Columns

A cartoon egg and some business to boot 2016.01.20

By RICH FOLEY

Way back in 1978 while I was still in college, I won something called the Wall Street Journal Student Achievement Award. I’m not sure what the criteria for the award may have been, except that they had to give it to somebody.

The prize consisted of a small paperweight that is still gathering dust here at Nowhere Road, my name on a plaque in the business department at Adrian College that they probably threw out decades ago and a one-year subscription to the Journal. Amazingly, after the year was up, they made no attempt to sell me a subscription renewal. The year ended, and so did the Journal.

More than 35 years later, another free subscription from an online source is a much better time waster. The Journal now resembles USA TODAY with a business focus, but includes mainstream articles that the Journal of the past wouldn’t have considered running. Plus, there are color photos, compared to no photos at all in the 1970s.

For instance, the Wall Street Journal of days gone by never would have published a feature on the hottest format in noon-time radio in Liberia. Several stations have opened their phone lines to allow listeners to call in and tell the DJ what they are having for lunch. For some listeners, spilling their guts about what’s in their stomach is too good to broadcast on just one station. Many call one station after another, trying to announce their meal to as many people as possible.

Sometimes, a caller from another country may join the conversation and even the U.S. is represented at times. That’s probably a good thing since often caller after caller has had the same lunch—a Liberian favorite called potato greens which the Journal describes as “a local vegetable stew similar to collards.” One Liberian DJ says half his callers have had it. Sounds like a boring show to me.

Closer to home, there’s an article about the adult coloring craze. That’s almost been covered to death already, except the Journal also mentions what they call the stressful side of the craze.

One merchant who keeps running out of colored pencils told the Journal she has to order them six months in advance and is worried that people will move on to something else, leaving her stuck with a large inventory customers no longer want. One publisher of coloring books has already prepared for what they think is the next fad.

Little, Brown & Co. is introducing the first two in a series of grown-up connect-the-dots books. An editor with the company told the Journal, “A lot of people think that’s where this will go.” Remember, you read it here first—unless you saw the Journal article yourself.

Meanwhile, long-time cartoon favorite Hello Kitty has a new companion, at least new to me. The Sanrio company, Hello Kitty’s creator, has introduced Gudetama, a cartoon egg yolk. Yes, a cartoon egg yolk.

In television cartoons, Gudetama usually lies on an egg white bed under a bacon blanket. Its gloomy attitude reminds me of Winnie the Pooh’s friend Eeyore. Unlike Eeyore, however, Gudetama often ends up being eaten. That could explain the sad mood. A Sanrio marketing executive said the character has “a distinctive apathetic attitude which appeals to the U.S. market.” OK, then.

Like Hello Kitty, Gudetama is very popular in Japan. Sanrio has introduced over 1,700 Gudetama-themed items, including lunch boxes, notebooks, socks, suitcases and soy sauce. Gudetama has nearly 600,000 Twitter followers. Not bad for a cartoon egg yolk.

In Germany, kindergarten children as young as three years old are being sent off to the great outdoors once a year on a journey called Kitafahrten, a “crash course in becoming independent.” And parents aren’t allowed.

One teacher told her students, “If you miss your parents, you can eat a bonbon and you will feel better.” One class, which included four 3-year-olds in diapers, spent two nights at a farm where they “cleaned stables, laid down fresh hay and fed pigs and chickens.” On another trip, “some children cut themselves with Swiss Army knives they were given to carve wood.” That wouldn’t have gone over too well in this country.

And besides all that, I get to read the Journal’s take on the recent stock market free fall. Maybe that’s the reason Gudetama is so sad.