22 JANUARY 1972, Page 9


The new American whore dolls

Geoffrey Wagner

I hadn't been doll-hunting — at least not in mini form — in Manhattan for quite a While . Last Christmas the search for something suitable for a friend's feminine toddler sent roe into the toy stores, and the five and tens. The result was an eyeopener. America's new fashion dolls come in clothing, or lack of it, reminiscent of a postwar Piccadilly prostitute. It was only in this century that life-like baby dolls were first mass-produced. Before the war I remember my sisters playing mother to their dolls. The ersatz infant was cuddled or corrected, as the case 'flight be. In any event, the doll retained her name, identity, and relationship. The doll-handling was so much surrogate maternity. In the 'fifties the verisimilitude of the ,baby doll was taken to extremes in Amer'Lea. Dolls were sold which cried, blinked, uurped, and 'wetted' more continuously 4nd copiously than any human original; they ca ome pmathol accompanied by an almost gical equipment of maternity gear, ore suitable to a sickroom than a nursery (including bed pans and enema pears). Still, the doll remained preparation for r,°v'Ting UP, and by the nature of things the adult was respected. t In 1959 a company called Mattel inrori con -elleced. its Barbie doll. This was a new sivePt, for the Barbie doll is an aggres theev teenage substitute for womanhood. en lip a and h ii alf inches high, Barbic has Plus P-smacking measurements of 51-3-4+, 2 wardrobe calculated to make the baldheads of the front row of a burlesque theatre drool. b With the help of television Barbie recarne enormously popular, a multi-mil ylon doll a cnc' r business. Rivals appeared. New rk Magazine has just analysed the triing economy of the industry in regard to four of these teen fashion dolls the etissY, Barbie, Love, and Dawn. Yet re are many more. One called Trudy I sconociuntered has as her principal outfit a tkrt of crimson sateen jockstrap and seeiest -r; lace bolero top, fit for the murk=irnes Square runway (the Beauty liFgeant is in fact co-sold as part of the the stYle of these embryo courtesans).'For, b,.°tIgh teeners don't usually have large tbeasts, certainly not for today's fashions, the of all these dolls are whopping. Dawn, „Ile tiniest and perhaps most nauseating of ,i_ne kiddie chorus-girl line-up, has miniature volcanoes on her diminutive chest, mmWhich hien cinlY the atypical little plastic connet-launcher bra enclosed with her koald encup. She comes supplied with a xuoy friend, Gary, just as Barbie has her en; Posse since none of the dolls of either sex nex s Ye ear, genitals (pubic hair being left to t rather , perhaps ) the nude boys look girls. More ridiculous than the naked The object of the whole exercise is consumerism. With a recession on, industry cannot wait until American tots grow up. The first lesson these new dolls teach is restless change of friends and fashion (" Oh I can't wear this dress tonight," a girl says for her Barbie doll, "Ken's seen me in it already "), while most models come with an entire group of friends. Those of the slightly larger doll called Love, an already dated hippie, are named Peace, Flower, and Soul.

Now Dawn has over seventy-five fashions with such titles as Sheer Delight, Flirty Flounce, and Shocker Frocker; in common with the so-called fashion, the semantic is all too obviously that of the singularly grubby-sounding middle-aged businessmen who run the industry out of the suburbs of California or New Jersey (one executive interviewed confessed to being influenced, for his dolly's dresses, by Frederick's of Hollywood, the sleaziest of erotica manufacturers in the underand nightwear business). Thus Dawn's Shocker Frocker is described by the company as "a daring strapless in shocking pink, trimmed with silver braid. Comes with a French phone — for those inevitable calls! "

I know an American girl going on eleven who is inseparable from her Dawn doll. She is a charming child, and her mother intelligent. Nevertheless, there is a serious breach of consciousness apparent in this trend. The girl gets a new identity with the clothes she assumes. All of these are sexy. No wonder television and the media support these whore dolls with their $4 million ad budgets.

When Baudelaire wrote his marvellous essays on women's make-up, and on children playing with toys, he saw both as pseudo-artists. A woman adorning herself in front of her mirror proceeded from an intimate knowledge of the subject (herself), which she then decorated symbolically. The reverse process is advocated by the new doll industry: you put on a personality with a costume. Moovin' Groovin' Crissy (note the dated slang of the cigarchewing front office) moves, groovin' with her swivel-waist, from Hob Nobber via a maxi-suit, to Jean Machine in a tie-dye pizza T-shirt and patterned jeans, to the alluring Gypsy (aqua satin midi with fringed shawl).

On the surface all this seems harmless enough. Yet it is really a little rape of childhood. The life style inculcated is the most vulgar form of Playboyism. Unlike my sisters' dolls, Dawn has no kitchen; the only furniture she owns is her Sofa Telephone (" a plush chaise longue "). Indeed, the effects of these dolls are simply those of a successful call-girl — three-way mirrors, chain belts, plush pink convertibles (or a dune buggy), 'working' hair dryers and 'psychedelic decor,' poodles, tinsel, discotheque recordings, body stockings. All items from the catalogues.

The world of the mother caring for her child, therefore, comes to seem extremely tame. In fact, worthy of contempt. The world of Barbie, Dawn, Trudy et al is a constant round of dates, parties, and popularity.

The life being thus pushed on to countless little American girls is one of cretinous hedonism, of continual glamour and endless interchangeable boy friends. In one of his more amusing columns Art Buchwald has indeed suggested that these dolls are getting Miss America attuned for her chain of divorces. Out of 162,303 Californian marriages in 1969 there were 81,670 divorces (or dissolutions '), a rate of over 50 per cent, which has led one counsellor to suggest replacing the term marriage by serial monogamy.

England has always enjoyed a period of adolescence, that rich area of creativity, for girls. Our strong stock of women novelists evinces as much. It was interesting to learn, amid the rest of the publicity flim-flam, that Crissy is, presumably for tax-saving purposes, manufactured in Hong Kong. Flown to France, where there is also still a last lingering adolescence, the idiot regularity of her pre-airline hostess face was too much, and the French stuck on a new head. This says a lot. The termagants of Fern Lib ought to take a little time off from sending themselves up to attack this instruction to children in defining and categorising woman by what she wears. The new American dolls are hookers in all senses, in particular to the habit of selling the body for the quick buck.

Having outlawed adolescence, America now seems hell-bent on breaking down the last boundaries of girl childhood in the interests, as usual, of commerce.