Friday, December 16, 2011

Lilli


Despite the rampantly Anglophile nature of this website, we can safely assume that our subject matter wasn't confined exclusively to the English-speaking world. While the Brits are amongst the most highly fetishized societies in human history, the Germans have never been far behind in the nudge-nudge-wink-wink sweepstakes. Reinhard Beuthien's Lilli is a prime example of this kind of cross-cultural visual phenomena.

Making her debut in the German tabloid Bild-Zeitung (June 24, 1952), Lilli was a one panel cartoon originally intended as a "space filler". The contemporary theme of a pretty young woman making her way in post-war Germany struck a note with the Zaitung's readers, and within a few years, the strip had inspired a range of merchandise including perfume, jewellery and dolls. By 1958, a movie based on the character had been released (Lilli — a Girl From the Big City), indicating the strip's growing popularity.

Generally humorous in tone, the newstrip provided a regular supply of cheesecake for its audience; Lilli frequently appeared in her lingerie during bedtime conversations with her room mate (black cami-knickers seem to have been the fashion at the time). Seasonal activities such as ice skating or tennis were accompanied by "accidental" panty shots, and Lilli's dialogue was often laced with naive innuendo.

On a side note: the Bild Lilli Doll marketed in Germany during the mid 50s is known to have been the precursor to Mattel's Barbie. The long-standing rumor that Barbie was based on a "German sex toy" is a misrepresentation; although Bild Lilli was sold in joke shops and tobacco stores, she was initially designed as a novelty item, similar to the kewpies found in sideshow alley. By the late fifties, Bild Lillie was being sold as a children's fashion doll, complete with wardrobe and accessories. Interestingly, her proportions were considerably more realistic than many later figurines believed to be completely appropriate for young girls.

Go figure.

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