You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘1950’s’ tag.

While there are so many exhibits to check out over four floors in a variety of subject matter and a variety of 2D and 3D media, there is much more to Artomatic than just visual exhibits. There are all kinds of events—ranging from educational workshops to live performances—that are also held as well. On Friday, November 13 I decided to check out my first event called DC Drink and Draw. The premise of that event is self-explanatory: People bring their art supplies to draw whatever they want while drinking a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages from the nearby bar. Here are a few photos of what it’s like.

The DC Drink and Draw Event at Artomatic
The DC Drink and Draw Event at Artomatic

The DC Drink and Draw Event at Artomatic
The DC Drink and Draw Event at Artomatic

The DC Drink and Draw Event at Artomatic

The next photo shows one of my own drawings as a work in progress.

The DC Drink and Draw Event at Artomatic

Here is what it looked like when I finished it and scanned it into the computer using a scanner.

Poodle Wearing a Human Skirt

I did a 1950’s style illustration where I had a female poodle wear a human skirt (in a parody of the 1950’s poodle skirt fashion). I did one other drawing that evening but it’s way more serious.

Babar the Elephant Crying

This event took place on the same day as those horrible terrorist attacks that took place in France by members of the group known alternatively as ISIS or ISIL. Babar the elephant was created in France and I used to love reading his stories when I was a child. I felt that it made sense to have Babar crying over the newspaper headline regarding Paris.

As of this writing it looks like it’s the only DC Drink and Draw event that was scheduled at Artomatic but anything can change. Check the Events schedule for any word about whether this event will be repeated as well as any other events that will be happening at Artomatic. You can also keep up-to-date on any future DC Drink and Draw events through Meetup, Facebook, or Twitter.

Advertisements

Last Wednesday I posted a couple of photos I took while I was in Bethesda. I was there for business reasons and I had to arrive there at the crack of dawn. I was a bit frazzled when everything was over by 11 a.m. for the day. (I can’t really go into details here about the reason why I was frazzled or how I got so frazzled in the first place.) Once everything was over I realized that the area of Bethesda I was at was near the borders with both Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. I remembered that, for a while, I had been wanting to make a return trip to the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia in order to check out that new historical 1950’s BeForever doll, Maryellen, in person. I was within close driving distance of that mall plus it was a Tuesday afternoon, which meant that the kids would be in school so I could just look at dolls in peace without encountering hordes of running, screaming kids (like on the weekends).

So I drove to the mall (which was about a 15-20 minute commute from where I was). When I arrived the first thing I did was to eat lunch at Wasabi. (That’s the sushi place where everything is delivered on a conveyor belt. The food is very excellent so the delivery gimmick is icing on the cake.) Then I did a leisurely walking around the mall. I went to the outside area of the mall where I would’ve entered had I opted to use the Metro instead of the car to get there. I saw that there were a few nice touches that weren’t there the last time I was there back in April. There was the table tennis table where I saw a couple of guys play a furious game of ping pong.

photo1

They also had giant checkerboards where one can play giant sized versions of either checkers or chess.

photo2

One of those large chess pieces is almost as big as my foot.

photo3

I was browsing some of the stores inside the mall. It seemed like this trip became a nostalgia trip for me because of what I saw that evoked past memories for me. I found this stuffed Gizmo from the 1980’s movie Gremlins. I can remember when I saw that movie when it was first released in the theaters a long time ago. I was surprised to see a new toy based on that movie.

photo4

Here’s an overhead shot of an olive oil and vinegar bar where one can purchase olive oil and vinegar in a variety of different flavors. They also tend to be more expensive than the olive oil and vinegar that one finds in a regular supermarket. I’ve seen these types of stores in various upscale shopping areas around the Washington, DC area so I wasn’t really that surprised to see one at Tyson’s Corner. To be honest, I’m happy with buying vinegar and olive oil from the supermarket instead of one of these specialty stores.

photo5

Everywhere I walked around the mall, I saw all kinds of Star Wars stuff on sale ranging from kids toys to sexy bustiers for adults. It’s like the stores are gearing for that new Star Wars movie that’s coming out by the end of this year. (It’s going to be the first Star Wars movie since Disney bought the rights to it from George Lucas a few years ago.) The next few photos show just a few of the many Star Wars stuff I saw on sale at that mall.

photo6

photo7

photo8

photo9

photo10

photo11

photo12

photo13

I eventually made it to the American Girl Place. Sure enough, the signs all over the store remind shoppers that, yes, there is a historical 1950’s BeForever doll named Maryellen and, yes, she now exists in real life.

photo14

photo15

And here she is, Maryellen Larkin, in her default 1950’s style outfit.

photo16

photo17

And here is the smaller mini doll version of Maryellen, which costs $25 (versus $115 for the 18-inch version).

photo18

Even though I previously wrote about my trepidations regarding American Girl coming out with a 1950’s doll (mainly because I was inundated with all kinds of 1950’s nostalgia when I was growing up in the 1970’s), I have to admit that I like her strawberry blonde hair and her default outfit is cute as well. The color scheme reminds me of Spoonflower.com’s Coral, Mint, Black, and White contest that I entered in earlier this year. Overall I think she’s pretty cute and she definitely looks striking in person.

Maryellen represents the 1950’s era that both my mother and my late father grew up in. In fact, before I made this recent trek to the American Girl Place, I received the latest American Girl catalogue in the mail that features Maryellen prominently. I’m currently saving it for the next time I visit my mother in person because I think she’d get a kick out of seeing all of the 1950’s clothes and other items from her era rendered in doll form. I’m not sure if she would want the doll herself but I think she’d still get a kick out of seeing the catalogue nonetheless.

There are also other 1950’s outfits available for Maryellen and they are all adorable (even if the cheapest outfit I found costs $32).

photo19

photo20

photo21

photo22

There are also outfits for young girls that are modern takes on Maryellen’s wardrobe (so as to avoid the historical costume look that’s more appropriate for Halloween or cosplaying at a geek convention). The next photo is based on Maryellen’s default outfit and I think it’s a very cute and chic update on Maryellen’s 1950’s aesthetic.

photo23

This black outfit with the pink poodle appliqué (based on Maryellen’s poodle skirt ensemble that’s sold separately) is less successful in my mind. It looks more like a costume than something that a modern girl would wear to school or to a friend’s house on the weekend. In fact, it reminds me more of the kinderwhore look that the 1990’s riot grrls used to wear onstage, such as Babes in Toyland and Courtney Love (back when she was the lead singer of Hole before her personal problems overwhelmed her performing career).

photo24

In recent years it seems like American Girl has gotten into launching big ticket items for certain dolls that cost a lot of money. There was Samantha’s Ice Cream Parlor and Gazebo. There was the current 2015 Girl of the Year Grace’s French Bakery, which costs a whopping $500. Now there’s Maryellen’s Seaside Diner.

photo25

The store had one of the Seaside Diners out in the middle of the floor where one can look at it in detail. The diner is slightly smaller than Grace’s French Bakery (although it would still take up a tremendous amount of space in a small home) and, at a retail price of $275, it’s cheaper than that bakery as well. (Although frugal parents would have a very hard time justifying paying $275 for a child’s doll no matter how cute and realistic looking it is.) I have to admit that American Girl did a pretty credible job with designing a realistic circa-1950’s diner with the impeccable attention to detail (such as the formica countertop). I’ve heard that Maryellen’s story takes place in Florida (I haven’t read any of her books as of this writing), which would make sense given the name of the diner. In addition, I went to a couple of cafes and restaurants when I last went to Melbourne (located in Florida’s Space Coast region) back in 2011 and Maryellen’s diner looked way similar to my memories of eating in those real-life places. (Many of them even played 1950’s oldies music. It was probably because many of the retirees now living in Florida came of age in the 1950’s and these businesses were catering to them by playing the music from their youth.)

photo26

photo27

photo28

photo29

photo30

photo31

photo32

photo33

photo34

photo35

photo36

Even though the jukebox was shown with the Seaside Diner, it’s really sold separately. It costs $90 and it can not only play a selection of six tunes that evoke the 1950’s but one can also use it as an external speaker for a computer laptop, tablet, iPod, or any other kind of modern electronic mobile device. I grew up with these types of jukeboxes in the 1970’s (many of the local cheap restaurants, cafes, and diners had them) and I still encounter them from time to time (although there aren’t as many of them as when I was growing up). I have to admit that the American Girl jukebox looks pretty realistic.

photo37

photo38

photo39

There’s even an apron for Maryellen to wear whenever she decides to work behind the counter. (Although, in reality, she would not have been legally allowed to even get a job at her age since the child labor laws were passed decades earlier.)

photo40

There was also a living room set for Maryellen with furniture that is supposed to evoke the 1950’s era that she grew up in.

photo41

Her sofa is actually a sofa bed which opens into a place where Maryellen and one other 18-inch doll can sleep. It’s pretty cute even if it costs $150.

photo42

Then there’s Maryellen’s $85 television console. American Girl did a pretty decent job with that one because I still saw similar setups like this in various people’s homes way into the 1970’s. (I grew up in a more working class area where people held on to their stuff a while longer than people with more disposable incomes. The attitude among most of the adults in my neighborhood was that it didn’t matter if something came from the 1950’s as long as it was still working.)

photo43

photo44

Seeing that tiny set of encyclopedias also brought back memories for me even though I wasn’t around in the 1950’s. Basically many families in the 1950’s and 1960’s thought that buying a set of encyclopedias for their children would help them succeed in school. My parents felt that way also because they bought a set soon after I was born. The only problem was that by the time I reached middle school, much of the information in them was out of date so that set became pretty useless for doing research with. For my schoolwork I ended up using the encyclopedias in the school library and the local public library because they were more current and up-to-date. My parents ultimately got rid of the encyclopedias while I was still in high school since I rarely touched them.

photo45

While this next shot shows a still screen featuring Maryellen in black and white (since color television wasn’t available to the masses back in the 1950’s), there is an area in the back of the console where one can place an iPad. The idea is to download an app that’s related to this console online and the person can use that app to create TV shows with. Then the person would slide the app behind the console and the screen would look like the TV is playing that TV show that was created with an app. This option is only available for iPads. (Have an iPod, an iPhone, or a Droid tablet or smartphone? Too bad for you!)

photo46

Then there’s the $58 living room set, which features this funky table and lamp. Even though I grew up in the 1970’s, I visited a lot of homes that still had tables and lamps similar to this set. (Like I wrote earlier, I grew up in a mostly working class area where people were slower to upgrade to the latest and greatest furniture and other types of home decor.)

photo47

This set includes a miniature TV Guide, which brings back a lot of memories for me. My mother used to bring home the latest issue of TV Guide along with the weekly groceries. There were a few articles in the front and back (focusing mainly on the stars of the shows currently on the air) but the middle section was a bunch of TV listings that were organized by day and time so one would know when a particular favorite program was going to air on what day and at what time. In addition, there would be short descriptions of what a certain show is about and what actors or actresses would be involved. That helped a person decide on whether to watch a certain show or pass on it. That miniature TV Guide is an accurate replica of what I would’ve read from the 1970’s until about 10 or 15 years ago when that publication underwent a serious format change. TV Guide started having problems with keeping up with TV listings because of an increase in the number of cable channels while keeping to its small publication size. So it decided to increase the size of its publication, which wasn’t so bad. But, along with that larger publication format, it decided to add more feature articles about current TV stars and devote fewer pages to TV listings, which resulted in a confusing grid listing all the shows for the week that was printed on one or two pages and the rest were feature articles. TV Guide went downhill for me after that. Until I quite my newspaper subscription last year, I used its TV listings instead of buying TV Guide. These days I rely on the Internet for TV listings. Yet I still see TV Guide still on sale at the supermarket checkout line so someone must like that format enough to buy it.

photo48

photo49

That ad for Uncle Walt also brought back memories because one of the local TV stations in Baltimore had a similar weekday kid-friendly host who would introduce the cartoons and other kid-friendly programming. Except the name of the host in my area was known as Captain Chesapeake.

photo50

When I first learned about Maryellen representing the 1950’s, I read the synopsis of the books and I immediately thought of Leave It To Beaver if Beaver had been a girl. But I later learned that Maryellen’s life isn’t some perfect utopia. From what I’ve read online (I haven’t read the books yet), she supposedly had polio when she was much younger, which resulted in one of her legs being weaker than the other. I never had to deal with polio, measles, or certain other childhood illnesses because I was vaccinated on a regular basis as a child. In recent years there have been these anti-vaxxers who are currently going around the country urging people not to vaccinate their children because vaccines cause autism. Even though there have been numerous scientific studies refuting that claim, people are still not vaccinating their kids so there have been a return of diseases in recent years that were previously rare, such as whooping cough.

That living room set also includes a tiny newspaper that includes headlines that would make the anti-vaxxers have a screaming fit if they ever saw them.

photo51

photo52

I have to commend American Girl for standing up to the anti-vaxxers in a very subtle way like this. Especially since, about a year or two ago, I read an article somewhere that made me cringe. Basically there were some parents who, instead of vaccinating their children, decided to group together and have “pox parties” where they would expose their children to someone who currently had chicken pox so they would get the chicken pox at an early age. Yes, I admit that it’s true that children who get the chicken pox at an earlier age tend to have fewer health consequences than getting it as a teen or adult. Yes, it’s true that once you have the chicken pox, you have a lifetime immunity from ever getting again. But, as someone who survived chicken pox in the second grade, I would urge parents to get their kids vaccinated instead. The only reason why I wasn’t vaccinated against chicken pox was because that vaccine wasn’t around when I was young. If such a vaccine had been invented, the pediatrician would’ve given it to me with my parents’ blessing. I still have memories of the chicken pox covering my entire body. I remembered that it went into every single fold of my body plus there was the constant insane itching everywhere. I remember smearing calming lotion everywhere several times a day and I still itched. I would wake up in the middle of the night scratching myself. It was a week of pure hell. Parents, take it from a chicken pox survivor: For the love of God, get that damned chicken pox vaccine and skip the pox parties!!!

photo53

Well, anyway, back to my visit to the American Girl Place. There’s also Maryellen’s Classroom Set along with a very cute school outfit, which are both sold separately.

There is a cursive writing poster that’s way similar to what I saw in school. I’ll admit that I never enjoyed cursive writing and I used to get bad marks for my handwriting. I was forced to write in cursive as late as high school. It wasn’t just English classes who required cursive writing. Even classes like social studies required papers to be turned in written in cursive. When I got to college and I found that the professors there weren’t quite as fanatical about cursive writing, I switched to print instead. These days I only do cursive writing when I have to sign something. I have one of my Facebook friends who lately has made it her mission to advocate that schools emphasize cursive writing more. (Apparently cursive writing isn’t taught quite as intensively since computers have made their way into the curriculums.) She talks about how wonderful it is to learn cursive. Personally I disagree with her because I struggled with it in school. I think just enough cursive writing should be taught so the kid will learn how to sign his or her name when he/she reaches adulthood.

photo54

This Classroom Set includes flashcards, which I definitely remember (even though I wasn’t born in the 1950’s). While the teachers sometimes used them in school, I tended to use them at home in the evenings and weekends to practice things like certain words or multiplication tables. I’m currently involved with my church’s program to teach English to recent immigrants and we use a curriculum that includes flashcards.

photo55

The Classroom Set also includes a map of the United States, which is fascinating to look at because this particular map shows Alaska and Hawaii as U.S. territories. That’s because Maryellen’s story starts in 1954 and Alaska and Hawaii wouldn’t become states for another five years. My parents were both taught in school that the U.S. had 48 states. By the time I started school, I was taught that the U.S. currently has 50 states. So it’s a bit of a generation gap. (LOL!)

photo56

photo57

The Bottom Line: I think Maryellen is cute and some of her accessories remind me of my own childhood because they were still around in the 1970’s. Plus there were my own memories of watching 1950’s nostalgia TV shows like Happy Days and that variety series featuring the band Sha Na Na. Maryellen represents the era that my parents grew up in. But I’m still not going to rush out and buy her because she costs $115 and her accessories are pricey as well. I also have to keep in mind the limited space in my home so I’m not going to buy a larger doll unless I fall head over heels in love with it. Julie still speaks more to me than Maryellen does because she represents my own era of the 1970’s. If my mother falls head over heels in love with the doll after I show her the catalogue, I may buy it for her as a surprise Christmas present. (Or I may just buy the cheaper mini doll version for her instead.) Otherwise, I’ll pass on ever buying that doll.

So the store’s main emphasis was on Maryellen because she’s new. The current Girl of the Year, Grace, had mostly been shunted off to the side—including her $500 bakery. She only has a few more months to go before her reign as Girl of the Year ends and she is permanently retired along with that $500 bakery.

photo58

There are a few new items that were released as part of Grace’s line. There were travel accessories for kids and even a travel-themed stationery set, which all have the Eiffel Tower motif. I thought they were cute.

photo59

photo60

There’s also Grace’s Charm Bracelet and Jewelry Keeper for humans, the latter of which looks like the Eiffel Tower. The bracelet is cute but I wouldn’t pay the $60 retail price for it since I can find similar charm bracelets at Target or Claire’s for way less. (Especially since that bracelet—like everything else that American Girl sells—is made in China very cheaply and the prices are just overinflated because it has that coveted American Girl name attached to it.)

photo61

I came close to buying a special rubber spatula for humans that’s part of Grace’s line (and released as a joint project of American Girl and Williams-Sonoma) because part of the proceeds from the sales were going to the anti-poverty group No Kid Hungry. But then I saw the $12 price tag per spatula and I balked because I can buy two or three rubber spatulas at Target for the price of one. I ended up just taking pictures of the spatula instead.

photo62

photo63

photo64

I focused the bulk of my attention on Maryellen on this trip because she is new. There were furniture and other accessories released as part of the other BeForever doll lines but the only one I took photos of was this vanity set for Julie. I used to see similar funky colorful furniture in other people’s homes when I was growing up.

photo65

This vanity set comes with this funky owl clock. While I never had an owl clock as a child, I had a round funky yellow clock that was a wind-up and it was made in West Germany. (Yes, that was back when the Cold War still raged on and Germany was divided into two countries.)

photo66

I generally tend to ignore the modern girl line (which originally started as My American Girl, then the name was changed to Just Like You, and it has now been just relaunched again under a new name: Truly Me) because each doll costs $115 and the modern accessories and clothes are expensive as well. My attitude is that if I was going to buy a modern 18-inch doll with clothes and accessories, I would rather buy them from Target, Walmart, or Michaels Arts & Crafts for a fraction of what American Girl charges. (Besides all of these companies manufacture these dolls in China.) But I have to admit that the Halloween costumes are pretty cute even if they cost about as much as a Halloween costume for a real child.

photo67

There is a modern living room set that’s similar to what’s in the 1950’s Maryellen line except this set evokes the latest technology that would’ve been unheard of in Maryellen’s era.

photo68

This modern doll and her dog are all settled in on the pink couch as they are about to watch a 3D movie. (Note the 3D glasses.)

photo69

The entertainment console set includes a pretend flatscreen TV set, a pretend DVD player, a few pretend DVDs, and a pretend remote control. The closeup shows the kind of movies that a doll can watch on this entertainment console set.

photo70

Even though the popcorn machine was displayed with the entertainment console, that one is really sold separately. It is cute looking and the popcorn looks realistic. But that popcorn machine looks pretty big for an average home and it looks like it would be more appropriate for a pretend movie theater than a pretend living room.

photo71

I eventually left the mall around 2:30 p.m. because I wasn’t in the mood to endure the Capital Beltway’s notoriously horrendous evening rush hour traffic. I purchased a couple of items from the American Girl Place.  One was call Doll Photo Shoot and it included two books (one on still photography and the other on making videos). It also included two large backdrops that are folded up neatly (so they can be stored easily) that one can use in photography. Those backdrops are worth the purchase alone because I can always use them in future photography projects (and they don’t have to involve dolls either).

photo72

photo73

I also got this book, which is a mystery featuring the former Civil War-era slave Addy as she solves a strange riddle that evokes her slave past. I’ve since read it and I found it much better than any of the Julie mysteries (which I reviewed as part of a series of reviews I did regarding the 1970’s Julie character last summer). Unlike most of the Julie mysteries, where I figured out what the real deal was just two or three chapters into the book, I was kept in suspense all the way until the very end. And the ending evoked the less-than-savory aspects of America’s slave past and lingering racism that still remains unresolved to this very day.

photo74

As a doll enthusiast and a longtime history nerd, the only thing about the American Girl doll line that has always intrigued me was the BeForever historical dolls. (I could care less about the modern dolls, to be honest.) I was already an adult when they first came out but I always thought that it was a totally cool concept when I first read about them in mainstream newspapers like The Washington Post: A doll representing a certain era in American history would be released with clothes and accessories that reflected that era and corresponding books designed to give the young reader an idea of what it was like to be a young girl growing up in that era.

I was apprehensive when American Girl announced the archival of Caroline Abbott, the War of 1812 doll, so she could make way for a new historical doll named Maryellen who would reflect the 1950’s. Okay, I’ll admit that I live in a state (Maryland) which was literally Ground Zero for the War of 1812 (the Battle of Bladensburg and Fort McHenry—the latter of which led to Francis Scott Key penning a poem that later became the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”) so I’m totally biased towards keeping Caroline on the shelves for a while longer (even though I never got around to buying her mainly because her long blonde hair reminded me too much of another American Girl doll that I already own, Julie Albright, and the fact that her War of 1812 story took place in Upstate New York near the Canadian border instead of Maryland).

Another reason why I was apprehensive about the upcoming 1950’s doll is because, as a kid growing up in the 1970’s, I was inundated with 1950’s nostalgia via the hit TV show Happy Days, the hit 1950’s nostalgia group Sha Na Na Na (who received their own TV series at one point), and the hit movie musical Grease. Then there were the re-runs of actual vintage 1950’s sitcoms. While I enjoyed some of them (especially The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy), the bulk of them were ones like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best, which emphasized the so-called idyllic wholesome times of living in the suburbs complete with father working at his job and mother cheerfully working inside the home while wearing her impeccable dress with pearls and high heels. In addition, the local Baltimore Top 40 music station used to have “Greaser Weekends” a few times a year where you’d hear a playlist of nothing but hit songs from the 1950’s from late Friday afternoon until late Sunday night. While that station played a few gems (like Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock”) the vast majority of the vintage Top 40 pop songs that station played during those “Greaser Weekends” were pretty lame and forgettable. All those constant pop culture references painted the 1950’s as some sort of mythical Shangri-La where everyone happily lived in the suburbs and it’s too bad that people like me were born too late to participate in it because they were such an awesome decade so it sucks to be me.

I have a mother who grew up poor in Baltimore during that same era so I knew that the 1950’s weren’t what was described in the mainstream media. (And, yes, my mother is living proof there were poor white people who grew up in the 1950’s.) It wasn’t until high school at the earliest when I began to learn the full story of how the 1950’s weren’t really the Utopia Land of Milk and Honey as Happy Days would lead you to believe.

If you were poor or an African-American, the 1950’s weren’t so lovely because poverty and race greatly reduced the chance that you would ever move to the suburban area of your choice. If you were an unmarried teen girl or woman who unexpectedly got pregnant, you were pressured to either get married or give your baby up for adoption regardless of whether you were really ready for marriage or how fit you really would’ve been as a single parent. Abortion was illegal and there were plenty of women who sought an illegal back-alley abortion only to die or become seriously injured. Birth control was severely limited in much of the country and sex education was nonexistent. If you were an abused spouse or someone whose spouse constantly cheated on you or a person married to an alcoholic, you were expected to put up and shut up because there were no domestic violence shelters and divorce was very difficult and expensive to obtain. If you were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, you pretty much didn’t officially exist because such topics weren’t discussed in “polite” company. Your gender dysphoria or sexual orientation could get you legally fired from your job and a landlord could deny you an apartment. I knew a couple of gay men through my Unitarian Universalist congregation who married women back in the 1950’s and even had children because they tried to hide their true sexual orientation and simply wanted to blend in with the rest of society. (Those marriages ultimately ended in divorce.) It also sucked if you were a woman who had other ambitions besides being a housewife and mother since those were the prescribed roles for women. Even jobs for women outside the home were limited to retail sales clerk, teacher, social worker, nurse, flight attendant, and secretary. (Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with those jobs if one freely chooses one of those occupations. It’s only wrong if people are limited to just those positions because of gender.) Those positions even tended to be limited to single women and once they were married, they were expected to quit to become full-time housewives while waiting for that first pregnancy. And that’s not to mention people who would’ve preferred to be lifelong bachelors and/or to be childless but got married and had families anyway because it was expected of them by society.

And that’s not to mention that there are a lot of people out there who want to go back to the way everything was in the 1950’s complete with a return to the features of that era that discriminated against those who weren’t born middle-class white straight males. Just a few months ago a white elementary school teacher in Texas posted on her Facebook page her wish that segregation would return to the U.S. just like in the 1950’s. She ultimately lost her job due to that post but, sadly, there are a lot of other Americans with her mindset.

I think all of the pop culture references of the 1950’s as being this perfect nirvana was a disservice because it totally glossed over some less savory aspects of that era, like Senator Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare, which ruined the reputations of scores of innocent people and it affected their abilities to get jobs and housing. Then there was the start of the Cold War, which led to Senator McCarthy accusing various people of being communists. That Cold War would last decades and it would lead both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries (like El Salvador and Czechoslovakia) on a regular basis and the nuclear arms race. The film The Atomic Cafe did a great job of explaining the effects that the arms race had on American culture in the 1950’s.

I know I shouldn’t be so apprehensive about a 1950’s doll because it was an era where my own parents came of age. I also met people in my Unitarian Universalist congregation who went to college/got married/started families while helping with starting that congregation (it was founded in 1954) during that decade and they used to tell me stories about how that congregation was a literally a refuge from the straight-laced and conservative mainstream society that existed all around them because it was only when they were in church where they could metaphorically let their hair down and be themselves without worrying about facing the disapproval of a neighbor or coworker or having someone accuse them of being a “communist”. (Many of them were either the same age or older than my own parents. Sadly many of them have since died or moved out of the area to retirement communities.)

As a child and teen who was spoon-fed so much pop culture propaganda about how wonderfully idyllic those years were until I grew sick of hearing all about it, you could say that I have a legitimate reason why I’m not exactly cheering this new doll’s arrival.

Given the apprehension I felt about the new American Girl 1950’s doll, when I first heard rumors about this new doll, I immediately thought about four different story scenarios for the 1950’s character that the company could use—three of which would work really well if they were actually used.

1. Maryellen is in a family who have to rebuild their lives after her father lost his job when he was falsely accused of being a communist in the wake of Senator McCarthy’s Red Scare. She could face being teased in school by classmates calling her “Commie Girl” or some other nasty name. Her mother could get a job or start her own business outside the home to make ends meet despite the enormous societal pressure on her to stay home and take care of her husband and children. This scenario could provide a lesson in how troubles can strengthen an already close-knit family in the long run as well as the devastating consequences the Red Scare had on scores of innocent people all across the U.S. simply because someone decided to accuse them of being a member of the Communist Party.

2. Maryellen is in a family who has to deal with the absence of her father because he was drafted to serve in the Korean War. For more drama, she could deal with a difficult classmate who lords it over her the fact that her father’s job with a defense contractor earned him a deferment so he didn’t have to get drafted and leave the family (which was actually how my ex-husband’s father managed to avoid being sent to Korea back then simply because he was lucky enough to snag a high-tech job with a government contractor known as Sperry). The first half of the book could deal with the girl worrying about whether she will ever see her father alive again. The second half of the book could have the father return but ends up struggling with what is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how this affects the girl and her relationship with her father. That would be a great topic because the Korean War has been called The Forgotten War and it could shed some light on the effects of that conflict on the United States.

3. Maryellen is an African American girl growing up in the Deep South who starts to attend a formerly all-white elementary school in the wake of the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education Supreme Court decision. She could face going to school every day with hostile white adults hurling epithets (and things like eggs and tomatoes) at her, having white classmates who are equally hostile towards her, and worrying about whether her new white teacher would even fully accept her as a student capable of getting grades of C or above. It would provide an eye-opening lesson on the legacy of racism and Jim Crow.

4. Maryellen is a normal middle class white girl growing up in the suburbs in a perfectly happy family with very few cares in the world. Her books would have plots that could’ve been straight out of various episodes of Leave It to Beaver.

The first three scenarios could be interesting and provide a real lesson for kids about the 1950’s. The last scenario would be boring and lame but I considered it to be the most likely one because it’s such a “safe” topic so the company wouldn’t have to deal with controversy or worry about boycotts or things like that.

When I first saw the leaked cover of the first Maryellen book online, I knew that scenario number 3 would be out since she would be a white girl. (Which is too bad because I think having an African American girl desegregating a formerly all-white school would’ve gone a long way towards American Girl proving to its critics that it is not a racist company who sends out subliminal messages that white dolls are superior.) But I was still hoping for one of the first two scenarios.

But then the descriptions for the upcoming books came out and it seems like the stories will follow scenario number 4, something that’s relatively dull and predictable and could’ve come from a 1950’s era family sitcom. Here is what the description of the first Maryellen book, The One and Only: A Maryellen Classic 1, says about Maryellen Larkin’s story:

Maryellen Larkin is nine years old and longs to stand out, but in a family with five brothers and sisters it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle! A painting mishap gains her some attention, but not the kind she’s been longing for. Being invited to stay in at recess and practice her handwriting earns Maryellen a new friend, but what does that mean for her old friendships? Then, Maryellen is wishing for a white Christmas like the ones in the movies (not very likely in Florida!). Will she find a way to make her dream come true?

Yep, it sounds like an episode of Leave It to Beaver if Beaver Cleaver had been a girl instead of a boy. As for wishing for a white Christmas, yeah, I’ve been there because I grew up in Maryland (a state that gets a white Christmas maybe once every 20 years or more) but I dealt with it and I focused on other things around the holidays (like presents) so that was never a big deal with me. The issue of a white Christmas being among Maryellen’s problems and concerns seems so lame to me. At least Julie Albright had to spend her growing up years in the 1970’s dealing with her parents’ divorce while fighting her school for the right to play on the basketball team. Here’s the synopsis of the second book, Taking Off: A Maryellen Classic 2:

Turning ten is a big deal, and Maryellen Larkin wants to celebrate it in a very special way. Will she choose a western theme or decide on a superstar celebration, or will the event turn out to be something even Maryellen doesn’t expect? And which party participant surprises her the most? Then, Dad comes home with a silver surprise and big plans for a family vacation. On the trip, what will Maryellen discover about Joan and her wedding plans? What will Maryellen decide about her own plans and “flying high?”

American Girl is retiring Caroline Abbott, the War of 1812 doll whose character had to deal with her father being captured by the British, for THIS?!? But—wait!—there’s more! Here’s the synopsis of the third book titled The Sky’s the Limit: My Journey With Maryellen:

What if you suddenly found yourself in Maryellen’s world during the 1950s? How would your life be changed, what would you do to fit in—and, more importantly, what would you do to stand out? Join Maryellen on an adventure where the two of you can put on poodle skirts and head to a school dance (they were called sock hops back then!), enter a contest, or take a trip in a streamlined silver camper that looks like a rocket ship! Your journey back in time can take whatever twists and turns you choose, as you select from a variety of exciting options in this multiple-ending story.

Once again the 1950’s are being whitewashed as this incredibly idyllic time where everyone was happy, nothing ever went wrong, and females of all ages wore poodle skirts. I can only imagine how the people I knew through my Unitarian Universalist congregation who came of age in the 1950’s would think of these books.

Reading the write ups for these books, it seems like American Girl is reaching out less to its usual target audience of 8-12 year old girls and more to adults who grew up in the suburbs in white middle class families with little to no major drama (like the Red Scare and/or the Korean War) back in the 1950’s—the very kind of people who would look at that era with rose-colored glasses. I knew that American Girl would’ve avoided more adult topics like the rise of the Beat Generation or the widespread unhappiness women felt at being housewives (which Betty Friedan described as “the problem with no name”). But American Girl has dealt with the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World War II in the past and it would really be bad if the Korean War or the Cold War were given short shrift in favor of being a glorified Leave It to Beaver in order to please adults instead of children. But it looks like American Girl is going in that direction and that’s too bad. And the Korean War will continue to be The Forgotten War, at least as far as American Girl is concerned.

Since Maryellen is described as growing up in Florida, it’s possible that she may have to deal with her elementary school being integrated and she starts to meet black kids for the first time. But, seriously, I’m not holding my breath on that one based on the write ups. If that topic is even mentioned, it’ll probably be given one or two sentences then swept under the rug. Besides, I think the subject of desegregation would be more effective if the character is an African American girl who experiences it directly than through the eyes of a white child who grew up relatively privileged compared to people of other races.

Considering the fact that the doll (which comes with the first book) will cost $115 and her clothes will probably start at $30 with larger accessories (like furniture) starting at $100, it would be way cheaper to watch reruns of Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best. Sure one could just buy the books (or borrow them from the library) but it would still be cheaper and easier to just watch those vintage 1950’s sitcoms.

At least my wallet will be safe for the near future because I don’t feel tempted by Maryellen Larkin in the least bit. I probably will get around to making another trip to the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia at some time in the near future (probably once the new school year starts so I can arrive on one of the store’s less crowded days) to see the doll in person but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever buy her.

Previous Entries

Categories