It’s always good during the frenetic holiday season to take a step back and ponder the past year’s triumphs and failings, personal gains and professional stumbles. It’s a “day at the spa” for one’s soul to sit down and figure out what has brought you great joy and what has peddled despair or sadness to your doorstep. If you can calculate what has been the happiest moments, perhaps you can work twice as hard at embracing those during the upcoming year. If you know what has given you grief or has added heartbreak to your days, then maybe you can learn to sidestep those issues or ward off their reoccurrences. It’s important to review the past so the future can be better and brighter.
With that in mind, I sat down and read through 2012’s blogs. Since I write for DOLLS on a weekly basis (unless forces of nature like Hurricane Sandy or my daughter’s concussion stand in my way), I had a lot of columns to ponder.
For the last blog before 2013, I’m presenting condensed versions of the first six columns of 2012 that got a lot of feedback, forwarding, comments, and criticism. I have chosen one from each month of January to June, and these blogs pretty much define the world of dolls. I’ve edited them down so the heart of the issues continues to beat noticeably. For anyone who thinks it’s just about fashion and collecting, think again. These samplings show how dolls are a reflection of our best selves, our worst hang-ups, and our everyday struggles and triumphs.
Read these and remember that the world is always shifting and new pop trends are arriving and departing. Our commitment to exploring their significance doesn’t end. It just evolves as our collections grow, expand, and flourish.
And isn’t it fascinating to think how my 2012 blogs began with a Facebook petition requesting a “bald Barbie” for cancer solidarity and the December 2012 final offering was about a Facebook petition for a “gender neutral” Hasbro Easy-Bake Oven. The power of social media in the toy world, our political world, and our personal lives can’t be overstated.
Happy 2013! When the New Year kicks off, I’ll return with the six blogs that got the most reaction from July to December. Who knows? Maybe this one will make the grade!
Barbie Beating Cancer: Is Mattel bound to make a connection?
When the fuss fades away, will Mattel make a Barbie—hairless and still smiling—to show that the “Big C” can be beaten? Will they respond by releasing a doll that shows that cancer patients and cancer survivors are women who are beautiful and battling and brave in their own special ways?
People have pointed out that in her history, Barbie has been an astronaut, an anchorwoman, a politician, and a soldier. Why not a cancer patient or as a person with alopecia? Perhaps it’s because Mattel sees the other roles as accomplishments and achievements. Alopecia is not an accomplishment, and neither is cancer. But I’d argue that “surviving” and “beating it” and “rising above and coping with it” certainly is.
The one thing the “bald and beautiful Barbie” movement has going for it is that it might inspire other doll makers to create a doll that addresses this issue. There are tons of companies—smaller ones than Mattel—that could come to the rescue and make a name for themselves simultaneously. BJDs are so popular these days, and they lend themselves to the whole wigging issue. And since many cancer patients do choose to don wigs and/or bandannas, the doll could come with these accessories as well.
Whatever the fallout might be, 2012 is only a few weeks old, and already Barbie is front and center . . . in a controversy. A familiar place for a familiar face.
Too Hot to Handle? Computer geeks, Middle East hierarchies & public demand combust.
The month of January concluded with two major non-sales headlines. One was the “polite” pressure exuded by Apple and the Jobs family to prevent a Steve Jobs doll from coming to market. The other was a report on how the Iranian mullahs are once again ordering crackdowns on Barbie doll sales in their country’s toy stores and retail shopping centers.
What’s interesting is how the selling of dolls—the most benign of all creations in so many ways—has united two different international perspectives. For a theocracy that frowns on personal freedom, and a democracy that celebrates individual achievement, their polar opposite mind-sets have both turned doll sales into a minefield of worries, fears, accusations, and censorship.
Just a couple of years ago, Apple ran an ad that partially declared: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things.”
How funny that the doll maker at In Icons was too much of a troublemaker for the powers that be at Apple. I guess it pays to be a misfit and a rebel, if you are trafficking with circuit boards, but not with ball joints.
And for the ruling class in Iran, imagine how surprising it would be if the pink-boxed Barbie struck a blow for freedom. After more than a decade of pushing her out of the marketplace, she always comes back for more. No matter the prohibitions, the Iranian doll-buying public likes Barbie’s obvious inhibitions.
Some rebels just can’t be ignored.
Lady Luck: RuPaul may be a walking-talking doll, but what happened to the fashion figure?
Well, it just so happens that Miss Thing was made into a fashion doll (99% Plastic, 1% Woman—a very funny tagline) back in 2005 by Jason Wu for Integrity Toys. What a perfect blending of high-camp sensibilities and talented designing and sculpting.
Trolling across the Internet, I found glorious press releases that touted the debut of the doll and mentions of RuPaul showing up on the “Today Show,” bright and early, sans makeup, to peddle the product. There was a media blitz, but the doll did not become a collectible blockbuster, cranking out new wardrobes and accessories, year after year, season after season.
So I ask, is it possible to be too far ahead of one’s time? I don’t know what happened in the boardroom of Integrity Toys between the RuPaul camp (pardon the pun) and the Wu team (wanted to say “clan” but feared it would fall flat on non-hip-hop ears). Maybe there was a tempestuous toss-up or a fierce falling-out that curtailed the line of fashion dolls, or maybe there just weren’t enough sales to sanction its ongoing production. I honestly can’t say.
And that’s the vagaries of the doll business, or any industry that attempts to capture lightning in a bottle. Who could imagine that despite all her run-ins with the law, pop princess Britney Spears is still making millions and is poised to possibly join the cast of Simon Cowell’s “X Factor” show?
For RuPaul Andre Charles, his career has spanned 30 years—defying all odds and all popularity lulls. And that alone is deserving of a doll tribute. Someone, somewhere, get this man a doll—preferably dressed in peek-a-boo heels!
The Hunger Games: Mattel feasts upon a cautionary look at future kids in America.
Who will buy the Katniss doll? Since she rises to be a symbol of populist sentiments in the script, she seems very solitary and out of sorts in her current form. Will she be accompanied by a male companion (the characters of Peeta and Gale spring to mind) or by a younger, female counterpart who tugged at her heartstrings and solidified her role as a champion for the underdog? (I’m envisioning the ill-fated tiny Rue.)
The fascinating thing about converting characters from this blockbuster book into dolls is that these young heroes and heroines are growing up in a world devoid of play. Though they do have occasions of merriment, the specter of looming, possible death cloaks everything they do.
Will the designers re-create the outfits that the participants wear for the pre-games pageantry? Will Katniss eventually morph from being an emblem of freedom and defiance to a fashion-plate who is packaged with her armoire rather than her armor?
With the Hunger Games, Mattel has a franchise that is the antithesis of playing dress-up and building a dream house. In this upside-down world, the youth of America clad themselves for battle and attempt to tear down a nightmare civilization.
Instead of the pink box marketing campaign, Katniss would be perfectly matched with a desolate gray. Here’s hoping that the brave yet flawed, powerful but scared character retains her humanity in her new Barbie-esque form. Her strength comes from her youth and her determination—it’ll be worth watching to see if her moral compass remains intact, or if it will be supplanted by a host of added-on toy extras.
Go-Go Girls: Why do star athletes look more like pole dancers than pole vaulters?
If play—and, by extension, collecting—is an extension of wish fulfillment, how many young girls and women wish to be bigger and thicker? Not many. Why is it that most men secretly desire to get as bulky and muscled as possible, and women to become as tiny and as petite as calorically allowable? (Keep in mind the old saying from Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor: “A woman can never be too rich or too thin.”)
Is this view of body images finally changing? Evolving? Well, not in the public arena. With the Summer Olympics set to take off in London—July 27 to August 12—NBC is promoting the roster of odds-on favorites with commercial breaks that spotlight how young, fresh-faced, optimistic, and attractive our USA team members are.
They all look like they could be instantly made into contemporary dolls: each and every guy and gal would be a fantastic BJD—able to be posed as a diver, a track star, or a gymnast. I had that feeling about athletes as unattainable role models a few months back when Stella McCartney—daughter of Sir Paul—unveiled her togs for the British Olympics and Paralympics competitors. The uniforms for these UK athletes were modeled by actual participants in the upcoming 2012 events, and they were like a new species of humanity. How could anyone ever aspire to look so good while wearing so little!?
Dolls shouldn’t have to reflect our secret, hidden, inner desires for the perfect waist size, the ideal haircut, the to-die-for complexion and nose. No, they shouldn’t have to, but, for the most part, they do. Until we all unite and toss the pearl-wearing Duchess of Windsor’s pearl of “wisdom” out with the bathwater, we’ll all continue to scoop up dolls that are more Venus de Milo than Venus Williams.
In the Nick of Time: Stevie Nicks’s vulnerability may be the seed of her doll collecting.
For nearly 15 years now, I’ve heard about Nicks’s legendary doll collection. This insight is entirely based upon fan reports and rumors—and by that, I mean speculation and opinions, not the classic Mac album “Rumors,” released by the band in 1977, 35 years ago!!!
I’ve received letters from doll collectors asking me if I could get photos of her dolls, which have been housed in her homes across the country (reports are that they have been found decorating her abodes in Phoenix, Malibu, and the Pacific Palisades).
This leads me to ponder will Mattel be making a Stevie Nicks rock-n-roll character? They unveiled their “Ladies of the Eighties” lineup with Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, and Cyndi Lauper. They’ve had much success with their Cher re-imaginings. What about Stevie Nicks?
Only standing a hair over 5 feet tall in actual life—hence the penchant for platform shoes, top hats, and over-hair-sprayed coifs—Nicks could be a revelation for the doll collector. There are flowing gowns that she can nearly levitate in; boas and feathers, and hippie halter dresses as well as more concealing caftans. Like one of her big hits, “Leather and Lace,” her repertoire and her wardrobe are the stuff that dreams (and dolls) are made of!
Nicks is heading to my neck of the woods this summer, and wouldn’t it have been nice to see a sea of her admirers hoisting up her vinyl likeness alongside the lighters that delineate a call for an encore? Come on, someone, give this doll aficionado a doll to call her own—perhaps, then, the doors to Stevie’s fabled trove will swing open!