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Toys and Interpretation Part 2

by Tony Creech on Monday, February 2, 2009

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     An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education relates well to this thinking through of Toys and Interpretation.

The article was written by a sociology professor who applied for a job in a toy store. She wrote about her interview for the job as follows. The professor–a white, middle-aged woman–was interviewed by Olive, an African-American woman: 

“Olive told me that she wanted to hire motivated sellers who could provide excellent customer service. Although I didn’t have any retail experience, I told her I thought I could do the job. Olive put three toys in front of me: a CD cartridge of a Lara Croft Tomb Raiders video game, a white Barbie in a bikini packaged inside a sand pail to take to the beach, and a black Barbie dressed in a 1970s outfit. Olive said, ‘Pick one and sell it to me.’
“I took a deep breath. In my other life I am a professor of sociology who specializes in gender and sexuality studies. Barbie has become a symbol of the postmodernist turn in gender studies; her cultural meaning has been deconstructed and reconstructed by a number of feminist theories. I devote an entire section of my course on sexuality to unpacking Barbie’s cultural significance. But far from being helpful, those arguments paralyzed me. The complex race and gender politics of the situaltion–me, a white woman selling a black or a white Barbie to Olive–were simply overwhelming.
“I said, ‘Well, you don’t have to sell Barbie: girls always want her (mentioning that I had read that the average 10-year-old girl owns eight of the dolls), so I will sell you the CD.’ Lara Croft is not exactly a wholesome or apolitical alternative to Barbie. One of the earliest female icons of computer gaming, her long flowing hair, enormous breasts, and crack fighting skills set the standard for the dozens of imitators that followed. I said tha if we assumed Olive had a PlayStation she needed the game because it was the basis for a movie that had just opened. I also said that it was important for girls to be computer literate; as long as their parents approved of the content, girls should be exposed to the same computer games as boys so they could compete in the real world.
“Olive shook my hand and told me I had the job!”

 –Christine Williams, Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin: an excerpt from her book “Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality,” published by University of California Press


“you don’t have to sell Barbie” 

I also wondered if you have to sell Tomb Raider, i mean boys don’t mind playing an action game where there is a woman with enormous breasts, and girls love the empowerment of the “Action-Star Woman”.

I wonder what it means, that you don’t have to sell Barbie. Besides the point that Barbie has achieved a high-enough popularity that it sells itself, i wonder why. Are their certain toys that capture an important part of every human’s needs as they grow up. Do dolls help serve a certain purpose for little girls, of idenification, of longing to grow into something, of idolizing?

Like toy guns, which, if you don’t buy, boys will make (and make anyways) out of a fallen tree branch, or anything that can be held as a gun (like a banana) – Dolls can be a home-made device, and i’ll bet were often made in the last 2 centuries. I’ll bet there is a vast history of dolls on wikipedia somewhere, waiting for interested people to look up.


Interesting how certain toys and games we play as kids act as a sort of preparation for later experiences in life.  I wonder how they can help/hurt our encounters in life, and how important it is to look ahead to experiences that will come later (like falling in Love, marriage, huge Kung-Fu fights) when we are kids playing with toys.   I wonder……
Tony Creech
anthony thomas creech is Founder of Citadel Magazine. He's a marketing executive, filmmaker, screenwriter, columnist, and university lecturer on film, audio, media, and faith. You can find him at thecreechleague.com
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