Dorling Kindersley, Donkey Kong and Donna Karan.
To me these three characters operate symbolically as childhood, adolescence and now. They represent learning, playing and yearning. They express the embryonic stages of my mind, the nihilism and unproductive time inflicted by Nintendo, and finally the oddity of young adulthood.
Dorling Kindersley brings fond childhood memories of school, rooms filled with lots of light, and bookcases packed full of those big white non-fiction entities. Jungle animals, oceans, space stations, tanks, ancient Egypt… you name it. I remember a boy called Harry who was absolutely besotted with his DK cross-section of a ship book, it was bizarre. But importantly, I remember looking at DK books and realising that they were not for me. There was something I found so nauseating and sterile about their factual content and their strive to inform. I was slightly scared by the overall view of life as a banal infrastructure, with dull little cartoon crowds lifting pyramidal megaliths or a faceless person standing absent-mindedly next to a blue whale to provide scale. DK helped me to understand that I was different. Unlike most boys, steam engines didn’t do it for me; C.S.Lewis had already won me over.
Donkey Kong was the pinnacle of childhood cool, but like Dorling Kindersley, I was never a subscribed member of Donkey Kong's following. My parents never permitted me computer game consoles (something that I now appreciate as an insuperable blessing) although consoles have featured throughout my life in school common rooms, friends’ houses and later student lets at university. I remember sitting upstairs in my cousin’s bedroom playing Donkey Kong on her Game Boy one Christmas and feeling so rebellious because I knew that I was supposed to be chatting to my senior relatives. There was something so tropical and absorbing about smashing barrels against a background of green palm trees, the cheery and sonorous Nintendo music, and the wealth fantasy of obtaining all of the golden letters. I also remember sitting in the back of a car with my friend TJ playing Donkey Kong on the way to Alton Towers. I loved the Warhol ubiquity of DK too. The kids of billionaires sit on beanbags by their swimming pools playing the same Donkey Kong that kids on rough council estates play.
Donna Karan is the final part of my DK trilogy. What I like about her is her success story: how she started out picking pins up for Calvin Klein and then built herself up to be one of the world’s biggest labels. She has won an unprecedented seven CFDA awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award upon her 20th anniversary. Although Donna is still the chief designer at DKNY she sold the company to luxury conglomerate LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton) for a reported 643 million US-$. Despite the admirable nature of this success though, Donna Karan perhaps embodies for me the closing of childhood’s golden gates. The realisation that something big is going to happen. Despite Dorling Kindersley's non-fiction mission - his books are actually quite unreal. Similarly the sapphire-blue skyscapes that Donkey Kong flings himself across do not exist. Donna Karan does though. She's empirical and very real.
Words: Jack Cullen