I’m not sure why – maybe because Halloween is just around the bend – but I just returned from a wild, three-hour virtual ride: It started off innocently enough with a saunter down Memory Lane, but then took a detour onto the Donner Party Cannibals’ Trail over the Rockies before finally diving into the sick and twisted pits of Google Images. This post was supposed to be an homage to my Grandma, but somehow turned into an exploration of Barbie-induced rage in the dark psyche of the internet. Here’s how it all started:
My reunion with The Gingerbread Man last week got me thinking about the other treasured gift from my Grandma still in my possession. When my sister and I were young, we each got a homemade rag doll for Christmas along with different costumes: princess, gypsy, ballerina, 60’s mod . . . We loved these dolls and played with them all the time. My own daughters inherited them, and they liked them a lot too, but somehow it wasn’t the same.
They were never all that into playing with dolls in general. Even so, year after year, thanks mostly to the magic of manipulative marketing, they put the latest Barbie swag at the top of their Christmas wish lists. I hated Barbie. She was boring and materialistic. Barbie needed stuff. Barbie needed a horse. Barbie needed a car. Barbie needed a palace. Barbie needed a Ken. Her only talents were wearing clothes and losing shoes. Without bendable knees, she couldn’t even sit in a chair. She couldn’t stand on her own.
I would question the girls about their wishes – “Are you sure this is what you want? It doesn’t seem to me like you ever play with your Barbies.” Unfortunately the messages of the TV commercials spoke louder. So the Barbie house was bought and wrapped and put under the tree. It was grabbed and ripped open and the gazillion pieces strewn about. The coveted Barbie bathtub was found and promptly filled with water and the Barbie Bubble Bath added. The doll was submerged. And then . . .
Disappointment. Somehow it wasn’t nearly as cool as it had looked on TV. I mean, once the smiling plastic stick is in the tub, what else is there to do?
It’s really no wonder that girls use Barbies like cudgels to pound on things. That Barbies routinely they get their limbs twisted into weird positions and their heads torn off. Their hair gets matted or chopped off and their faces get drawn on in permanent ink. They end up lying around the house, cold and naked, or are left to drown in the now-cold and slimy bathwater.
I once listened to an NPR program about how kids play with different types of dolls. Rag dolls, they said, were treated like friends and equals. They slept in the same bed, had tea parties, and became confidants or vessels for projected emotions. Baby dolls, on the other hand, induced role playing with the child slipping into the role of caretaker. The dolls were fed, bathed, diapered, wrapped up, sung to . . . And Barbie dolls? They tended to bring out a child’s aggression. It had something to do with that permanent smile.
(Although, as an aside, I do have to add a creepy memory here of my elder daughter trying to force feed her Baby Born. It was the kind that you could give water to with a special baby bottle. The liquid would drain through the baby and come out the other end, wetting its special $2 Brand name disposable diaper. Of course this got old fast, so my daughter tried feeding the doll something more solid. It was really hard to press into the tiny mouth hole so she went in search of a sharp pointy instrument to help her stuff the food in. Gruesome.)
I started searching the internet to see if I could find the study I had heard about on this NPR program and that is when things started to get really dark.
The first page I found was called “10 Freaky Dolls You Don’t Want To Play With”. It immediately caught my attention because #10 was “Patty Reed’s Doll”. The author explains . . .
“. . . Patty, eight years old, was traveling to California in 1846 with her family and other pioneers, a group known to history as the Donner Party. As you may well already know, this group of travelers became snowbound and turned to eating bits of leather, mice, old bones—and, finally, each other.”
I know from my older sister – who is our family’s genealogy expert – that we are the direct descendants of someone who was in the Donner Party and that we have direct ancestors named “Reed”. It made me wonder if this very doll witnessed the addition of cannibalism to my gene pool. The question distracted me for an hour or so as I rummaged through the thousands of pages of my sister’s genealogical research. I finally gave up and returned to the original quest.
The search terms I tried out led me into the internet world of Barbie rage. Images started popping up of “Average Barbie”, “Barbie at 50”, “Plus-size Barbie”, “Bald Barbie” , “Divorced Barbie” . . . I remembered joking once about how the company should bring out a “Shoe Fetish Barbie” or a “Bulimic Barbie”. I wondered . . . .
There was one final image that ended my foray into this topic. It was a Barbie kneeling on a kitchen floor with cleaning supplies around her. I thought, “That’s funny!” but then noticed that what she was mopping up was a big pool of blood. I looked more closely and then finally saw it: Ken’s decapitated body hanging on the wall and his head stuffed sideways into the open fridge.
I confess, I actually started feeling just a little bit sorry for Barbie. She may be a disappointingly empty-headed, strange-bodied, rage-inducing, useless, soon-to-be-garbage piece of smiling plastic, but, . . . hey, . . .
. . . at least she’s not a cannibal.