Monday, November 10, 2008

Barbies, shopping and stuff, oh my...

No, this isn't going to be that big, ugly post I warned you about. I don't intend to post it. It's related to this documentary, in case you're interested. I researched and worked hard on it, so I would like it to be graded. If anyone is a 1st year professor of ...anything, I'd like to have it read and critiqued and maybe that would help me feel better about my poor university grades from 20 yrs ago. Grades resulting from too much tequila and watching Late Night and Star Trek:The Next Generation. Wow, bloggers say the darndest things! (I'm getting far too comfortable online I believe.)

Back on topic. My youngest daughter had a big birthday party recently. She put the word on the street that all she wanted was Barbies. The kids heeded the call. After the Barbie windfall from the party, a Toys R Us gift card and money from grandma, she had enough Barbies to populate a toy planet. Scattered among the multitudes, there is only one boy Barbie, a (VERY HAPPY) Ken doll. There used to be 3 Ken dolls in the house, but for some reason their heads kept coming off.

I'm just saying it like it is.

I let my 2 daughters play for a week without having to clean up. I managed a little half hearted nagging but they protested with, "but we're still playing!". Even if 2 days passed with the barbies left untouched, I let it go. I understand 21st century Barbie is so accessorized with gadgets that assembling the whole set up again is time consuming. Barbie has 2 flat screen TV's, an IPod, an IPod docking system, 2 MP3 players, laptops, several cell phones and even little plastic cappuccino cups. I actually think my husband is jealous of all the crap Barbie has.

After a week of finding little setups on bookshelves and under tables, I realized the little bimbos (bimboes? bimbos? how do you pluralize bimbo, I've never had to before) were taking up the entire top floor of my house and it had to stop. The barbies needed something like ... hmmm, a sorority house? We went to the toy store, looked at doll houses and then I was overcome with that icky feeling. $150 for some big, plastic toy that will have about 2 yrs of use, then nothing. But I had to admit, if I had the extra money to spend on something like that, I would probably buy it, just to make my life easier. All my desire to get away from consumerism and live a life that enriches, not pollutes the planet, pretty much evaporates when it comes to my kids.

This is my anthem whine - how can I raise my kids to truly understand value doesn't come from STUFF , when here in suburbia, here in the world, all around them, that's all they see? I know they are no more spoiled than the average middle class child, possibly less so, but still, marketing to kids has exploded since my childhood. In this New York Times article, "80 percent of global brands now deploy a 'tween' strategy". And parents get caught up or worn down and do the buying. I'm amazed at how many adults I've heard say how important it is their kids get the trendy and fashionable clothing, even it goes beyond their budget, for fear of their child being teased or left out. We're sending the message that inclusion is something that has to be bought at younger and younger ages.

There may be a small silver lining to this global recession, the disposable culture of consumerism will lose some of its power. The world beyond the mall or boutique will be explored and people may start slowing down and investing time into positive experiences and relationships. Wouldn't that be something. Doing so, can only make us happier.

As for the doll house, I'm going to a thrift store and finding a small bookcase that I'll strip and paint the interior to look like a house. Barbie will have a fixer upper. Then she'll have the room to store all her gadgets and endless beauty supplies (and I won't be tripping over them). My kids know their Christmas won't be excessive with stuff this year. After telling them so, I've watched them discuss with each other about what they want and if they even want it that much. Now they're not really sure what they want and don't seem to care. What is truly wished for in this house (for ages 10 and younger), is lots of snow, no school and playing outside.

Since I've become a little bit of a YouTube junkie and like to show off my recently acquired video embedding skills (that took a ridiculously long time to learn on this blog), I'll leave with this slinky commercial from my childhood. Times were different then, or maybe I was an idiot child, because I remember how thrilled I was when I first got a slinky. I notice they don't really make them anymore, or they only have plastic ones. I wonder if that's because of parent paranoia. I can imagine how a child could accidentally fall on a metal slinky and slit their throat like some old school Mafia piano wire whacking. Okay, enough with the sarcasm, have a moment of nostalgia with me.


self taught artist said...

i wish i had something pithy to say but i dont.
just enjoy your posts. ALWAYS.

andrea said...

Another great post. (As you 'get too comfortable online' your posts become even more complusively readable!) I remember my curiosity with Barbies but not really having any because once I looked at their little clothes and accessories I had NO IDEA what to do with them. I guess that's why I'm such a girl culture dropout. And the green shag carpet in that Slinky commercial! I remember it well.

I think your idea to hsow your girls a creative solutioin to the dollhouse issue will be enjoyed by you now and will teach them an important lesson, but don't fret if they're now wildly enthusiatic. I think the anti-consumer/pro-creativity message you're trying to convey will be appreciated by them once they're mature enough to get it. Meantime, don't get any puppies or you'll find interesting incarnations of Barbie's cell phone when you're out scooping poop...

andrea said...

(And don't forget to remind Andrea to proofread her comments.)

Angela Wales Rockett said...

Great post, Ellen! I love that you're making a fixer-upper for Barbie(s). I'm sure it will be much, much cooler than that plastic crap they sell. I expect pictures!

I did have a few Barbies when I was a child, but it was my aunt who had it all - many, many Barbies, Skippers, Suntan Tuesdays, Kens, houses, condos, RVs, cars, etc, etc, and she would flip out when I'd visit for summer because I'd actually want to PLAY with them and mess them up. She could play with them without messing them up, but I was 4 years younger, so therefore, not to be trusted. Left me with a deep loathing for the Barbie creatures.

I remember that Slinky commercial! I never could get it to do that. And the plastic ones just aren't the same.

katie jane said...

Before I finished reading your post I was thinking about how I would risk sounding cheap and old fashioned by suggesting converting a cardboard box into a doll's house like I had to do. I like your idea of a recycled cabinet better. My fondest memories of the Barbie (I never had a Ken; too anatomically correct) era were of painting and wallpapering a cardboard box, using fake fur for rugs, those little round thingys from pizza boxes for tables, etc, etc. I cut up scraps of fabric for curtains and used matchboxes, (painted, of course) for kitchen cabinets. You get the idea. It was so much fun and inventive.

You are so right about the consumerism thing. Everything can be purchased all ready to plug in. Nobody builds go-carts or doll houses, or even club/tree houses now. You just buy one and put it up.
What's up with that???
Bring back the Slinky!!

dinahmow said...

Like Kate, I was going to suggest a really big cardboard box.But the bookshelf is better cos when barbie-love wanes, you can strip it again and call it a book shelf.

Plural of bimbo? Bimbi?

Janet said...

Ooooh, if you collage the inside of the Barbie Dwelling, it could be really surreal.

Barbie's House of Surrealism.

Caroline said...

Now I feel inspired to convert a bookcase into a dollshouse - and I don't even have any dolls!

We can still get metal slinkies here - would you like one for Christmas?

Melody said...

Oh God, don't get me started on Montsanto! I've known for years about everything they've been up to but an article in Vanity Fair opened my eyes up even further.
Don't really have much to say about Barbies as my sister was the "barbie girl" I would spent my time snapping off their heads and colouring their hair with magic marker.

Kim Hambric said...

Fantastic idea for a Barbie House.

Perhaps next year, those Barbie makers will come up with Barbie's crack house or maybe Barbie's meth lab. The kiddies will demand it!!!

Who ever came up with the plastic slinky should be spanked. What's wrong with those old-fashioned ones? Are they really too dangerous?

After my daughter came home from a birthday party with a mini plastic slinky in a goodie bag, I spend the rest of the afternoon telling her about the toys of the good old days. Metal slinkys, yo-yos and that ever-dangerous Spirograph.

After searching the stores, and being disappointed, I purchased a Spirograph set on Ebay. My fav childhood toy. And yes, I let my daughter play with that dangerous game. For heavens sakes, it comes with pins to hold down the rings. To think that she could have put her eye out.

Thanks for the memories. We will want to see photos of Barbie's shelf house.

Ellen said...

Paula: thanks, appreciate your comments. ALWAYS.

Andrea: that green shag carpet is the star of that commercial, talk about bringing the outdoors in...
I take it your new addition is a chewing machine? My neighbours puppy ate a whole box of crayons once. He reported technicolor poop for days.

Angela: Just reading your comment made me realize how jealous I was of the girl down the street with all the barbie stuff I didn't have. Especially the camper. There was an old lady who lived behind us who gave us all the barbie clothes she KNITTED for her granddaughter's who outgrew Barbies. Knitted barbie clothes? like dressing barbie up in mittens. So my sister and I pretended Barbie was poor and homeless.

Katie: What an amazing crafty kid you were! You're giving me ideas for this project. When I was a kid, I tried to make the town of Bedrock (Flinstones) out of Kleenix boxes, toilet paper tubes and tape. After that failure, I never tried being toy crafty again, until now, but now I have growned up stuff to work with, yay!

Dinah: Bimbi, like it, sounds almost like a scientific classification. Now Katie has given my ideas for putting in carpet scraps. I guess when the kids outgrow it, it can be a nice soft place for my books to rest.

Ellen said...

Janet: Yes! What a good idea!I would love to make a whole series of odd themed barbie houses. I am going to personalize this one just a touch with some shrunken famous paintings on the wall. It'll be fun choosing Barbie's art taste.

Caroline: Metal slinkies, really? English parents must be more laid back. It will be a fun project, but an argument just broke out between my daughters on whose room it will be it. Now I'm thinking of making two. Maybe I'll make lots, like a Barbie subdivision. Now that's making me feel creepy for some reason, suburbia within suburbia.

Melody: I'm impressed with the lack of Barbie girls who read this blog. You guys are cool. I was pathetically Barbie crazy, but my sister and I did cut a few Barbies hair off and pretend it was because of chemo. (my mom watched a lot of soaps). Yes Monsanto, scary. it's trying to promote itself as earth friendly, good for the environment,etc., unbelievable.

Kim: I love spirographs! I wanted to add some to a painting recently, but couldn't find any kits (ah ebay, of course). I ended up wasted oodles of time on some mathematics website creating my own. It's not the same as the old fashioned way though with those coloured ball point pens. That was so much fun!

dinahmow said...

Me again...not that you are lacking ideas, but maybe a Barbie and Ken version of Grant Wood's "American Gothic" to complete the creepy scene.

BlueJude said...

SLINKY HAZARD...TOO FUNNY! Barbie eco friendly recycled house! VERY SMART!! Kudos! Thanks for making me smile.

self taught artist said...

I have to say, you are quiet these days. You've got us right where you want us, WANTING MORE.
I'm feeling a creative laundry jones coming on...i need a post man a post!!!!
yes, your writing is THAT GOOD.

Ellen said...

Dinah: That's good! now I almost want to do a series of themed Barbie houses as an art show. Actually it would be a great group show. OK, that's enough, must focus...must focus...

Darcy: Thanks for popping in! My kids saw that old slinky commercial and now are begging for them. Oh, the power on advertising, even from 35 yr old commercials. Must be the green shag rug that sells it.

Paula: Thanks, but now I have performance anxiety! I'll blog soon, but just gets in the way...

GEM said...

Great post. ilike your idea of converting a bookshelf into a barbie House.
A clever, commercial designer friend designed a Breast cancer barbie, complete with prostheses, wigs, etc. it was brilliant!!!
Your kids migh have fun designing a Peak Oil Barbie house complete with solar panels, solar ovens, gardening Ken and handcrafting barbie - they could learn many skills in a painless way.
You always provide fodder for thought, and i thank you! G

Ellen said...

GEM: I LOVE THAT IDEA! Peak oil Barbie house, you are so talking my language. I should do that, it would be a learning experience for me too. Sustainable barbie house can be a prototype for my own house conversion. hmmm, anyone know how I could use those calculator solar panels for little doll house lights?

And the breast cancer barbie, what a clever and fitting idea.