TV | CULTURE NOTES

Marie Kondo: The face of 2019

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

This year ended in much the same way it began: with people arguing about Marie Kondo.

The latest debate to surround the tidying consultant centers around her recently launched online store. “I can think of no greater happiness in life than being surrounded only by the things I love,” Kondo writes on the opening page of the digital marketplace, which sells items such as towels, tins, baskets and crystals (Kondo is apparently “never without a crystal”).

While there are plenty of valid questions to ask about this endeavor, many opted to react extremely to what is a pretty standard curated shop model embraced by celebrities the world over. What started as goofing on an obvious irony quickly mutated into thinkpieces skewering Kondo’s decision and stunt journalism. That morphed into claims of racist criticism aimed at the Japanese personality and deeper analysis of Japan itself.

It’s a fitting end to 2019 for one of the year’s biggest global personalities. Few outside the Oval Office have managed to retain attention like Kondo has over the past 12 months, and she has equally been a person to celebrate, parody and to be turned into a boogeyman.

Kondo has been gaining attention with her KonMari method for most of the 2010s, but the start of this year saw her debut on Netflix with “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” a show following her efforts to help people in the U.S. clean their homes. It became a surprise hit upon its release. Although some episodes had their emotional moments, the bulk of “Tidying Up” centered around folding shirts and placing them into containers. Not quite “The Irishman.”

This relatively drama-free premise, however, allowed people to project whatever they wanted onto “Tidying Up.” While plenty simply found more space to store socks after tidying, others used the show as a window into late capitalism or as a chance to imagine Kondo as an eco-socialist. Others got xenophobic, as was the case with author Barbara Ehrenreich tweeting about how Kondo didn’t speak English.

Viewers were so quick to splash their own views onto Kondo’s method that they indulged in another commonplace activity in 2019 — completely ignoring context. The first big flare-up this year came from book lovers, who recoiled at Kondo’s suggestion that people should only have 30 books in their home. This despite Kondo never actually having said such a thing. Yet the reactions flowed, as did the reactions to the reactions. People’s ability to woefully interpret her cleaning thesis — “does it spark joy?” — kept her in the spotlight, with the recent online store flap being a good example.

On top of being a person who could generate viral content, Kondo’s generally easy-going and warm personality left plenty of space for people to project their own opinions onto what is otherwise a pretty innocuous approach to cleaning out a closet. Kondo isn’t the entertainment personality of the year because of anything she particularly did, but rather because she was a vehicle for what really matters — letting people get their own opinions out there.