(NOTE: This article contains spoilers about a show that ended almost a decade ago. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, approach with caution.)
As a lifelong pop culture junkie, l understand that cultural change often makes for strange bedfellow. Still, it was strange to see Hello Kitty fans unite with lovers of “The Sopranos” earlier this month.
After all, it is hard to imagine that there’s much overlap between Hello Kitty fans and “Sopranos” fans. I doubt that middle school girls have much interest in watching James Gandolfini whack somebody in between helpings of antipasto, and I find it equally unlikely that most HBO subscribers have a soft spot for an
anthropomorphized animal that’s often shelved next to My Little Pony figures and NERF guns.
And yet, earlier this month, the two fandoms were united by shock and rage.
Hello Kitty lovers sank their claws into the product’s creators when they asserted that, contrary to popular belief and anatomical evidence, the creature was not actually a cat, but a “little girl”, and a British one at that.
Meanwhile, Sopranos fans, myself included, flipped their Mafia-lovin’ lids when showrunner David Chase was (mis)quoted as saying that Tony Soprano did not die, thus ruining the show’s famously mysterious finale.
Kitty owners were enraged. Sopranos devotees were devastated.
Most importantly, my close friends were probably relieved; they thought that Chase’s plot confirmation would finally get me to stop blabbering on about my elaborate “Sopranos” conspiracy theories.
Alas, they were wrong. I plan to keep babbling on about Tony’s death until I reach my own.
This is due to the fact that, in the end, I don’t care what David Chase says about Tony Sopranos. Similarly, I could not really care less what the Sanrio Company says about Hello Kitty.
And guess what? You shouldn’t care either.
You see, dear reader, I authored this article not just so I could explore an interesting cultural phenomena, but so that I could remind you of one of your most important rights as a consumer of culture: your right to interpret a work in any way you wish, regardless of what the work’s creator says about it.
Think of it this way.
Let’s say that you are cooking dinner for your friends, and that you’re attempting to make a salad that is, first and foremost, sweet. Now, let’s say that your friends, noting that the salad consists of bell peppers, choose to compliment you on how delightfully spicy it is.
At this point, you don’t get to flip the dinner table, break down into heaving sobs and insist angrily that, because you made the salad, it should only be described as sweet, not spicy.
Simply put: Just because you made a thing doesn’t mean that you’re right about it.
Similarly, just because the folks at Sanrio don’t think that Hello Kitty products are cats doesn’t mean that there isn’t compelling evidence to the contrary. And, even if David Chase does think that Tony ate it in the series finale, viewers may be able to make an even stronger case that he lived.
The whole Hello Kitty/Sopranos fiasco could have been avoided if we’d all remembered this: When we make something, we’re the singular creator of it, but when we interpret that thing, we’re just one voice among many.
But once that is released into the democracy of consumers, each and every consumer is free to make their own decision about what the product means and why.
In conclusion, Creators should, and must, have faith in their own artistic voices. That is their job, and their right.
But communities of consumers, be they fandoms or book clubs or college classes, have the right to uniquely interpret what they consume. They also have an important job to do, and they should have faith in their voices, too.
To put it in terms that Tony Soprano might understand: Don’t stop believin’.