Readers — Here’s a phenom unbeknownst to me (a mom of boys): the de-adventuring of American Girl dolls. Once marketed as pint-size players in America’s great sweep of history, now they go to the spa. According to Amy Schiller in The Atlantic:
With a greater focus on appearance, increasingly mild character development, and innocuous political topics, a former character-building toy has become more like a stylish accessory.
What does that look like? Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri picks up on Schiller’s story and says she remembers her youth spent with dolls fighting slavery and the Great Depression:
Contrast what Saige is facing: ”Saige Copeland loves spending time on her grandma’s ranch, riding horses and painting. Her school made the tough choice to cut art classes, which means she’s lost her favorite subject. So when her grandma decides to organize a “save the arts” fundraiser and parade to benefit the school, Saige jumps on board. She begins training her grandma’s beautiful horse, Picasso, for his appearance in the parade. Then her grandma is injured in an accident, and she wonders what she can do to help. Can she ride Picasso in the parade and make her grandma proud? Can Saige still raise money to protect the arts at school?”
OH GOD! NOT THE ARTS BUDGET! THAT’S LIKE WORLD WAR II AND SLAVERY ALL ROLLED INTO ONE!
How I love that writing! And I don’t even get how Grandma, being injured, changes anything for Saige and her horse in the big parade. But anyway, Petri goes on about a brand extension:
The My American Girls have spawned a series of books where you fill in the blanks of her adventures. For instance, in “Bound For Snow,” “Readers can imagine themselves as the main character of this interactive story, a girl who loves to be outside in wintertime.” Yes, what a stretch of the imagination it is to pretend to be a girl who loves to be outside in wintertime. “She’s teaching Honey the golden retriever how to pull a dog sled, but the pup just doesn’t seem to be getting the hang of it.” How tough to put yourself in her shoes. A golden retriever? But you’ve got a chocolate Lab! What a great exercise.
There’s also “Braving The Lake” — in which, spoiler alert, “Readers can imagine themselves as the main character, a girl who loves swimming at the pool but is terrified of the lake.” (Remember when Addy escaped from ACTUAL SLAVERY?)
Dolls Just Like Us. Is this really what we want? The image is embarrassing — privileged, comfortable, with idiotic-sounding names and few problems that a bake sale wouldn’t solve. Life comes to them in manageable, small bites, pre-chewed. No big adventures. No high stakes. All the rough edges are sanded off and the Real Dangers excluded. It’s about as much fun as walking around in a life vest.
Which, by the way, doesn’t just describe the dolls. It describes the culture we’re encouraged to raise our kids in, without taking our eyes off them for a single,scary second. There’s not a lot of opportunity for adventure when even “being outside in the wintertime” sounds as incredibly thrilling — and unthinkable — as heading out west with a sack of cornmeal and mule.
Poor American Girls. And poor American girls. – L.
Life is so exciting! Will she choose the seaweed wrap or hot stones?