the people who are invested in something not offered by the American/global releases, but more and more that energy is becoming the very simple enthusiasm of a trend. Disney's marketing strategy has made it so that the public at large will never see Duffy as a collector's item (though they may someday make "collector's editions" as a cash grab and scalpers will snatch them up to force fans to pay premiums on the secondary market). And now he's headed away from park-exclusivity, which means that to the vast majority of the public, if you are an adult Duffy collector, not only do you not only have what you paid for, but you also get put very quickly into the "creepy" box if you choose to continue to love the character and your collection anyway.
It's a real shame, too, because Disney could have controlled the message. Even if consumers had stubbornly clung to the notion that a teddy bear is not a collectible premium character object that adults can feel good about because it inspires something good in them, Disney could have limited its marketing to that message anyway and demanded that Duffy be taken seriously, that he mean something. They could have focused on Happiness and Luck, Love and Joy, Sailing and Adventure. Not just as dumbed-down versions of Japanese creative genius, but fully developed concepts filled with the magic, heart and commitment to realization that only Disney is capable of. Duffy could have been a renaissance, a legend. If only someone who really believed was at the helm. They have not done that, and show no signs of intending to do so. They have taken a generic failure crafted by unnamed visionaries into a luxury iconic juggernaut filled with genuine heart and made it into a generic flash in the pan again.
Instead of pixie dust, what seems to be happening is the gradual roll-out of the dusted off Disney Bear concept, an entire reversal of all the relentless labor undertaken by the Japanese team of unsung heroes whose names we'll never know to birth their superstar. All the while, Dara Trujillo and Monty Maldovan lap up more kudos from press, company, and fans. I won't be surprised if a whole family of multicolored teddy bears will be the global answer to ShellieMay - who needs a "girlfriend" (she is NOT his "girlfriend" ) when you can be a big stud with a whole harem? What was once a failed concept made successful in another land, by another country's artists and supporters is becoming another Disney fad. No different from the Fairies. They are methodically stripping Duffy of every single thing that makes him Duffy except the Disney brand, and it doesn't help that so many Duffy "fans" celebrate these moves and show their support with their wallets and their full-throated defense of Duffy's exploitation for cash...on the cheap.
It took less than a year for Disney to offer Duffy on the web through the Disney Store site, although they themselves made much to-do of park exclusivity at launch, totally destroying the exclusive premium element of the brand. Then they marketed cheaply constructed clothes with thin fabrics and few elements for barrel-bottom prices, along with a thoroughly gutted retelling of the Tokyo Duffy storybook which, by the way, removed "the Bear of Happiness & Luck" moniker which had historically been OLC's replacement for "the Disney Bear." No mention was made, either, of Cape Cod. A travesty. Now they're moving to go globally local and have Duffy available in your nearest Disney Store, all rifled through and marked way down...no Happiness or Luck, Love or Joy...no finely-crafted clothes...no hand-created art books...no Cape Cod...obliterating the oeuvre meticulously crafted and powerfully established over the past near decade by OLC, and operating on such a large scale that by the time they finally kill and retire the concept - again - most of the Disney fan world will know Duffy fairly well, and will think anyone holding on to that "failed Disney bear-thing" is an idiot at best, or at worst, a "creep." I cannot understand why anyone supports this.
None of the substance that transformed the failed Disney Bear concept into the astronomic achievement that is authentic Duffy has carried back over to the US or its global rollout. It has been, in every way, on every level, a complete backwards step. The wider they stretch, the less they seem to innovate. The less they seem even interested, because the market they are trying to reach is responding. The "mass" market, the followers, the "this-is-trending-now-and-I've-got-it crowd, the look-at-me's." They are taking Duffy and making him into "the Disney Bear" all over again. But that is not what Duffy is about, and it never has been. No matter how some "fans" may have misunderstood it, Duffy has always had the potential to reconnect Disney to the core of its heart, to its roots, and that path is not being taken. The same as Tokyo DisneySEA would not exist at all, had it not been envisioned, paid for, and managed by the Oriental Land Company. A pity, and a waste.
The Paris debut we were all so excited about turned out to be just more of the same. I will be truly shocked and eat my words if it turns out that Disney is in with Duffy for the long haul, if someday they aim to genuinely acknowledge the Japanese artists who created Duffy, the Cape Cod birthplace and hometown in the most beautiful theme park on Earth, or the adult fans who have believed and created him into an astounding success; but it seems to me at this point that they are using the energy of people like me and you and Duffeteers everywhere to create buzz for a product they only ever invested in primarily because they didn't like seeing all that money being generated by their licensee, and that they only continue to invest in looking for the big payout.
The global Duffy venture, despite my brightest initial hopes (and in line with my darkest initial misgivings and fears), has never looked and does not look to me now to be charged with Happiness, Luck, Love or Joy. It seems totally money-fueled, and once the money runs out, Duffy will be gone again...at least outside Japan. When they build something as detailed and permanent as the Village Greeting Place outside Japan, or even mention Cape Cod, or when the Japanese design team who actually created and continue to develop the character of Duffy are openly acknowledged and celebrated, and their work is the gold standard for Duffy around the world, I'll believe in Disney's commitment. Until then, I just wish this whole thing would hurry up and they'd get all the money they can, and leave Duffy back to the people who actually understand and genuinely love the character.
I have said it many times, but it has never been more true -
I would rather have people never be exposed to Duffy and have the chance to discover him someday, than see some pale shadow and be so certain of the accuracy of their perception that they feel nothing but derision or aversion for it and those who love it, and never have even a hope of glimpsing the real deal.
Here's an article from Canadian Business, from round the time of Duffy's Disney rollout. Underline, bold and blue mine:
Originally Posted by Canadian Business
Is there anyone who doubts that the "whole thing" Trujillo is talking about is the HUGE profits? 40% of park merchandise revenue is unbelievable for one merchandise line built around one character available exclusively in the second-gate park; with no movie tie-ins, TV shows or any presence whatsoever outside of being park merchandise. Until I read this, I had understood it to be about 20%, which I thought was amazing. Duffy got bigger than Mickey and now they are castrating him. If they'd really wanted to import the "whole thing," Duffy wouldn't have been available online so soon, his clothes would be more expensive and higher quality and the storybook would not have been rewritten, re"illustrated" and dumbed down. Cape Cod would be his hometown and the "Happiness and Luck" moniker would stand. Perhaps OLC said they'd have to pay to use those elements; who knows the details of that relationship in this regard? And if that's the case, and they refused to pay, thinking they didn't really have to have all that, what does that say about integrity and commitment?
"It started off as a wonderful piece of product that was unique to the theme park," says Trujillo...and now they're eviscerating that, as they have already done every other element that sets Duffy apart from the Disney Bear. Equally frustrating is the fact that all this history and "company lore" is presented as if the birth of Duffy from the ashes of the Disney Bear was the genesis of some Disney team, which is not at all the case. Duffy was tossed in a dumpster of has-been ideas, lovingly found and nurtured by the OLC and made into a phenomenon. Disney didn't care about the concept anymore at all until they understood how much money they were missing out on.
Disney's plan was predicted by me, as well as these analyst experts. It's all very "by the book." Jim Silver was wrong about the "slow program," though. They've completely muddied the Duffy brand in the first year. They could have made even more money by doing it right, and probably also doing it more slowly, more carefully. They could have loved Duffy, and Duffy would have lead them back to loving their own legacy as much as you and I do.
Imagine if the Walt Disney Company had fully embraced Cape Cod and taken us on a sailing, exploring adventure. Imagine if they had embraced the Minnie's Co-op Workshop/every Duffy concept and each individual Duffy had incredible history as so much more than "Mickey's bear." Instead they have underscored that Duffy is MICKEY'S teddy bear every chance they get, to the point of alienating people, to the point of now marketing Duffy with Minnie. Still missing the point that Duffy's identity is his own, and each Duffy belongs to each Tender who loves Duffy...and Disney, from the bottom of our hearts.
Can you imagine the incredible merchandise that might have come with a full-on Disney investment? Brass harmonicas with Duffy paws or hidden Mickeys, Cape Cod sheets and towels, gorgeous maps and storybooks, replicas of postcards from the Village Greeting Place, a Jim Shore or Olszewski Cape Cod light-up display... Disney could choose to do all the things Oriental Land Company can't or won't with the character, not just make him mass-market discount and more child-targeted, limited, throwaway. They could have taken him deeper rather than cheaper. Duffy has all the potential magic of any legendary character who has ever captured the hearts and minds of people anywhere, but you have to tell his story honestly, with integrity and sincere commitment. Isn't that what Disney does? Isn't that what defines the magic that defines the company's entire legacy? You might say, "the public would never have gone for that," but Mickey Mouse was not a "child's thing to make money" first. Walt Disney believed the public could be shown great things and respond in ways no one, including themselves, had yet dared imagine. And he was right.^^
Plus, there was a HUGE opportunity for sincere promotion of the partnership with Oriental Land Company and its creative team on a global stage, and a full acknowledgement of all the honor that Tokyo DisneySEA deserves. Instead they have exploited the energy, hard work and support of the Japanese Duffy creative and fan community and are actively using it to erode the character these same people have built and loved to life. I simply cannot understand why anyone supports this.
MiceChat is a forum for discussion and I feel it's been too long since we had a lot of people engaging with a topic like this. I passionately believe in what Duffy, done right, represents and inspires. He's so much more than "Mickey's cute bear." Isn't he? Or is that message also becoming accepted and ingrained even among fans?