Polar Bear and Panda switch places for a day. It’s one of your archetypal sitcom scenarios, where two characters with opposing viewpoints gets to see life through the eyes of their opposite. It usually turns into some sort of “Now I understand where you’re coming from” revelation for both characters, but Polar Bear Cafe went someplace far more disturbing.
Yeah man, I’m not sure if I should find this offensive. Polar Bear doesn’t just go to Panda’s job and go through his work day, he apparently dyes his fur to make it fit the patter of a Panda’s. It’s a white individual effectively putting on blackface.
But the strangeness doesn’t stop there. What’s really freaky about this situation is the way the crowd at the zoo reacts. These customers aren’t really sure what a panda should look like. In a world where animals are a part of everyday society, they don’t have the social awareness to know the typical physical stature of a panda. They know something’s off when the “panda” at the zoo is fucking huge, but they can’t quite put it into words.
That uneasiness goes away as soon as Polar Bear adopts panda stereotypes. Once he grabs some bamboo and plays with a tire, everyone in the crowd cues in and starts accepting him as a panda. Those initial misgivings go away as soon as the entity in question adopts the stereotypes that are easy to understand and comforting.
Once Polar Bear comforts the audience in this manner, he proceeds to do things that are wholly unpanda-like. Or at least nothing like what the usual zoo pandas tend to do. He plays with the tire like it’s a rhythmic gymnastics object. He puts on a magic show act, switching between polar bear and panda. But the kicker is when he makes a spectacular golf putt.
By exhibiting prowess in a sport (and a sport dominated by “the majority” to boot) his popularity at the zoo skyrockets. Panda merchandise is selling faster than when real pandas that do real panda stuff are on display. What makes the public care about this animal minority isn’t that it’s being what it is. What makes the public care is when that minority reassures the public that it’s perfectly safe, and then it turns around and excels at something which appeases and amuses the majority.