Jan 092012

Today was my daughter’s birthday. I imagine everyone has someone in their family who is hard to shop for – often because they have everything they want and you can’t imagine what they need. My daughter, however, wants everything, which puts the problem at the other end of the spectrum, how do you choose from the bounty of desire? It doesn’t matter what catalogs come in the mail, she will snatch them up and leaf through them. But, at age 9, there is one catalog that towers above all others. American Girl.

American Girl Dolls

The proud tradition on which our country is based - marketing to children

I’m not going to lie to you, there are aspects of the American Girl phenomenon that creep me out. I refer, of course, to the marketing ploy of not only getting a doll in your image but the ability to shop for a full range of matching clothing for you and your doll. The only reason Stephen King hasn’t cashed in on this little plot device is that it’s too horrific to commit to paper.

Fortunately, our little darling took some time to work up to this Twilight Zone scenario and thanks to her patience (and our manipulation) we managed to find a kinder and gentler path into the world of the American Girl. I’m not sure what inspired it, perhaps because the doll did, in fact look like her, or perhaps the depression era fashions fit her sartorial disposition but she chose Kit Kittridge on her initial foray into the world of AG. And this is where I started to change my tune.

If you weren’t aware, the American Girl corporation (Mattel) has a line of historic American Girls that each illustrate a different period in American history from early colonial times to today. Kit is a plucky representative of the great depression. Because no product today, especially toys with a narrative attached to them, can exist in a vacuum the American Girl synergy machine has been churning out books and movies (along with clothing and a galaxy of accessories).

For the moment you may detect a certain cynicism on my part about the clothing and accessories. This is due in large part to the fact that we’ve just emerged from the giftpocalypse that is Christmas. But before this cynicism set in I let my cold stony heart warm somewhat to the gentle small town charm of the American Girl stories. The girls are all strong and brave. They stand up for the right thing, whether it’s treating a hobo like a human being, or speaking out against child labor in a turn of the century textile factory.

They are, as you can tell, stories that I can get behind as a parent seeing as how they are carefully designed to appeal to girls and engender in them a sense of morality, personal value, and possibility.

My daughter has been reading the books assiduously and various American Girl movies have been in heavy rotation on the DVD player. And just to confirm that the plucky American Girl can do attitude has taken root our own little American Girl asked for a vintage typewriter for Christmas, one “just like Kit’s”.

Thank goodness for Ebay.

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