165: I'm a Barbie Girl, in a BarbieGirls World

I'm a Barbie Girl, in a BarbieGirls World

"Despite the fact that sales of Barbie dolls have steadily declined for nearly a decade (with some analysts estimating a 27 percent drop between 2001 and 2004 alone), Barbie recently ranked first on the NPD Group's list of top-selling toy licenses. The doll's reincarnation as a media brand is a big driving force behind her continued longevity. In addition to a highly profitable series of direct-to-DVD animated movies, top-ranking websites and a stable of videogames, Barbie is now at the center of one of the most successful children's virtual worlds to date."

Permalink

Excellent article. Interesting to note that the free-to-play exists, but most of the features are limited to the VIP membership. Also interesting to note the decline in the physical dolls and an increase in the virtual world Barbie.

There are two major themes in this article that scare the daylights out of me, and yet are terribly common in children's media: the presentation of the "correct" lifestyle and extreme censorship in the name of "safety".

Firstly, the "ideal" life of a woman. While it isn't surprising that a company who makes money off of consumers would be trying to encourage young people that buying stuff is good (especially unnecessary, overpriced stuff, like designer clothing and excessive makeup), it's certainly self-serving, and some might (rightly) say, brainwashing. But what's more concerning is that they continue to represent this male-centric view that women are supposed to be pretty and sweet and cook, clean, and shop. Is this really typical of women anymore? Is this anymore true of women than of men? These certainly aren't the kinds of messages that I would want to be inundating my children with.

Of course, there's also censorship -- a necessary evil that is often far more evil than necessary. While I can appreciate that children are naive and vulnerable and there are always predators out there looking to abuse them, I truly question the systems used to protect children from this. As shown in this article, no system of censorship is ever sufficient to block unwanted speech -- children are notorious for coming up with their own language (slang, nicknames, even hand-signals) to say what they aren't allowed to say. The fact is, even young children (and keep in mind, 12 is neither too old for Barbies nor too young to be interested in sex) are going to want to talk about things that adults aren't comfortable with.

Consider for a moment what you (or your sister) did with her Barbies. I've seen many young girls playing with Barbies and dates, kissing, and sometimes all-out sex were involved. Girls use these dolls to roleplay as adults and that is bound to include some adult themes.

Not only does censorship fail to prevent the bad, it takes a lot of the good with it. For a game that involves dressing virtual dolls, not being able to say "pants" seems awfuly limiting. And excluding negatives like "don't"? That takes Orwell literally; when there are no words to express negativity, it will cease to exist. As expected, our children often have negative thoughts and the desire to express them, and so they inevitably find a way to do so -- one that hasn't been castrated by the censors.

The inclusion (or more specifically, the exclusion) of some brands is an even more telling scenario. This obviously isn't being done in the best interest of the children, but of the company. Is this really good for the children? Is this encouragable, let alone acceptable?

All in all, BarbieGirls is obviously a self-serving venture for Mattel and the rest of the franchise. They are teaching girls that being nice, pretty, and domesticated is a good thing, while limiting their ability to use the system for what girls always do with Barbies -- roleplaying the lives of adults. All the while, they silently try to eliminate the bad in the world while enforcing the strength of their brand through advertising and censorship of the competition. If this is the world our children are roleplaying, I fear for our future.

First, as to the censorship. Kids will always find a way to circumnavagate the system. The pre approved messages that don't allow for typing in custom chats is the only way to keep kids from saying exactly what they want.
Next, why even point out that Mattel is pushing thir brand so hard or that they have a preconcieved notion of what girls like that you feel isn't correct? Of course they are pushing their brand. It's a barbie site. As to how they push the pink and 'girly' out there.. It's working, isn't it?
If parents don't like what it represents, they should keep their kids from it. If they are afraid that the kids are talking about stuff they shouldn't or seeing others talk about it, then they should stop them from visiting the site.
There are a whole lot of sites out there that I don't want my kid to visit. I just don't let her. Also, I try to watch as she goes to a site to see what is involved, what's going on, and what she is doing. Parents that don't get what's coming when they have to later explain what a dirty sanchez is to their 8 year old.

And I thought Barbie was creepy before I read this article.

(shudder)

Barbie culture has always been Nazism in pink. Barbie MMO seems like the natural extension of things, so it doesn't shock me at all. Then again, "pants" is one of my favorite swears, so "DOWN WITH CENSORSHIP!"

According to Mattel's press releases, the site attracts 45,000 new members every day, 85 percent of which are 8- to 15-year-old girls.

This leaves the disturbing question of who the hell the other 15% are.

The only clues that BarbieGirls gives players about what they can and cannot say appear in the game's rules. These include the warning that "anything naughty or unkind will be blocked" and that players must always be "super nice." Apparently, this means not expressing anything negative, as the system excludes terms like "don't," "dislike" and "do not like."

Wow. 1984, anyone?

There are so many things wrong with BarbieGirls - the way it promotes materialistic values, the way it forces this perception of what girls should like and do, the censorship - it's crazy that so many girls are being subjected to it.

The crazier thing is that most of them are probably playing it by choice, which means that Mattel's message has sunk in and become accepted, which is the last thing anyone wants. Well, except companies like Mattel.

zoozilla:

The only clues that BarbieGirls gives players about what they can and cannot say appear in the game's rules. These include the warning that "anything naughty or unkind will be blocked" and that players must always be "super nice." Apparently, this means not expressing anything negative, as the system excludes terms like "don't," "dislike" and "do not like."

Wow. 1984, anyone?

I think its so appropriate that you mention 1984. I understand that Mattel needs to control what goes on in their virtual environment. the issue, however, is that you are essentially not only controlling what they say, you are controlling how they say it. they have control of language itself. historically, those who controlled the language and told the stories contolled the culture. Do we really want a private corporation controlling the culture of our children?

One of the things I never really bought in 1984 was the idea that people simply wouldn't imagine things they didn't have words for. If there's no word for something, people ask "What's the word for when you _______?" and make stuff up. Or they think of other ways to handwave the ideas they can't verbalize.

It's quite encouraging to hear that prepubescent girls are finding ways to say what they want to say despite the restrictions on their language in Barbie World. If the barbie girls can do it, Winston Smith could totally have done it.

Good to see this getting some coverage. BarbieGirls had 3 million subscribers in its first two months and reached that threshold about twice as fast as WoW did. The kid-focused virtual worlds are a major, major player in the game market and frequently dismissed or overlooked.

I think the article and the comments undercut Barbie a bit, though, in terms of restrictiveness of style, or maybe this is just a recent development in the Barbie line. There's currently a Barbie on the market that looks remarkably like a street-walker -- fishnet stockings and all. I saw it in a grocery store a couple of weeks ago and was disturbed, especially when a cute little girl ran up with her mother and immediately gravitated toward it. Suspect they're doing it to compete with the Bratz "bad girl" image -- Mattel also recently sued (I think successfully) Bratz over the Bratz core IP having been developed by a guy who was working for Mattel at the time he created it. They are definitely significantly threatened by the Bratz success and are competing directly against it, even if the main website remains predominantly pink and princessy. If you look at the collector websites, Barbie has appeared in a kaleidoscope of different roles and appearances ( http://www.barbiecollector.com/ ). The surface image is just that -- a PR front.

It's important also not to underestimate the kids in this, also. They're both remarkably malleable and remarkably savvy when it comes to dealing with restrictive play types or expression modes. It's absolutely good to be aware of what we are telegraphing to kids through game functionality and our world physics, but it's equally important to be aware that kids are extremely sharp and also don't engage in or see the world the same way we do. We can be appalled by the "messages" in Barbie or Britney Spears, but the kids are, of course, not at all experiencing the same things that our adult minds are, and this often means the media are not nearly as damaging as we tend to assume. It's important to approach these things from a responsive standpoint asking the kids themselves what THEY are experiencing and feeling, and what draws them to these media -- Gerard Jones talks about this in _Killing Monsters_, and his section on girls especially was to me the most moving part of that very powerful book. Particularly with dolls, girls engage with their toys in a very wide array of behaviors that are very telling as to what's going on with them developmentally and emotionally.

The TOS you guys are quoting above is kind of amusing. My bet is some web writer wanted to get cute and just translated a usual TOS (which is actually pretty much the same -- play nice, kids) into girly-speak. Those kinds of docs are riffed off at the last minute generally when someone says "hey, we need a TOS". But the way that one is phrased reminds me distinctly of _Mean Girls_ -- a terrific movie prior to the fall of Lindsay Lohan. _Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls_ by Rachel Simmons is a similarly terrific book (the movie has a little homage to it at the end in the name of one of the schools) discussing girl-mode violence and conflict, how the repression of natural conflict resolution through low-grade strife (eg young boys fighting) creates much more dramatic but much stealthier manipulation and emotional violence in older girls. You're supposed to be "super nice" but then stab the other girl in the back socially as soon as you can.

PANTS to you!

Seriously though, I think maybe people are reading too much into this story. It's interesting, yes, but I don't think anyone is trying to manipulate the girls beyond the typical marketing brand "brainwashing". The super-strict safety measures are more than likely an appeal to parents who hear horror stories about MySpace and pedo-predators and want to keep strong control on what their young daughters do on the internet. From a corporate perspective, it's usually to err on the side of being too restrictive than to open yourself up to a potential scandal.

I do find some of it quite humorous though.

This reminds of that MTV show "Super Sweet 16"(I think that's what it's called). I watched one, and only one, episode where this super rich 16 year old got a car so expensive most adults couldn't afford it for her birthday and, brace yourself, threw a tantrum and cursed out her mom because it was the WRONG COLOR! Of course the mom brought it back, lost money in the trade and bought another one in the right color. This is why the world hates us Americans.

But what's more concerning is that they continue to represent this male-centric view that women are supposed to be pretty and sweet and cook, clean, and shop. Is this really typical of women anymore?

I say: No, it isn't male-centric at all.
Women/girls don't dress up to impress YOU (the male), but they do it in order to top the other woman, who might have taller heels, bigger breast (implants), better make-up, more expensive fashionable clothing, et cetera.
And where do they get that whole idea of the perfect™ look from? Definitely _not_ men, but other women like actresses or celebrities, who can be seen on TV or magazine covers. They also fish for (male) compliments (everyone likes them), but in the end all that counts is having topped the other "stupid bitch".

If you can't understand that, look @ the somewhat equivalent male behaviour.
Our (computer) hardware and automobile fetish. Do we drive the bigger sportscar to impress women? No, that's just a side effect or do you think they really care once you start foaming about horsepower, technics and tuning? This "arms race" is there to beat the "competition". Nothing else.

You can easily check that: Have you ever noticed men bitching behind a woman's back about how the colour of her lipstick makes an aaawful companion to her eyeshadow? I haven't. It's one thing, that will never happen, evar! And how could men possibly talk about things, they didn't even notice?

___
Funny thing though. I felt like testing (and breaking it) on purpose. So I created an account: AnarchoBarbie. I couldn't spell out my name ("lesbian" didn't go either - and I soooo much wanted to roleplay a lesbian in Barbieland...). But what's even more embarrassing is the fact that I couldn't even use the word "feel"... (wth!)
This isn't 1984. The new dictatorship comes in pink and smells all like Chanel. It's so lovely on the outside that you can understand why the world gets allergic if they have to think of America...

@Ranmarru: Yes, I have seen that one on youtube and it made me somewhat.. aggressive? I mean, violence against children is wrong. But parents with less will-power than their children deserve a good old-fashioned beating; just like the brats they produce by their incompetence.

Ronmarru:
This reminds of that MTV show "Super Sweet 16"(I think that's what it's called). I watched one, and only one, episode where this super rich 16 year old got a car so expensive most adults couldn't afford it for her birthday and, brace yourself, threw a tantrum and cursed out her mom because it was the WRONG COLOR! Of course the mom brought it back, lost money in the trade and bought another one in the right color. This is why the world hates us Americans.

This has nothing to do with being American, 99% of Americans aren't like this. If this is why the entire world supposedly hates Americans (which they don't), then they're greatly mistaken.

Albeit, polarizing and stereotyping is fun.

Even if statistics could prove that 90% of the children don't have that kind of filthy rich parents, I still guess the "spoiled brat" is some kind of role model, to whom lots of girls look up to/try to imitate.

An excellent article that raises some interesting questions. Especially the latter half.

Excellent article, which covered some sad, hilarious stuff...

I was just going to post a response which consisted of "Bobba for furni?"

Then I decided it would be better if I actually found a link.

What you really need is a foolproof way to identify someone's age, and restrict your site based on it. As long as it is other 12 year old's corrupting your kids online, how different is that from what happens at school?

The inevitable response from the locals, which I see signs of above me, is that parents should wo/man-up, and do their jobs. But in these contexts, really? Is that feasible?

[quote=SamLowry post=6.70334.705221I say: No, it isn't male-centric at all.
Women/girls don't dress up to impress YOU (the male), but they do it in order to top the other woman, who might have taller heels, bigger breast (implants), better make-up, more expensive fashionable clothing, et cetera.
And where do they get that whole idea of the perfect™ look from? Definitely _not_ men, but other women like actresses or celebrities, who can be seen on TV or magazine covers. They also fish for (male) compliments (everyone likes them), but in the end all that counts is having topped the other "stupid bitch".[/quote]

I've been roaming around here for a while and thankyou SamLowry for making a point I sorta have to comment on.

I personally can't stand the way Barbie looks now... and the fact that I didn't realize that toys like Bratz was selling just as well, if not better, than Barbie disturbs me because it makes me feel old XD I think Matell needs to stop trying to be like Bratz and go back to dressing Barbie like a princess and/or dressed in clothes that my grandmother would have worn.

I find it amusing that in that community so many found a quick and easy way to get around the 'all girls' thing and am slightly offended that the word 'lesbian' can not be used >.>

yes the 1984 references seem very apparent in the whole scenario and to answer the previous thought why the population didn't come up with inventive ways to express themselves; well, there are ppl watchign you all the time, anyone who wants to think outside of society norms and tries this will dissappear and quickly... hard to establish something if not enough ppl manage to get it rolling.

Now to mention the actual quote XD well we do dress up for men sometimes... but you're not likely to really notice the intricacies of what we do, just that we look nice. The average woman has 20 pairs of shoes, but noticing them in an outfit... in my experience most guys don't notice unless I've been complimented by another girl. Not being sexist, it's my own experience.

Anyways, girls dress a certain way to 'fit in' we thrive on social groups. Being a 'loner' and 'excluded' is the worst for a girl and the way we dress has a big effect on that... in school the girls who don't dress alike get made fun of and excluded, this is how we bully each other. I'm going to speak generally here, but when boys have a problem with someone, they get physical and fight it out, when girls have the same problem, they spread rumors and isolate the offender.

As we get older, fashions get more expensive, suddenly if you aren't wearing a designer purse or 'an obvious fake' you get excluded... not to say that all girls are like this... some grow out of it (realize they have more fun in the geek corner playing DND lol)

@flyingwind

I personally can't stand the way Barbie looks now... and the fact that I didn't realize that toys like Bratz was selling just as well, if not better, than Barbie disturbs me because it makes me feel old XD I think Matell needs to stop trying to be like Bratz and go back to dressing Barbie like a princess and/or dressed in clothes that my grandmother would have worn.

The more I think about this dressing- and making-up, the more I come to think of it as an unjustified and quite threatening arms race - except you don't count the number of nuclear warheads each side spends millions on stockpiling, but on cremes and colours and dresses you paint your body with.
[Like the Beach Boys: "I like the colourful clothes you wear... *sings*]
But as you said... could we imagine a man saying things like: "Ooohh, darling! Your eyeliner is completely out of style. If you are looking as awful as this, I can't risk leaving the house with you..."
Nope, won't happen. He wouldn't even notice or care.
Women on the other hand do. Like hellhounds sniffing blood. Except they search for your Siegfried spot in your facade, where you can be hurt...

Well, I've just seen the (Michael Moore like documentary style with personal comment) film "Bigger, stronger, faster". It's about steroid use in the American society.
There was this very interesting scene I'd like to share with you:

At 1 point in the film the maker visits a psychoanalyst who digs out some "G.I. Joe" dolls of differing production years. I mean... here we have the perfect male equivalent to the Barbie doll... this is as close as it gets. I raised my eye-brows. First, he took out the oldest GI Joe doll, which had a "standard" body: i.e. not fat, not thin, not muscular, not a skeleton - like the name says: your average Joe. But then he gets out the GI Joes of the 90ies and subsequent years and you immediately notice how they "grow" taller and more muscular each time. Up to the point where they possess fantasy muscles you won't find in any-body's human anatomy, and of course a well-defined sixpack and biceps' like overblown balloons...
The last one looked very much like one of those Conan-the-Bavarian-Meat-and-Muscles-Tanks you play in Gears of War...

I mean... it's just ridiculous...
Which kind of muscles (you can train them to 2 different kinds: a) strong and powerful, short duration or b) not so strong, but very long duration - think of a weightlifter/Schwarzenegger (a) vs. a long-distance runner/martial arts guy (b). Ever seen a long-distance runner, who looked like Arnold? Nope, because the way he trains his muscles he will never look like that.
Then again, which one would I pick in a firefight with modern (science-fiction) weapons which might actually have no recoil whatsoever? Which means that physical strength plays NO ROLE AT ALL...
The big, tall, giant-size, shoot-anywhere-you-will-hit-me bodybuilder
or the small, quick, skilled marksman, who does not give you much of a target and has a steady hand and a good aiming.

Even if this was based on a science fiction computer game like Gears of War: Not so hard, is it?

In reality, in Africa, kids kill. And they do it just as efficiently as grown-up males.
Welcome to the 21th century. It's all about the evolution of tools.
A sword takes physical strength. An AK-47 takes pressing a finger.
Heck, even Barbie could do that...

It is really odd to me that so many people jumped on Barbie's case about presenting unrealistic expectations for young girls, and the next thing to catch on was Bratz. WTF parents?

Novan Leon:

Ronmarru:
This reminds of that MTV show "Super Sweet 16"(I think that's what it's called). I watched one, and only one, episode where this super rich 16 year old got a car so expensive most adults couldn't afford it for her birthday and, brace yourself, threw a tantrum and cursed out her mom because it was the WRONG COLOR! Of course the mom brought it back, lost money in the trade and bought another one in the right color. This is why the world hates us Americans.

This has nothing to do with being American, 99% of Americans aren't like this. If this is why the entire world supposedly hates Americans (which they don't), then they're greatly mistaken.

Hay that program gets shown here in the uk it makes me sick.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here