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The daughters of popular culture

May 22, 2011
Dolls at Wal-Mart

Princess dolls at Wal-Mart. It would make a pretty good Twilight Zone episode for a mom and dad to constantly give their daughter Princess stuff, and then one day she really does turn into a cartoon and they can't get her back.

There’s a whole website devoted to making fun of “The People of Wal-Mart” – shoppers, mostly women, usually overweight in tasteless clothing, going about their business.  But I can’t sympathize with the impulse to mock others for being funny-looking and this picture, also taken in Wal-Mart, is the reason why.  Because this image is what we constantly tell the daughters of our culture they should be.

This is probably some Little Princess from some damn Disney movie or other.  It’s sort of Barbie’s close-up: clear skin, big eyes, full hair, pink lipstick, and smiling, always a happy smile.  Because we expect everyone to be happy, all the time.  Something’s wrong with them if they are not!  Especially little girls.

Aren’t you happy?  Come on, give us a little smile.  That’s better! That’s daddy’s little girl!

Princesses come with a story: she’s ignored, or unappreciated, but actually quite beautiful and a man comes along and makes her life meaningful.  There was one Princess story – Mulan – that almost, almost! broke that mold.  Early in the movie I thought for just a moment she’d be the first lesbian Disney Princess.  But in the predictable end it was just her and some armored lump of a guy.

Expecting our kids, male or female, to fit into a cartoon stereotype, is hoping they’ll grow up without an identity of their own.  Of course the narrative encourages our boys to grow up tough and manly, but I think there’s more pressure on little girls.  For every strong female character they will encounter in a movie, they’ll see a dozen or so strong male characters.

If you aren’t blessed with all those attributes, and especially with the happy smile all the time, you have not measured up.  And heaven help you if you develop an eating disorder (the most common one is called; “being American”) and type 2 diabetes, and you don’t get a great job, your relationships fail and you are aging much faster than you thought you would, and one night you’re in Wal-Mart and some jackass takes your picture and puts you on a website to make fun of you.

Want to make fun of someone, America?  Make fun of the arrogant and purposefully stupid.  Make fun of that second-coming guy.  Make fun of Newt Gingrich.  Make fun of Texas Governor Rick Perry. And leave the badly-dressed overweight person in Wal-Mart, alone.  I bet his or her feet hurt.

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  1. May 22, 2011 at 23:05 | #1

    I love this post. It’s so easy to be a critic and to be hurtful. Much more noble to be kind and build up.

    I browsed over to “Vote for the Worst” a few weeks ago and was very disheartened by what a saw — a website devoted to and celebrating the hurtful and mean-spirited. Nothing to admire about that.

  2. May 22, 2011 at 23:25 | #2

    Well said, George! Damn, if you keep writing such excellent posts, folks are going to start bronzing their monitors in futile efforts to preserve your posts. Then, where will we be!

    Like, CD, I agree with your conclusion. I would also like to add to your theme that girls are being taught the wrong values nowadays. I once did some reading on that for a blog post. One of the things I came across was a study of girl’s diaries. In the diaries from the 1950s, the girls often talked about being kinder, improving their grades, developing themselves intellectually and morally. In more recent diaries, the main topics shifted to physical attractiveness and sexual popularity.

  3. May 23, 2011 at 04:19 | #3

    We seem to expect nowadays that people will all be as cool and as good looking as the ones we see on our TV sets. Since I grew up in the age of television, it’s hard to say, but it’s hard to believe that we’ve always been that way.

    So are the people who run this Walmart site children? This sounds like the sort of thing that only particularly catty teenagers would think is funny.

  4. dof
    May 23, 2011 at 07:21 | #4

    Thanks CD!

    Cujo – I don’t know if the people who run the site are children but I’ve had links and compilations emailed to me by adults. I wrote this post to have a link to email them back because I’ve had it with junk like that in my inbox.

    Being funny-looking has never been an asset but you only need to look at all the US presidents in order to see what effect TV and movies have had on our expectations of appearance. I recall that even Norman Rockwell managed to portray odd faces somewhat reverentially too.

    A friend of mine went to some South American country, maybe Venezuela, and said that practically all women who can afford it there, get plastic surgery. Heartbreaking.

    Thanks Paul – Interesting study. Of course the flip side is that back in the day career options for women were explicitly limited. Even as late as early ’70′s MrsDoF was informed by her high school counselor that she could be a nurse, a schoolteacher, a librarian, a stewardess, or a housewife.

  5. Chas, PE SE
    May 23, 2011 at 09:05 | #5

    Kind of an aside, but I wonder why it’s always a capital-P Princess? Whay can’t it be the daughter of a Senator, or something similarly democratic?? Maybe I’ll write one.

    Not to mention the Fairy Godmother-person who does all the real work.

    And I never liked those Wal-Mart pictures either.

    Great post, George!


  6. Karen
    May 23, 2011 at 19:05 | #6

    I don’t often shop at Wal-Mart, but I’m overweight and dress casually; I’m a student, gone back to school as an older adult, and my year-round student “uniform” is capris and a T-shirt. (Hey, I live in lowland California.) So I haven’t looked at those pics, because I’m sure they’d make me feel ugly. I have enough trouble in my life right now without worrying about that.

    Maybe growing up overweight wasn’t such a bad deal, though, because I had no ambitions to attractiveness, and so I studied hard and kept my imagination busy with books. Boys were to be competed _against_, not _for_. So I went to college, earned a degree, started a career, most surprisingly picked up a wonderful husband along the way, and now I’m changing careers. I’m as good as the new one as I was at the old one, but the new one gives me more flexibility in how I organize my life — I can freelance — and it’s more fun.

    Not bad for the fat old lady (in the capris in January) who occasionally shops at Wal-Mart.

  7. Karen
    May 23, 2011 at 19:13 | #7

    Regarding princesses: I was always bored with the princess stories as a kid, because all the girls ever got was a boy. I had my share of male friends as a kid, and while I temporarily enjoyed their company, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to spend the rest of my life with any of them. I was overjoyed when I got a little older and discovered female superheroes. Screw Cinderella — I was gonna be Wonder Woman! Then I discovered Greek myths, and I knew I’d be the next Athena, who was smart and could still kick ass (metaphorically speaking) when the need arose.

    The continuing cult of the Princess has always puzzled me.

  8. May 23, 2011 at 20:55 | #8

    George I stopped sending the Wal Mart pictures on because I found them to be nothing but degrading to people. I decided I didn’t need to be hateful to be read. Thanks for the post and the confirmation that the message being sent to our youngsters today is doing more damage than good.

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