Perhaps you’ve seen Sylvanian Families, also known as Calico Critters, in the towering toy aisles of Target, beckoning you with their round, black eyes and their flocked plastic bodies. Or maybe you felt a wave of nostalgia when you saw them in the first season of Pen15. But have you seen the adorable animal figurines protesting TERFs or savagely taking down fascist beauty standards? Thanks to the Instagram account @sylvanianchosenfamilies, now you can.
The account started posting back in June, and now its scathing-but-cute memes have accumulated over 20,000 followers. Sweetly dressed bears critique ethical consumption under capitalism as they tend to their garden, bunnies and kitties cry for the abolition of police as they do rhythmic gymnastics, a squirrel gazes out the window of a log cabin and reminds us to support victims, not abusers.
The appeal of the account is almost too obvious: small, cute things that (with their circa-1950s attire and blank stares) could be considered symbols of conformity, in a surprising turn of events, function as proponents of leftist ideology. Sure, sometimes it’s tempting to roll your eyes at the wholesomeness of their posts. They do feel a little reminiscent of the performative Hello Kitty ACAB memes that circulated over summer.
And yes, the idea of using a brand to communicate anti-capitalist ideologies might irk some purists. But Sylvanian Chosen Families raises the idea that capitalism is inescapable, so why not use heavily branded children’s toys to espouse anti-establishment ideas? The irony of using a photo from a brand to make a statement about how brands are not your friends in itself makes a sort of meta commentary on the nature of protest art under capitalism. That’s part of the joke: The world is a dumpster fire anyway, and maybe more people will be interested in doing something about it if a small, fluffy animal figurine tells them to.