Thursday, March 15, 2007


One of the odder things I get to do as a part of my job is write little position statements on why we choose to collect and keep in the library's collection various potentially controversial children's books and materials. (I get to write one on Scrotumgate!). But, today I was working on another one, on the Bratz. For those uninitiated to the horrors of current children's toys and their print and film tie-ins, this is a Bratz doll:

Only slightly more horrifying than Barbie, the Bratz are dolls with a "passion for fashion". Originally conceived for kids aged 9-12, they are beloved of the preschool crew. And, the Bratz have books, TV shows, straight to DVD movies, and CDs to go along with the 10.5" tall vinyl material girls. And now, parents in various communities are complaining that these books should not be sold through Scholastic School Book Sales because they present an overly commercialized, overly sexualized, image of girls to the young girls who are buying them. To which I respond. Uh. Ya. They sure are. Don't worry, that's not what I say in the actual statement I'm writing.

What do I think? Ya. The dolls are horrifying. The make-up. The faces that look as if they've had one too many botox injections, and one too many nose jobs. The stories and films that have them visiting the Las Vegas strip, staying overnight at the mall, sneaking off on blind dates... I can't get over some of the outfits they wear - outfits I certainly wouldn't want my 6 year old (or 13 year old, or 20 year old) wearing, or thinking about wearing. But then, I wouldn't want my 6 year-old dressing in shell-shaped bikini tops like Disney's Ariel from The Little Mermaid, or in some of the outfits my own Barbie's wore when I was little.

Many of the articles I came across while researching the Bratz situation pit the Bratz against that Matriarch of the fashion doll scene herself, Barbie. Apparently these skanky little ladies have stolen a huge chunk of the formerly Barbie dominated market, and Barbie's not happy. She's dominated the scene for almost 50 years, and these sassy gals are stealing her thunder. Numbers seem to indicate that Barbie's got about 60% of the market share, while the Bratz take the other 40%. But, that in Britain, the Bratz are actually outselling Barbie two-to-one. Amazing. Barbie's so unhappy, in fact, that there are lawsuits flying between the two makers of the plastic princesses. This is a major industry.

So, what am I going to say. Well, we'll keep collecting the books and movies and CDs. People want them. They don't have great literary merit. But that's not what a public library is about. We are there to provide people with materials for both their educational and their recreational needs. We collect crap for adults. We have to collect crap for kids too. Yes, they can be perceived as over-sexualized. Yes the girls seem shallow and materialistic - overly commercialized. But, they also present girls of multiple ethnicities getting along together (something sorely lacking in our community). They also present girls who go out and do what they want and fend for themselves without needing a man to do it for them. Sure, the writing is terrible (but have you read Dora the Explorer or Bob the Builder? Tie-in materials generally are terrible). And, if you don't like it. Don't let your child check it out. You don't have to take it home just because its here.

But perhaps in slightly more politically correct and proper terminology, quoting policies, and etc. And perhaps not sounding quite so condescending.

But those dolls really are terrifying aren't they? I can't see the appeal myself.


Francis Wooby said...

It is absolutely up to the parents, not the Library, schools or any other public entity, to parent the child. Thus the clever title of "parent."

This sort of hysterical outcry makes me ill. Yes there's all sorts of crap out there, but railing away on my soapbox to banish it isn't going to teach my son how to develop critical thinking skills and make his own decisions.

This mob mentality to limit freedom of expression, the ability produce disgusting little doll toys, etc. only hurts kids, and all of us, in the end. It's still based on the premise that other agencies, in this case the library, are in charge of us.

Surrendering this control is just as bad, and arguable worse, as buying slutty looking dolls for your daughter because marketing tells you to.

Here's a crazy new strategy for parents to try. The next time your child demands something you think is inappropriate, say no.

Maggie said...

I don't know, I can kind of see the appeal. There's something not quite human about them, like they're fairies or something. And they do kind of have this Angelina Jolie/super model look to them. ;)

Deranged Squirrel said...

The Spring 2007 issue of Bitch magazine has an interesting article about the evolution of My Little Pony. The author argues that the ponies have become more sexually suggestive with each re-release and that if one was to remove their tails and add hands and feet the ponies would actually look more like children. I will have to show you the article.

MadJenny said...

FW - couldn't agree more. And, frankly, no one has complained to us as of yet. Just to the schools. But why parents feel they can't just say no to their children is beyond me. That's not teaching them anything good either.

Maggie - they actually have a pixie line in which the girls have wings. I think there might be a winged horse too.

DS - I saw a My Little Pony book at the grocery store today that featured a pony wearing a distinctly "come hither" look. Giant eyes with crazy long lashes on her too. It is kind of a shame. My My Little Ponies were super good fun just for being horses. And, not being too sexual, they also did double duty as way horses, ridden by Thunder Cats, to attack the Playmobil castle and rescue it from the Fisher Price men.

False Prophet said...

Too bad my GI Joes weren't there to sway the tide of battle. ;-)

One of the Bitch magazines Deranged Squirrel loaned me had a great article exploring Jem (of the truly, truly outrageous Holograms fame) as a feminist icon. One of the author's main beefs was that Jem encouraged materialism in young girls: e.g., life is about clothes and hair and cars and exotic vacations, etc.

My question is, do boys' media properties not encourage materialism as well? Especially Pokémon and its assorted rip-offs, poorly-written dreck that encourages mindless consumerism more than anything Donald Trump has ever done.

MadJenny said...

GI Joe's were actually not welcome in our household. We were told not to watch their show, so we did not watch their show.

Of course, in today's world of cross-promotion - having a TV show, toy, movies, books, stationery, clothing, backpacks, lunch boxes .... for pretty much all children's toys, any toy could be seen to be promoting commercialism. The boy-driven ones that really get me are things like Spider-Man. The comics and movies are geared to a somewhat older audience, but they make preschool sized PJs, clothes, toys, etc., so that the kids see all of this and think they really like Spider-Man, but in fact, the original media for him - the comics and movies, are beyond them. So then, they create awful, terrible, Spider-Man easy readers that are, in fact, painful to read, and sell those to the kids who probably couldn't care less about the character in the first place, but think they do, because the bed sheets their parents bought them in a fit of commercial insanity, are kind of cool.