Archive for December 8th, 2008

You probably never thought you’d be reading about girls’ dolls here at Reconciliation Blog, did you? However, the recent court case that sent MGA Entertainment, makers of the notorious Bratz dolls, down in defeat to the toy giant Mattel forces me to go where no RB post has gone before. I’m sure you heard this news last week, right?

In a long-simmering legal battle, the courts finally sided with Mattel, maker of the Queen of All Dolls, Barbie, and ordered MGA to stop producing the Bratz line and  recall all of its product after Christmas. Apparently, the original Bratz designer was employed by Mattel during the period when he came up with the idea for the Bratz dolls. When Mattel rejected it (fearing it would distract from its sacred Barbie line), an ex-Mattel employee took sketches of the concept up the road to the upstart MGA. And the rest is doll diva history. The Bratz line became a multibillion dollar sensation almost overnight.

Now Mattel is in the driver’s seat. Will it vanquish Barbie’s arch foe once and for all, or will the company be gracious to MGA (and its 1,500 employees) and find a way to work with it to keep producing the Bratz line? With billions at stake, I find it hard to think that Mattel will just erase the Bratz altogether.

But is this just a battle between two toy companies or something bigger?

Here’s the angle that draws my attention. The Bratz have long been viewed by parents as a skanky and materialistic alternative to Barbie—sort of a Bizarro version of Mattel’s classy and demure icon. Many parents probably celebrated when they heard the news of the Bratz’s potential demise. There’s one less worldly item to attempt to keep their little girls away from. (As a father of a 9-year-old daughter, I can attest that I was always a little uncomfortable with the Bratz—the same way that I’m uncomfortable with Sponge Bob; there’s just something about them that makes me suspicious.) And clearly, the Bratz’s blatant diva-ness and questionable attire are things any parent should be wary of.

One blogger, known as Noble Mother, did not hide her elation that the Bratz dolls might soon be off the shelves. However, I was most struck by the comments beneath her post, and one in particular by a mother named Suzanne. Here’s what she said:

I don’t particularly like the Bratz dolls, either, but I do allow my daughter to have some, and here’s why: my daughter is mixed (I’m white, her dad is black) and there just aren’t many dolls on the market that she can identify with. In fact, my daughter IS a Bratz doll…she has the doe eyes, the full lips, the big butt and she’s a knockout at 9.

Until the Bratz dolls came on the market, my daughter just wasn’t really interested in dolls of any kind. She and I have lots of conversations about ‘what she is’…and she’s decided she’s not white, she’s not black, she’s brown. She’s often asked why there are never any brown babies in the stores? There are white and there are black, but not brown. And I’m sure she’s not been the only little girl asking this question.

The Bratz dolls, while I have major issues with many other factors about them, have given my daughter a sense of validation of her color. Now, there are dolls on the store shelves that look just like her. She no longer has to decide whether she wants a white doll or a black doll…she can get one that looks just like her.

Very interesting insight, as is Noble Mother’s humble response. Please check it out.

So again, this Bratz vs. Barbie mêlée seems to be about much more than two toy titans clashing to protect their precious market turf. In fact, this whole situation could raise the larger question: Does Barbie represent an increasingly outdated notion of what “normal” mainstream culture looks like, while the Bratz signify a more multiethnic (or urban) aesthetic that is underrepresented among children’s dolls today? Even millionaire celeb Angelina Jolie, who adopted an African daughter, spoke up on this recently.

So, as much as it pains me to ask this, do we need the Bratz dolls? What do you think?





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