Beyond the Values of the Dolls
The Cabbage Patch dolls drooled all over the ballots and ate the hanging chads, the Bratz have criminal records and are ineligible to vote, but the American Girl dolls are taking the upcoming presidential elections ultra-seriously. After all, just because someone is 18 inches tall and has a head made of vinyl doesn't mean she's given up her right to the franchise. When your very name is "American Girl," doesn't that guarantee your right to be as excited about the primaries as the next inanimate object?
These dolls may all have exactly the same face, but their political opinions are all over the map. Their views are as varied as their extensive backstories, all of which are provided in excruciating detail by the American Girl company, backed up by a merchandise line that includes books, movies, and accessories ranging from weaving looms to school lockers, velvet theater seats to desktop computers, wooden sleds to canopy beds.
Though the company declines to reveal which doll is leaning toward which candidate, pollsters deep inside the flagship store on Fifth Avenue have leaked this information to the Voice, and, as with all campaigns, there are some surprises.
For instance, according to americangirl.com, the doll named Julie Albright is "a fun-loving San Francisco girl who faces big changes." Julie, who grew up in Sodom-by-the-Sea in the '70s, is shown wearing bell-bottoms, a peasant blouse, and a macramé skullcap. So who is she voting for? After spending her childhood under a cloud of marijuana smoke and being forced to sit through interminable underground films, eat tofu, and chant "om" in an orgone box, Julie has become a born-again Christian, throwing away her belief in evolution along with her mood ring, and is now busy picketing abortion clinics with Mike Huckabee.
Addy Walker, the doll with by far the most harrowing history, is facing her own endorsement dilemma. According to the AG website, Addy's family, enslaved on a plantation in 1864, endures horrible hardships: "Addy's family must run away if they hope to be free. When Poppa and her brother, Sam, are sold away, Addy and her mother make the wrenching decision to escape to Philadelphiato freedomon their own. But that means leaving Addy's baby sister behindher cries could cost them their lives." You might assume that with these tribulations, Addy is a solid Obama fan, but Addy, an early supporter of tough-through-her tears Senator Clinton, now wonders whether she should switch to Barack or stick with the Hill.
Which is not to say that no dolls are solidly for Barack. (In fact, all the American Girlswho have a surprisingly trashy side their website doesn't begin to acknowledgegot a little thrill when Obama acknowledged that in his early years: "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it." The AGs, too, have been known to indulge in a bit of recreational drug use, to dull the long hours spent languishing on toy-store shelves.)
Felicity Merriman, who is described as "a girl who's as spirited and independent as the American colonies she lives in [and who] believes the colonies should be free, not ruled by a king who lives far away," is a fervent Obama supporter, though "her grandfather and her best friend, Elizabeth, support the king's rule." Grandpa and Liz, with their weakness for royalty and other guys who are full of themselves for no apparent reason, are rooting for Rudolph Giuliani.
And then there is Kirsten Larson, who "must leave all she's ever known to come with her family to the New World. They settle on the Minnesota frontier, where people don't speak her language or understand her traditions. Yet in time, Kirsten discovers the richness of her new landand the true meaning of home." What the website doesn't tell you is that the adults in Kirsten's family become founding members of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, a left-wing institution that fought for the rights of farmers and labor unions in the early 20th century. Kirsten has inherited this progressive bent and has jumped aboard a UFO with Dennis Kucinich.
So many dolls, so many primaries! Mia St. Clairthe company's "Girl of the Year 2008" and a figure skater who purportedly "loves skating . . . but with three hockey-obsessed older brothers, she usually has to enjoy the kind that requires a puck"is twirling on a frozen pond in Utah, and she's that rare thing, a groovy Romney voter. (In this enthusiasm she is joined by the stalwart Barbie, who thinks the candidate looks exactly like Ken.) Josefina Montoya, worrying about learning to read and starting a weaving business in New Mexico circa 1824, is planning to write in the name of state-mate Bill Richardson; Molly McIntire, saving scrap metal during World War II, says she's thrilled that Mac is back; Kit Kittredge, struggling in the depths of the Great Depression, is a sucker for the militant health-insurance rap falling from the pretty lips of John Edwards. (In case any of the dolls are under the weather, American Girl offers a miniature wheelchair for $30 and a pair of tiny crutches for $20.)
But it is Samantha Parkingtonan orphan being raised by her wealthy grandmother in 1904 who is "excited by the new ideas and inventions that are changing everyone's lives"and her friend the servant Nellie ("while some think wealth matters most, Samantha befriends Nellie, knowing that true friendship is worth even more . . . "), who has perhaps the most intriguing backstory. Here's what the website leaves out: Samantha Parkington was born Sadie Parkowitz, and despite her family's protestations that they are members of the Society for Ethical Culture, she and Granny are crossing their fingers for Bloomberg.
And what of Nellie, the loyal servant girl? As it turns out, Samantha only thinks they're BFFs. When Nellie is holed up in her garret, she's poring over this week's issues of Workers World, The Militant, and Challenge-Desafíoand wondering whether Lenora Fulani is on the ballot.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.