Monday, October 05, 2009

Gwen, Scary American Girl Doll

First, they mocked the '70s. Now, they've marketed homelessness.

Who's running American Girl? Barbara Boxer?

That's it, American Girl LLC. My family has supported you long enough. We've opened our home to Kaya, Kit, Ruthie, Samantha, Molly, Josefina, Bitty Baby, a couple of baby twins, some doll that came with a surfboard and possibly another freeloader or two who has taken up space on a bed, in a doll crib (oh, yeah, we have that, too), on the den floor. We've lined bookshelves with books that have been read and reread ad nauseum. We've outfitted their makeshift and portable homes (Rubbermaid boxes) with an AG knockoff bathtub from Target, a canopy bed (they take turns sleeping) and enough hats to make the Queen Mother jealous. (And if that sounds like a lot of money spent on American Girl dolls and accessories, know that my daughters are smart enough to ask for these things from their grandmother. And I'm smart enough to let them.)
Your first wrong move, American Girl LLC, however, occurred this year when you "archived" Samantha Parkington, "a bright and compassionate girl." Samantha was our family's first American Girl, and she has served us well, keeping the other American Girls in line. Oh, sure, we've had our moments, when we have found her wearing inappropriate clothes better suited to the surfer girl, or hanging upside down from the edge of the bed. But all in all, she has maintained propriety and encouraged us to dream big and . . . well, to be nice.

And then you really pushed the envelope with the recent introduction of Julie and Ivy and their hippie 1970s ways, grouping the '70s with historical periods like the Revolutionary War and making moms of 11-year-olds feel mighty old. Bad move.

The latest American Girl to come on the scene (that's the '70s influence talking) is Gwen, Homeless American Girl. She is the doll who lives in the box she came in. All for the online retail price of $95+/-.


A quick click on americangirl.com, and Gwen can be your own Doll You Can Pity, your daughter's Doll Whose Sad Life Keeps You Up At Night, her Doll That Doesn't Come With Any Accessories, her Doll That Costs As Much As Any Other American Girl Doll But Whose Net Profits Don't Benefit Any Social Agency or Cause But That's OK Because This Is Capitalistic America And No One Should Apologize For That But Really? This Is Tacky.

This is not about sheltering your kids from issues. This is not about sugarcoating real life. This is about keeping things in perspective. When it comes to dolls, we prefer dreams, not nightmares. That's why Barbie has lasted so long. Would Mattel market a Homeless Barbie and a Deadbeat Dad Ken?

My youngest girls come up with their own sad tales. For free. They don't need a $100 doll to open their eyes and scare the, excuse me, crap out of them, fearing for their parents' marriage (see Julie, a fun-loving San Francisco girl who faces big changes) or whether they will have a home tomorrow (see Gwen; but don't try to find a description for Gwen because she's so unfortunate that she doesn't even have a description; she rides on Chrissa's coattails and arrives at your doorstep by UPS in an eyelet lace dress and a pink headband that doubles as a belt).

American Girl does a lot of things right; this just isn't one of them. Perhaps if the money made from the sale of Gwen dolls built a shelter for women and children or maybe a dozen or more Habitat homes, maybe there wouldn't be a backlash. Maybe Gwens would come flying off the shelves at the warehouse. Maybe the whole deal wouldn't seem so . . . icky.

If the setup were a little different, we would love for Gwen to join the menagerie of American Girl dolls here, where each day looks sort of like a Victorian frat party. Unkempt hair, missing shoes, tiny dishes all over the floor, all the tea you can drink.

And then Gwen wouldn't be homeless anymore.