by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: @OPENCHAN711/Twitter
A BALLOON FLOAT featuring 7/11 mascot Open-Chan that broke away from its tethers, flew away, and then exploded has become the object of numerous memes online.
Video of Open-Chan flying away
Nobody was hurt as a result of the incident, with the balloon later discovered 13 kilometers away. The balloon reportedly flew high enough that it entered restricted airspace, although it did not come into contact with any aircraft, and its fate was followed heatedly online, with Taiwan’s major newspapers posting updates about the eventual discovery of Open-Chan’s deflated balloon corpse. As a result of the incident, however, the owners of the balloon may be fined up to 1.5 million NT.
Many of the memes parody expectations versus reality, juxtaposing before and after pictures of the balloon float. These include expectations going into the new year versus actually experiencing 2023, or even how one feels before and after a night out. Still other jokes are about Open-Chan’s apparent desire to escape being a corporate mascot, and pursuit of freedom at the expense of death. Or perhaps Open-Chan, who is apparently a dog from outer space according to 7/11’s corporate mythology for its mascot, decided to try and return home.
Photo credit: @nickback09/Instagram
Ironically, this is not the first incident along similar lines that has occurred in recent memory. In January 2014, a 59-foot-tall rubber duck designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman in the Keelung Harbor suddenly deflated and exploded from unknown causes. The duck had been on display for eleven days, attracting a number of visitors, but it was the duck’s spectacular self-destruction that made it an object of viral fame. Afterward, the popularity of the duck was such that it sparked a wave of imitators.
Taiwan has seen many colorful balloon floats in recent years, featuring all sorts of characters. This includes Open-Chan, but also other popular mascot figures such as Taipei city mascot OhBear, or Hello Kitty in traditional Indigenous Bunun clothing.
Video of the exploding duck
Some balloon mascots have been used for political advocacy. Taiwanese artist Shake created a balloon figure of the internationally famous Tiananmen Square “Tank Man” photo in 2019 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The balloon figure was set up in Liberty Plaza, which has also hosted corporate floats including larger-than-life basketballs, giant flame-throwing horses as part of Hakka cultural performances, and various other balloons.
Another episode to the saga of exploded balloon floats in Taiwan, then. Like the most recent incident, the 2014 exploded duck also inspired an endless series of parodies and memes, reflecting the way that real-time events become fodder for memes in real-time in Taiwan.