Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cougar with a tramp stamp

My sister is a bit older than I, so I have no idea if she played with Barbie dolls. I'm thinking no (our dad was in grad school at the time, so our family was poor — lucky us). And I'm pretty sure she never got Barbies for her own daughter. 

[above: That is not — I repeat, NOT — a Chinese character tattoo on Barbie's neck. That model doesn't come out until 2011.]

Barbie turns fifty this year, and in keeping up with the times, Mattel has started selling "tattoo Barbie." I really, really, really wish I were making that up:
We begin in Southern California, where, just in time for spring, Mattel Inc. has released Totally Stylin' Tattoos Barbie. The doll comes with a set of more than 40 tiny tattoo stickers that can be placed on her body. Also included is a faux tattoo gun with wash-off tats that kids can use to ink themselves.

A spokeswoman for the El Segundo toy maker said it was a great way for youngsters to be creative with their pint-sized gal pal. But some parents are horrified by this body-art Barbie, labeling her the "tramp stamp" queen of playtime.
I'm afraid I'm going to make the word "pornification" a bit of a cliché, so I'll just say this: America... hell in a handbasket.

Meanwhile, Mattel is stepping up marketing in Barbie's country of manufacture: the six-story House of Barbie in Shanghai:
It's a multimillion-dollar bet that its 11 1/2 -inch plastic toy will appeal to Shanghai's material girls, even in this horrible economy.

"There's no reason why in five to 10 years, China shouldn't be the biggest market in the world for us," said Richard Dickson, Barbie's general manager, sitting on a lattice boudoir bench on the store's fourth floor, where girls can design their own dolls.

The store also contains a salon where moms and daughters can get facials and manicures.
China is a place where one-child moms dote over their daughter's every whim. I smell success, but there are doubters:
But there are plenty of doubters who point out that you need only go into a Chinese home. You won't find many girls playing with dolls, let alone dolls with blond hair and blue eyes.
Ah, but that's the key to many entrepreneurial ventures: Don't sell them what you need, but make them feel they need what you sell. We'll see if "Shanghai Barbie" ("with bigger eyes, a rounder face, and a softer complexion ... no tattoos") ends up changing the face of China — or even makes the girls of China want to change their face.

God help us all. (And a note to parents: If there is even the remotest chance your child will go online to Google "tattoo Barbie," please please please make sure that "Safe Search" is on.)

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