A Hello Kitty! Lighter: Patterns Between People and Their Objects

The phrase “pattern recognition” haunts William Gibson’s novel of the same name. Placed with regularity within the protagonist (Cayce)’s inner-dialogue, the frequent nod to the novel’s ambiguous theme seems to indicate an interconnectedness between seemingly trivial details locked within Gibson’s dense physicality. An on-the-surface read could lead to an assumption that the repetitious phrase indicates the attention to detail needed by Cayce to solve the international “who done it” puzzle (that is, who produced the overwhelmingly captivating video footage). Or perhaps “pattern recognition” plays homage to the genius hidden behind the pattern-filled 135 video clips, linking them together in ways footageheads debate for hours.

I interpret that it might have something to do with the relationships between people and their objects.

Reading through Cayce’s awkwardly tense interaction with Taki, I underlined the phrase “a Hello Kitty! lighter,” initially unsure of any significance. For context, Taki uses this lighter in the middle of their conversation, after he mentions that “Keiko is body-con.” The exactness of the description immediately flung my mind to my vivid imagery produced by Cayce’s wandering through “Hello Kitty!” advertising earlier that day. I believe it was this intense visual reaction coupled with the irony of the image (it seemed odd that something so girly and childish be flaunted on something used to light cigarettes) that compelled me to underline the otherwise arbitrary phrase. However, only sentences after the small reference, Cayce mentions that she feels as though “the lighter has followed her here from Kiddyland, a spy for the Hello Kitty! mind group,” indicating that Cayce was also struck but the visual repetition, and is trying to make some sense of the connection. There is something significant in the lighter, whether it connects Taki to Tokyo, or Taki to Cayce, or links all three in a surreal deja vu moment. Whatever the connection, the Hello Kitty! lighter indicates a connection between the physical world with the psychological.

Simplistically, the Hello Kitty! lighter seems to suggest a relationship between person, object, and location. The moment Taki reveals the lighter from his pocket, he is becomes undoubtedly Japanese; since its creation by Yuko Shimizu in 1974, the symbol of the bright pink anime cat has come to signify Japanese commercialism and entertainment across the world. Immediately, Taki’s ownership of the lighter identifies him as not only a citizen of his home country, but also a consumer of its culture. Thus, he is marked, and the small item he has chosen to possess defines him and connects him with a specific location, whether subconsciously or consciously in the minds of others.

However, there is something more complicated going on. As soon as Cayce identifies the object, an abundance of images and experiences vibrate through her head. She is reminded of seeing thousands of these anime cats earlier that day, and is perhaps reminded of other times in her life when she might have interacted with the symbol of Hello Kitty! She makes judgements about the object, suspecting it to have followed her from Kiddyland, and perhaps makes judgements about Taki’s character. Thus, Cayce becomes connected to the Hello Kitty! lighter, to Taki, and to Tokyo and joins in the instantaneous relationship between person, object and location.

I think the complicated nature of this connection between humans and the objects they possess lies in the unspoken coincidences between the symbols we see and their connections to our previous experiences. For example, there appears to be a connection between the two different apparitions of Hello Kitty! images on the day Cayce met Taki. Does a pattern lie underneath the way we respond to others and the objects they possess? Is there a meaning behind Cayce’s double exposure to Hello Kitty! memorabilia? Or maybe we simply assume there is one because “homo sapiens are about pattern recognition:” we give meaning where there is none.


Digital Humanities: The Question of Creation


  1. Allison,
    I whole heartedly agree with your discussion on pattern recognition in our own lives. As humans, we crave familiarity and tend to gravitate towards things we are more comfortable with. This in turn creates a “comfortable pattern” in our lives, which most people call the “comfort zone.” And the inclination to find recognizable items and feelings only intensifies when we are abroad, as Cayce becomes acutely aware of. Surprisingly, she isn’t triggered by the Hello Kitty! memorabilia and I think it is because she let an unfamiliar thing (as it has become an intrinsic part of Japanese culture now) become familiar to her as a way to create a safe place. All in all, I believe there are patterns surrounding us- things that we have created ourselves via our preferences and comfort. Just as mapping can create opportunities for further investigations, pattern recognitions can do the same. We could learn so much about ourselves if we paid closer attention to the things that catch our eye.

  2. I also notice the specific objects Gibson uses! I agree that they, and pattern recognition, have to mean something more than just the words themselves and the patterns in the videos.

    I’m curious to see how physical objects play into whatever we finally learn about the video…I think they will have to, since the two themes are such major parts of this book. Thanks for your super thought-provoking post!

  3. Susannah

    This was super interesting to read! I love how you pointed out just one of the many seeming coincidences that are sprinkled throughout the text. I like your thought that it really could be that these “patterns” are merely coincidental, and that this could just be evidence of our meaning-seeking nature. Interesting to think about the line between seeking meaning and overanalyzing tiny details.

  4. Great post, Allison, and great attention to the details that Gibson is using. We are constantly being asked, as Cayce asks herself, which of these details or coincidences are meaningful.

    I’d also suggest it’s more than just objects that Gibson is concerned with but with the larger question of brands and what they do to objects.

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