Meet Gwen Thompson, the newest American Girl doll by Mattel. She’s homeless. Her back story contains a deadbeat dad, a strained single mom, and a life literally rooted on the streets. Gwen sleeps in a car, according to the book accompanying the doll. Yet 4-year-olds will be begging their parents to add the blond-haired, brown-eyed doll to their collection. The American Girl website tags her as soft and huggable, in an embroidered lace dress and pink headband - adornments that might be denied to young girls living out of shelters. The toymaker claims that the doll promotes awareness of a real-life social issue. But at $95 apiece? Parents should think twice about spoiling their children with this overpriced doll. A better lesson might be a donation to a charity that helps homeless children, unlike the make-believe Gwen.
This was in the editorial section of yesterday's Boston Globe. And I have to admit, that when I read it, I laughed. Now, I was suffering from occasional bouts of hilarity throughout yesterday anyway, brought about my the information that my ex won the Nobel Prize, which seemed unreal and weird in and of itself. And then, this marvelous piece of comedy above. I thought, This cannot POSSIBLY be real. It is just too..what? Ridiculous? Ironic? Dumb? Yes to all of the above. But the Globe has a notorious no-hilarity policy on the editorial page (actually, aside from Christopher Muther, it is unfunny all around) and thus I decided to check out the American Girl website and then blog on and on about the political incorrectness and all-around yuckiness of this doll. And I found...nothing.
Oh, the doll is there, although you have to really look for her. She is not amongst the Historical Characters dolls, like the newest shtetl darling, Rebecca Rubin. She is not listed with the Just Like You dolls, the dolls you design in your own image, because what child would design a $95 doll to be HOMELESS, just like they are? So aside from the Bitty Baby and Bitty Twins, and Chrissa, Girl of the Year, Gwen was AWOL. So I searched her name. It turns out that Gwen is a friend of The Girl of the Year, and is connected that way. When you click on Gwen, whittling down from the Chrissa Starter Collection ($178) to the Chrissa and Gwen Friend Collection ($175) and finally to the Gwen Doll and Paperback ($75 with optional hairbrush for an additional $7), there is nothing but a description of the swag you get when you buy this doll. Nowhere on the American Girl site is ANY information, at least that I could find, describing the deadbeat dad and the homelessness. The only reference is in the reviews, where mothers who have purchased these overpriced Children of the Corn try to justify themselves and dismiss the "controversy".
Not for nothing, people, but these dolls are ugly. I was a doll girl (yes, it is true, non-believers) and this is NOT a doll I would look at as a cuddly, lovey thing who would bear the brunt of my childhood anger with a glassy-eyed smile. THIS is a Doll bought by doting grandparents, that sits on a stand, a Doll that gets a new outfit, book or pet llama (as is the case with Chrissa) every Christmas. So I don't understand the cult of The American Girl Doll anyway, just on looks alone. It is a monstrous business, with a Bistro where you can dine with your Doll, and a salon where your Doll can get her hair STYLED, she can be PAMPERED and have her EARS PIERCED. But ok, as ridiculous as this is, and it definitely is, people can choose to spend their money anywhere they please. Want to take your doll out for a festive meal? As long as I don't have to be there, it's fine with me.
BUT. Please. This is just TACKY. Paying $95 for a HOMELESS doll? I may fall pretty far to the left on most social issues, and I am all for learning about other cultures and whatnot, but really, this is a marketing opportunity disguised as social awareness. This is the very, very ugly side of political correctness. This pristine and homely doll is going to teach privileged suburban children about homelessness? Really? REALLY??
You know what, American Girl? If you want to use this terrible and very real problem as a way to line your coffers, donate a large portion of the profits to an actual homeless shelter. Where ACTUAL homeless children live. But don't hide it. Put Gwen's homeless story, loser dad and living in the car prominently on your site. You can't have it both ways. Embrace your incredibly bad taste and do something about it.