the July/August 1999 issue of The Horn Book Magazine
Dolls at a Distance
this issue of the Horn Book largely concerns itself with
award-winners, I have to confess that my own reading sights have
been slightly lowered. Specifically, onto the American Girl™
1999 summer catalog.
Back from a conference where we were pondering
children’s access to pornography on the Internet, I thought
this catalog would be the appropriate ameliorative. Unprotected
by a password and unmolested by the Net Nanny, it is wholesome and
shiny — but truth be told, it gave me the creeps of a kind
not all that far removed from those I got when the pedophile-chasing
policeman (also at the aforementioned conference) downloaded peeka-boo
visual aids from sinister websites.
I’m not saying that the American Girl catalog
is pornography. Not exactly. Still, its glossy color photos, attention
to the minutest detail, even the way you have to turn the catalog
sideways to view “life-sized” spreads of Felicity, Josefina,
Kirsten, Addy, Samantha, and Molly (fully-clothed but nevertheless
come-hithering) give it an allure that will be familiar to anyone
who has ever hidden a magazine under a mattress.
But what the catalog has most in common with the
rankest sort of pornography is that it leaves nothing to the imagination.
With the clothes, the shoes, the pendants, the chairs and beds and
quilts and candlesticks, the toys and school supplies . . .
the fantasy is luxurious, pre-made, and all-encompassing; the fact
that Molly’s letters home from camp are pre-written is just
too sad to contemplate. These Girls don’t need girls —
the catalog even offers “doll stands” so you can “steady
her while you play.” If you don’t even need to hold
the doll, are you playing or watching? The question is largely academic:
at eighty bucks a Girl, hundreds more for her “accessories”
(eighteen dollars alone for “Nightime Necessities”),
the prices put all but the catalog out of reach for most American
girls, who must (and do, apparently) content themselves with the
fantasy at third hand. Like voyeuring on the web, the thrill is
only in the looking.