How pro-democracy demonstrators use cultural icons to good effect

Totoro and Batman join the protestors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 October, 2014, 5:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 October, 2014, 5:37pm

Visitors to the Occupy movement's two main protest sites in Admiralty and Mong Kok see great organisation, discipline and creativity. But each district has its own character, and this influences the physical use, atmosphere and decoration of each site. The atmosphere at Admiralty is similar to a summer camp, with rows of tents and temporary living and activity areas lining the canyon of office buildings.

An inventive street-smart approach to urban planning has seen teams of students use any available material, including street-side planter boxes, bamboo, and government-owned steel and plastic barriers, to solve the area's design problems, now that it is a pedestrian, car-free zone full of temporary inhabitants.

Crude pedestrian bridges have been constructed allowing people to safely cross concrete road dividers. An outdoor student study area has been set up with comfortable makeshift desks, electricity connections and battery charging points.

Recycling and rubbish collection points and first-aid stations are manned, while donation tents collect and distribute food and water.

The Lennon Wall is an outdoor gallery of Post-it stickers displaying supportive, solidarity messages, while larger political banners cover government offices and pedestrian overpasses.

Students and young volunteers administer the entire area with an impressive flair for logistics. Over in Mong Kok, old-style soapbox debates about political reform are held on the streets with participation by people of all ages.

The protest area's best expression of design can be seen in hand-written directional and information signage, and in the self-constructed barricades that have closed roads for the past few weeks.

This signage and barriers have a vernacular feel inspired by Hong Kong's older urban areas, and by its past squatter areas. (The last of the largest of these, in Diamond Hill, closed in the late 1990s, and was depicted in Fruit Chan's 2001 film Hollywood Hong Kong.)

There have been some foreign influences detectable at the Occupy sites, only they are probably not what Chief Executive C.Y. Leung had in mind when he said "external forces" were involved in the city's pro-democracy protests.

The worlds of Marvel and DC Comics have served as the inspiration for the large banner emblazoned with the Batman silhouette, and the line "Everyone could be Batman", which hangs over Admiralty, and at least one protester has been spotted carrying a Captain America shield.

Given its well-known love for umbrellas, it also was inevitable that Japanese anime film company Studio Ghibli's iconic Totoro character would also appear in posters and other creations to be found in the protest areas.

The star character of My Neighbour Totoro and his friends have been spotted on posters accompanied by the "Hong Kong add oil" slogan, and in others juxtaposed with Lord Vader and his ilk.

A Totoro paper figurine, sporting a yellow ribbon and "umbrella", has been placed by the entrance to the Legco complex.

Hong Kong cinema has also made its presence felt, with many local film posters altered to carry often humorous and sarcastic political messages.

At least one poster at Admiralty bears an image of Bruce Lee alongside his famous "Be water, my friend" quote.

The underlying message? As one protester explained, "How can the police disperse a crowd that acts like water? They'll just come back."