Archive for March, 2011

The Most “Real” Doll

Monday, March 21st, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on UsThe Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on Us by Tanya Lee Stone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“She’s just too unreal. How do you bond with something that looks like a taffy pull with a face?” writes LA Times journalist and feminist Patt Morrison.

Imagination. Must we sacrifice that in order to stand up for our rights to equality?

Like many girls, I played with barbies as a child, and as the creator (Ruth Handler, a dark-haired Jew) intended, it was all about the clothes. The hourglass figures mimicked the mannequins in store windows because this shrewd businesswoman wasn’t going to make money selling dolls. She was going to make money selling the millions of possibilities you could provide for the dolls (through the right fashions, accessories, and big-ticket dream houses, horses, and hears–well, I’m getting ahead of myself).

You could make Barbie do anything, and the discussion touches on Barbie’s many careers and nationalities. A few studies are mentioned pertaining to how closely young girls align their sense of self with the dolls they chose to play with and how they played with them. There are happy memories of sewing with Grandma, and there are ruthless memories of cutting off their hair and setting them on fire.

The book also notes that some girls dress and play with their dolls as an indication of what they will become. Some girls played school, some played doctor. My dolls cruised Barbietown (i.e., the kids’ half of the basement) in hot cars and met up with their friends. Sometimes they went on vacations to exotic destinations such as Hawaii and Tulsa. Their clothes were all over the map: some expensive, some functional, some vintage (thanks, Mom), and some homemade.

A quick mental recount of my last dozen years as an adult reveals there may be some truth to this. Yes, it would appear I was made to aimlessly roam the earth and wear clothes. It’s not such a bad existence, and it is self-funded. But was I to rely on a doll to teach me that, or might I have received some outside influence on matters dealing with my finances and career? I don’t know… I played with barbies a lot.

As the author discusses Barbie’s history and her impact on society, she raises the typical questions of female equality and self-image that accompany any discussion of this 50-year-old blond, busty icon. The book also (sort of) goes into the question of whether Barbie is real (i.e., whether children see her as real). Is her glamorous image attainable? Should it be?

Although the book doesn’t go in-depth, the author supplies nearly equal coverage of Barbie fans and Barbie critics. The previous quote appeared both in the book and in an article published several years ago entitled Kill Barbie. As an aside, I agree with most of what Morrison writes and enjoy her style, but she seems a little too mad to be cited in anything more serious than this fun little book and my quick-turn review of it.

Rather than launch a tirade of insults at what she dismisses as a lump of cold plastic, why not find a creative way to expose Barbie and the pitfalls of being plastic? After all, we girls can do anything.

Margaux Lange made a line of fantastic jewelry from dismembered Barbie parts. Andy Warhol and other artists paid pictoral homage to the Barbie mystique. Someone even made a life-size, Barbie-themed funeral coach ready to haul Barbie away whenever she finally dies. How awesome is that? (Of course, I may be a little biased.)

The book started to drag with Chapter 7’s collection of girls (and a few boys) recounting the awful ways they would abuse their dolls and place them in compromising sexual positions. We all did this stuff, or had friends who did, but devoting a whole chapter to it was excessive. It briefly shed some light on yet another talking point in the argument of whether Barbie is “real”.

There was one story of a little girl who scared her parents when they found she was regularly popping the heads off of her dolls. Did it mean she had a taste for violence? Was she silently protesting this difficult to attain model of perfection? Not even a little bit. She found it was much easier to change their clothes with their heads detached.

Whether you adore Barbie or hate everything about her bleach-blond hair down to her painfully arched feet, I think the worst you can do for yourself is take her too seriously. While she enjoyed a rise to fame in her earlier years, the information age has busted the toy market wide open and kids these days aren’t playing the same way they did 20, or 50, years ago. As mentioned in the book (and this can’t be stressed enough), there are many factors that influence a young girl’s self image. Whether her parents buy her a doll is one tiny fraction of their overall treatment of her which will define her attitudes about herself and others.

People were up in arms about Black Barbie, Asian Barbie, Hispanic Barbie, etc., claiming she’s not a true representation of that race. That’s about as silly as me complaining that regular Barbie doesn’t look like me. (Although I will deliver a swift kick in the face to anyone who says I should look like her.) Barbie and Mattel didn’t sign up to be public servants. They made a toy to be played with, not a culture to be emulated.

No matter what you do, someone isn’t going to like it. Or they’re going to think they don’t like it because they misunderstand it. So maybe in a way, Barbie is a lot like most young girls: misunderstood… but with cooler stuff.

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Friday Roundup

Friday, March 18th, 2011

It’s a busy day in Barbieland. After a short drive to the Olympic Fairmont downtown, I tumbled down Jefferson Street to pay my tabs (and my tickets) and order my new personalized plates. Yes, I’m taking the plunge. After a year of indecision, I decided just about anything is better than blah-blah-blah-numbers followed by blah-blah-blah-letters. Shall I spoil the surprise? REALGRL. Go ahead, ask me about Lars.

And yes, I said tickets. Actually, it was just one ticket incurred almost right after I drove the hearse to Seattle and started my business. I parked on First Ave between 3 and 6pm, not noticing the sign amidst the 800 other signs gracing the central portion of the street. And then I put it off because I hate the idea of paying to take up space (which is why I don’t pay cover at clubs). But after a year of rolling up to dozens of parkways and loading zones and camping out for several hours (example forthcoming), 67 bucks is a deal. I really hope I didn’t just jinx myself.

I’ve also been meeting various home repair people lately, and it seems like experience with auto repair is a common precursor to fixing porcelain and plumbing. I don’t usually mention the hearse unless someone asks what I do, but since I tend to be home five days a week, just about everyone asks what I do.

This afternoon I did a brief photoshoot with Chris and his buddy Frogfrog. Chris created a website for Frogfrog, chronicling their adventures around the world. This kid-friendly site includes a “ribbitting” dragging cursor… don’t say I didn’t warn you!

The complete set of pictures is in my web album. Here’s a shot of Frogfrog enjoying the first-class service you would expect to receive in Seattle’s only girlie limo-hearse:

For the two or three of you who read this site but don’t follow me on facebook, I was at the Girl Talk show earlier this week. In addition to taking shitty pictures of the car out front and even shittier pictures of the stage, I wrote a good review of the show. Well, it’s good if you consider the fact I was writing it at 1am, and it’s good in that I enjoyed the show. I managed to drum up some business, dance like my inner raver-kid, and not get towed. Talk about a good night!

If you haven’t heard Girl Talk’s new album, All Day, stop reading this and go get it now! It’s on heavy rotation in the BDH and has something for everyone. Depending on your aural processing abilities, you may want to listen to this in installments.

Lastly, in honor of Barbie’s birthday earlier this month someone posted the age-old graphic of absurd proportions for us to enjoy. As I’ve said before, I can appreciate that Barbie is a toy, and we must suspend our level of disbelief to play in the fantasy world Mattel so generously bestowed upon us. However, due to Barbie’s momentous popularity, the tall, blond image has been ingrained in our minds as being synonymous with beautiful. For shame, America! In my opinion, a fat barbie is not the answer. There’s so much more than fat and thin at play here. For instance, how about a life-sized doll with bangs and a mouth that opens? You don’t have to sacrifice sexiness to get your point across. Besides, HAPPY 2B ME was too long for a Washington state license place.