Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Definitely not the Dream Castle

Barbie's gone homeless.

All right, it's not really Barbie, but rather one of those American Girl dolls that come equipped with a history lesson, a morality lesson, various trimmings and trappings, and a price tag that makes Barbie look like Raggedy Anne. And it's not even one of the main dolls, but a side character from one of the stories that comes with the main doll. But, from what I understand, you can purchase her (and thereby give her a home - though that's a cynical approach and might even be a bit of marketing irony lost on the company, as they don't seem noted for subtlety), and this has apparently caused a bit of an uproar.

Now, before I get to what I really want to discuss, I'm going to say that the uproar over this particular doll strikes me as somewhat silly and misguided. I'm the parent of a little girl, and frankly given all the hundreds if not thousands of images about femininity she is bombarded with on a weekly basis, there seem to me to be lots of other things to get upset about. Body image and unreasonable life expectations are only the start of it. (A Prince? Really? Marrying someone you've only just met is really going to fix your life? Sure, thanks for that lesson Disney.) But no one seems to get much up in arms over those topics.

Let one little doll be homeless, however, and suddenly it's some sort of moral crisis or something, as if we're now exposing our daughters to something we ought to have shielded them from.

Which, again speaking as a parent, is crap. If you ask me, the American public as a whole is far too shielded from the reality of life on the streets, let alone our children. Because as much as it may be a shock to some people, there are plenty of our children who are living on the streets. They, and there parents, have no where else to go. Yet we don't think about them when we think about the homeless.

Take a moment, just a moment, and do a mental exercise with me. If I say "homeless," what do you picture? If it's some bushy-bearded guy in rags - pushing a cart is extra - who mumbles to himself and/or smells of alcohol, chances are you're in good company. It's what a lot of people think. And to be fair, many of our homeless do suffer from mental and addiction issues. But it's not all of them, not by a long shot, and the difference between some of "them" and most of "us" isn't as far off as we might like to think.

In this one regard I will defend Dickens, whom, as I may have mentioned before, I generally loathe. But my lack of esteem for his word-craft aside, the man raised public awareness about the plight of children living on the streets and working in factories and being raised in dismal orphanages in ways very few others managed to do. (And it wasn't just Oliver Twist, either. Read enough Dickens and you will notice the recurring theme. Even in "A Christmas Carol." Pay attention to the little caroler who comes calling on Scrooge early in the opening act.)

We could use another Dickens in this day and age. That Will Smith movie wasn't a bad attempt, but I don't think it went far enough, and it wasn't the point of the story anyway. The sad reality is, especially in these economic times, homelessness is something that entire families have to deal with. Some, probably most, manage to ward it off through various means. I know that if it came down to it, I have family I can turn to. Even friends. But not everyone does. And anything that raises awareness of the issue, even if it wasn't the direct intent, is something that I think is worth talking about.

Not ranting about, mind you, in some misguided argument over the "appropriateness" of a doll, but actually discuss. In ways that might someday bring about a change in attitudes, or preferably still, a change in reality.

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