Thursday, January 22, 2009

Newly downloaded: "Riot Van" by the Arctic Monkeys

I discovered the Arctic Monkeys' song "Riot Van" on Pandora's (Free Internet radio!) channel for The Shins. I admit to being a little obsessed with it. I downloaded the song from iTunes and have been playing it over and over again. As a writer, I am drawn to good lyrics, and these lyrics are like cheeky poetry:

"Have you been drinking son, you don't look old enough to me"
"I'm sorry officer is there a certain age you're supposed to be?.. nobody told me"

Up rolled the riot van
And these lads just wind the coppers up
Ask why they don't catch proper crooks
Get their address and their name's took
But they couldn't care less

You wouldn't think a song about harassing police officers for a laugh and then catching a beat down would work, sung over plaintive and soulful music. But somehow it does.

I have decided that a song like this could only work performed by a band of English lads from the suburbs of Sheffield. An American band couldn't pull off the innocent roguishness. Besides, American tales that begin with young men running from police late at night in the city often end permanently and mostly tragically.

TY turns First Daughters into "Girlz" (with update)


Bratz dolls are some of the creepiest, most disturbing toys I've ever seen. With pouty lips, trowel-applied makeup and club gear, what message are these dolls meant to send to the young girls they target? They celebrate a strange and dangerous modern feminine ideal: one that is infantile and stereotypically female (pink and festooned with butterflies), yet overtly sexual and preternaturally carnal (bared bellies and bedroom eyes). These are the toys little girls are to use for aspirational play. It is a sad reflection of the "pornification" of American culture. For all of the mud slung on Barbie (some of it by me), the damage done by the Mattel classic I grew up with seems minor in comparison. Interestingly, thanks to a lawsuit by Mattel, owner of the Barbie brand, as of December 2008, Bratz dolls are no more. Unfortunately, their legacy lives on.

Stroll through the girls' section of your local Target or Wal-Mart and notice the glut of pink, purple and sparkles, next to low-slung jeans and cropped tees emblazoned with saucy sayings. And in the toy aisle, there are plenty of Bratzian dolls offered by competitors the Mattel behemoth hasn't gotten around to squeezing out of the market. Take the TY Girlz (Replacing a boring "s" with a super-hip "z" makes a thing more au courant, or "crunk" if you will. Of course, it also makes our kids illiterate...), which are far less overtly sexual and offensive than Bratz, but still representative of what the blog, Packaging Girlhood, calls "dollZ":

Well, you've heard from us quite a bit about the trend in dollZ to encourage little girls to play with teen dolls and everything marketers thing "teen" means. That is, Bratz and their followers party, have a passion for fashion, drink "juice" drinks in cosmo glasses, fly in jet planes, shop, and hang out in hot tubs. Read more...

Packaging Girlhood reports that TY is adding two new dolls to its line of glam Girlz: one for each of the young Obama girls. And rather than portray the pair for what they are: smart, poised and beautiful little girls with (I imagine) a variety of interests, the company is making their bodies more mature and accessorizing them with butterflies and hearts.

WELCOME MALIA AND SASHA to the world of teens. TY has made two dolls, Sasha and Malia, to match their other dolls. They're the same height, look very teen, and even have breasts. What's going on here? Read more...

(See video of the dolls here)

I agree with Packaging Girlhood that making the Obama dolls appear more physically mature than their real-life namesakes is reflective of a societal trend that matures young girls too early, but unhooked from that baggage, I actually find the Malia an Sasha dolls rather benign. The dolls appear older than the real girls, but still youthful. And despite the "girly" imagery in the video on the TY site, a creative little girl can make their Malia or Sasha do whatever she chooses, regardless of typical gender roles. I wasn't that fascinated with dolls as a kid, but when I played with, say, Barbie, I always made her an adventurer. She was always heading to the Grand Canyon or somewhere in her tricked-out RV. Ken rode "shotgun" and read the map.

The existence of the Sasha and Malia dolls, in fact, may be a good thing, viewed through the lens of race. Kiri Davis' re-execution of the infamous "doll test" proved that racial bias and self-esteem is reflected even in the choice of playthings. I am old enough (which is really not so very old) to remember when it was hard to find black dolls (or any dolls "of color"), much less ones designed to celebrate real role models. It is a good thing that my nieces can play with dolls that look like them (and that for the first time we have a First Family in which black children can see themselves). And I am glad to know that, no doubt, children of many races will want to have replicas of the little Obamas in their doll collection. Maybe a doll test done 20 years from now will have different results.

But our kids deserve a range of playthings that are free from all "isms"--those related to gender and race. And it is good that Packaging Girlhood is monitoring the messages that are marketed to growing girls. What pathologies will the next generation of girls be burdened with--the ones who have grown up on Paris Hilton and Bratz dolls? And what impact will this culture of early sexualization have on girls of color, who society already brands as naturally sexually aggressive and promiscuous?

I think the Sasha and Malia Ty Girlz are okay, but a lot of toys marketed at our children are not. We ignore them at our society's peril.


First Lady Michelle Obama agrees with commenter Renee about the commodification of "young, private citizens." And improbably, TY claims the dolls are not meant to represent the first children, but some other random Sasha and Malia. Riiiight. Read more...

Read Jessica Bennett's "The Pornification of a Generation" in Newsweek.

(Hat tip to Jezebel)


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