We snorted with a mix of delight and derision today when reading Choire Sicha’s rail against the “corporate tribble” of the American Girl franchise over on The Awl. But Choire! thought we. How could you possibly understand the cracked-out secret code of the American Girl fiend if you weren’t aged 6 to 11 in the early 1990s? After the jump, a very biased analysis of “what it all means,” plus doll-owner profiling and gross generalizations on the sociology of doll-collecting.
From an informal poll conducted among our equally bougie friends, there’s an almost-even split among Samantha owners (“She’s nothing without the tea set,” “Victorian girls get the best clothes — DUH,” and “She was rich”), Kirsten proprietors (“It was closest to the Little House on the Prairie era which I was really into, though I didn’t look anything like her”) and Addy fans (“I mean she came with an abacus,” “I once gave her a hairdo of actual cornrows”), with bonus points for the Felicity contingent (often related to ginger pride). We’ve noted a pretty universal disavowal of Molly, owing to the fact that moms and grandmothers love her and, as one commenter puts it, “I HAD glasses and braids. WTF do I want an ugly doll for?”
Pages from the 1992 Pleasant Company catalog featuring the original triumvirate of heirloom quality dolls (Kirsten Lasron, circa 1854; Samantha Parkington, circa 1904; Molly McIntire, circa 1944). The fourth, Felicity Merriman an American colonist from 1774, and Addy Walker, a freed slave in 1864, were introduced thereafter.
That’s nothing compared to the new iterations of American Girl dolls; as one friend writes, the honchos must be running out of ideas. On the one hand, we have Julie, a chick from 1970s San Francisco replete with bell-bottoms and a macrame hat (“Hel-lo Ricky’s Halloween costume”). On the other, girl-of-the-year 2009 Gwen was homeless. A homeless doll. Living in a car with her mom, much like Jewel minus (we assume) the bad poetry. And since the Mattel-owned American Girl company — bought from Pleasant Company in 1998 — makes even more oodles of moolah selling furniture sets, it’s no wonder a transient doll had a shelf life of only one year.
We have to admit, as part of the American Girl cult circa 1991-1994, it’s hard to grasp what the bright and shiny 21st century company is targeting. The old-school dolls included historical fiction books and easy identifiers, the politics of choice (Samantha girls: generally high-maintenance; Kirsten girls: sportier than their counterparts; Molly girls: bookworms). And what once seemed passable as education now carries an aroma of exploitation: a Nez Pierce doll with a faux buffalo and elk hide bedroll that costs $95? A homeless plaything for ten-year-olds? All those tap dancing and ice skating costumes?A raccoon in a trash can? A llama. As. A pet.
Or, maybe we’re just, you know, old. Do they make Just Like You dolls with scowls and a Metrocard?