She started homeless. Now, she’s a corporate whore!
Say hello to Gwen Thompson, the American Girl doll whose fictional backstory starts her in rags but in real life brings in riches for her manufacturer, Mattel.
If you haven’t heard about this controversy, let me bring you up to speed:
Gwen’s dad abandons her and her mom for Malibu Barbie so he and that math-hating bimbo can swing in her Hot Tub Party Bus and Mobile Meth Lab with kooky Midge, who may be carrying the dad’s baby.
Meanwhile, Gwen and her mom spend the winter living out of a Little Tikes Crazy Coupe. Mom manages to move them into a women’s shelter, but this only leads to poor Gwen becoming the target of schoolyard bullies, those decidedly non-Mattel strumpets — the Bratz.
But to the rescue comes Dora the Trampy Tween Explorer and her “magical backpack,” if you know what I mean.
Just when Gwen thinks she’s finally safe, she gets caught in the media crossfire.
Point: Gwen’s making our young girls aware of the real life issue of homelessness!
Counter: Yes, to those children privileged enough to afford her $95 price tag!
Fact check: Apparently, the whole homeless thing is only briefly mentioned in a book (which must be purchased separately, of course). Meanwhile, the vast majority of reviews of the Gwen doll on American Girl’s Web site comment on how adorable she is with those bangs and pretty clothes, NOT how she’s convinced little Jane to give all her other AG dolls to kids in need. Hey — someone put up a “Mission Accomplished” banner!
Point: American Girl is giving dads a bad name and making a profit off it!
Counter: It’s American Girl! The company does not recognize your defective chromosome unless it comes with a valid credit card.
Fact check: As DadCentric’s official AG correspondent (my daughter’s has an addiction and I am not proud of it), I have in the past few weeks received two mailers from the company: one trying to get me to buy my daughter a subscription to its magazine, the other trying to entice me to book a “complimentary personal-shopping appointment this holiday season” at one of its stores with the promise of a free doll outfit (valued at $26! Or less!) if I shell out $250 (or more!) on other merchandise. Both mailers — addressed to me, mind you — feature the tag line that AG products are ones “moms trust.” Subtext, people, subtext!
I honestly think American Girl does some things well. Their books, while not fine literature, do entertain while teaching history, the importance of hard work, friendship and responsibility, and even some things dads like me are uncomfortable with.
But, for all its supposed noble intentions about empowerment and wholesomeness, the brand’s bottom line is its bottom line — making a buck (or 95 of them) off our daughters’ weakness for the cute, the cuddly, and the myriad of accessories needed to maintain that status.
That is the American way, girl.
So, Mattel, if you want to do me a real favor, develop an American Girl doll based on a young female who repents in some meaningful way after falling victim to the evils of the rampant consumerism that toy manufacturers and their marketing departments bombard her with every day.
No one in his or her right mind would buy it, but we parents would all applaud you on your way into bankruptcy court.
IRONY UPDATE: I notice that once in a while the ad that appears under this post is for Rebecca Rubin, the new AG historical character who is Russian-Jewish immigrant in New York’s early 1900s. Oy vey!
NOTE: Fellow dad Ron at Clark Kent’s Lunchbox recently took Mattel bigwig Robert Eckert to task on all these issues as well as how the deadbeat dad angle could plant an early contempt and mistrust of males into our young girls. Give it a read.