Thursday, May 28, 2009

NEW AMERICAN GIRL DOLL, OR THE TROUBLE WITH TCHOTCHKES

She's young, beautiful, feisty, and stands a petite 18". She calls her grandmother "Bubbie," and enjoys making challah bread, and playing dreidel. Needless to say, "Rebecca" (pictured to the left) is Jewish.
So what is the big deal? Rebecca is the latest doll in the product line of American Girl, a line of dolls retailing at $100 each, which does not include her accessories, which in the case of Rebecca is a $20 holiday set, replete with a doll-sized menorah, dreidel and gelt.
Rebecca is the latest "historical doll" in the product line, which includes dolls representing many nationalities and historical periods, now including a Jewish child in the early 1900's. Here is how they are marketing Rebecca......

"Rebecca lives with her Russian-immigrant parents, siblings and grandparents in a Lower East Side row house, just a step up from the tenements of Orchard Street, and they struggle mightily to save boat fare to bring more family over from the Old Country."

And while this doll represents a more austere time in our history, the manufacturers have no such compassion for the modern day parents who will be harassed to no end until Rebecca is secured for their child's bedroom. Not only a $100 doll, not only a $20 holiday set, but Rebecca is also the star of six books depicting her upbringing. Joy oh joy, and at only $20 a pop. Fortunately, American Girl takes Visa.
Here is a preview of two of the books. "Rebecca confronts many of the same dilemmas faced by today's American Jewish children as they navigate between tradition and modernity. In "Candlelight for Rebecca," her teacher asks the class to make Christmas centerpieces, and Rebecca agonizes over what to tell her parents. In "Meet Rebecca," she asks her grandfather, an observant Jew who keeps kosher, why he opens his shoe store on Shabbat (they need the money, he explains)."

And so you pony up the $150 and you feel good about the purchase, a toy with a historical perspective, almost a history lesson (at least a lesson in diversity and how our country was started), and your child will be learning about diversity at the same time.

Oh, but you aren't done, my friends. Your child, bragging about your recent extravagant gift, will find that her friends not only own one doll, but multiples dolls. She will realize that she is deprived because she doesn't have the Hispanic doll, Josefina, a character who lives in New Mexico in 1824; or the Nez Percé girl, Kaya, from 1764; or the African-American girl, Addy, from 1864. That is when your life goes down the tubes.
That is when your life becomes a Roddenberry-esque nightmare with your dreams interrupted by these stinking dolls. You will walk into your child's room and see a months pay devoted solely to these Lucite images of years (and money) gone bye. That's when you realize that your life has gone awry. You realize that you might as well have introduced your child to crack or heroin. They will send your child additional catalogues with new additions to their menagerie, with all of the appropriate accoutrement to go with them. A line of shoes and purses enough to sate Imelda Marcos. Jackets, sunglasses, and domiciles. Cars and pets, and even wigs and evening wear. You are doomed.
But take heart, unless you live in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago or New York, you live too far away for a visit to the American Girl mecca, an American girl store, complete with a restaurant, beauty salon, showroom and a doll "hospital." These are money machines, which add greatly to the millions upon millions of dollars they rack up every year. You do not want to visit these without a full contingent of credit cards, and lord help you if you actually plan a birthday party there, which will literally break the bank. You see unlike the "tribbles" from Star trek, these do not multiply on their own...they must be fed money. So relish your rural lifestyle which will keep you away from these atrocities.
Of course, they do offer vacation packages to all those families looking for a vacation getaway .....to hell....

2 comments:

Jennifer said...

Hi, Kimba. If my sister (who disagrees with me on this) has shared with you any of our recent correspondence, you'll know that the concept of this new "Rebecca" doll has weirded me out in a big way. According to this New York Times article, the American Girl people are hoping that the doll will inspire little girls to want to "play tenement house." Now someone needs to correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't the tenements of the turn-of-the-20th-century Lower East Side overcrowded slums that most of its residents dreamed of getting out of?

To be fair, I have to say that I haven't read the books that tell Rebecca's backstory, so perhaps I shouldn't judge. Maybe it is a good thing for today's girls to learn about a time when people, even children, worked long hours in sweatshops just to scrape by. As you point out, though, it's a pretty expensive lesson. I guess my main problem is that I always thought playing with dolls was supposed to be fun, and "tenement house" just seems like such a downer.

Kim said...

Jennifer, I think every child should have a doll they can relate to. Imagine a world where all dolls were caucasian.

But I absolutely agree with you....the backstory is creepy. Makes me wonder about the backstories for the Hispanic doll, the African-American doll and the American Indian doll, et al. Did they paint historical pictures for them with the same creepy brush?

I wonder if the manufacturers (the ones who bought the line from Mattel) are remotely qualified to make historical references to support these dolls?

I did see the correspondence, and decided to weasel my way out of the discussion.