Sting like a bee.
Ali and Barbie sittin' in a tree.
K. I. S. S. I. N. G.
I can explain.
According to a 2004 Gallup poll, 71% of teenagers say their social and political ideology is about the same as their parents'. Not being a teenager in 2004, I wasn't polled, but I do fall in that comfortable majority. My liberal, Fight the Man, Eat the Rich stance pretty much mirrors the way I was raised.
Back in the day, I'm told my parents proudly marched for Martin Luther King, campaigned for Shirley Chisholm, voted for McGovern (so Don't Blame THEM!)
As a child, I had zero interest in politics. (Unlike today, where my interest wavers around 4%.)
I did, however, have a vested interest in how my Over Lords' hippy dippy, liberal, pacifist political views affected me personally. For instance, I was banned from the Brownies (not by them, I didn't incite some sort of Thin Mint insurrection), rather I was banned by my Father who took one look at the uniforms and deemed them “Fascist.” (In retrospect, he may've had a point - those brown shirts are rather Hitler Youth-ish, aren't they?)
My parents rejected anything that smacked of anti-intellectualism, crass commercialism or organized religion, so, while everyone else watched “Love Boat,” ate Big Macs, and believed in Santa Claus, my sister Nora and I watched “I, Claudius,” nibbled bulgur wheat burgers, and were told that Santa, while a lovely idea, was a myth. Like Jesus.
The fallout of my parents' political ideology that really chapped my ass, however, was the undeniable fact that I had shitty toys. Perhaps not during my first few years, when my beloved Fisher Price quadriplegics fit right in with everyone's else's Weebles, but when my peers were pulled into the sexy, alluringly shiny pink Universe of Barbie, I was Left Behind - jettisoned to a pedestrian world of flat footed, flat chested, racially diverse and developmentally appropriate dolls.
Why? Because, according to Mom and Dad, Barbie promoted:
- the objectification of women.
- an unhealthy body image.
- a myopic standard of beauty.
- rampant consumerism and a shallow, materialistic lifestyle.
OF COURSE SHE DID! SHE'S FRIGGEN' BARBIE!
I ranted. I raved. I cried, begged, pleaded - to no avail. Barbie was not to set her sexist, pointed, permanently frozen in a high heel shaped foot in our house. EVER.
In an attempt to ameliorate their Draconian laws, my parents bought my sister and me "healthy" alternative dolls like the Sunshine Family plus spin offs the Happy Family and their respective Grandparents (how much d'ya think the ad guys were paid to dream up those creative monikers?!)
We also had the Velvet and Crissy dolls (you could 'grow' the hair by yanking it out of their scalp, then "cut" it by turning a crank in their backs. We even had Black Velvet - which has got to be the most porn star name for a child's doll ever.)
One day, My Dad came home from the hardware store (that's where we bought our toys. Small town.) and proudly presented Nora and me with "Johnny and Jane West."
Cowboy action figures.
Johnny looked like John Wayne. Jane looked like John Wayne with a wig slapped on top. Why Dad thought that these two hulking troglodytes could hold a candle to the glittering sylphs of the Barbie Universe is beyond me, but apparently, he did. "Look, Girls - Jane has a horse!" ("So does Barbie and she doesn't look like a total butch lez riding it!")
My friends would bring their Barbies over to play (guest Barbies were allowed) and I'd gaze longingly at their doll's soft, brush-able hair while gamely trying to comb Jane's stupid plastic blond helmet.
Barbie had a killer body and would get naked in a heartbeat. Jane's body was covered in a hard, molded "denim" that didn't come off. Barbie had a legendary wardrobe. Jane had a tan, plastic vest. Barbie had accessories to die for! Jane had a Stetson and a rifle.
Our girl Barbie came with fun, flirty friends like Skipper.
Jane had a sidekick too. Geronimo.
Sure, the chemistry between Barbie and Ken was questionable (even at eight, I could see Ken played for the other team, which I unsuccessfully argued as an example of Barbie's inclusively), but at least they seemed to have a sparkling, Devil May Care camaraderie.
The chemistry between Johnny and Jane was depressing. They were tired. They were haggard. They'd seen some shit and were ready to pack it in. Screw fantastic pool parties at the Dream House; Johnny and Jane clearly wanted to retire to their Double Wide and be left the Hell alone.
As my sister and I could not be bothered to even feign enthusiasm for our Johnny/Jane West homunculi, my Dad tried again, this time proffering a True Value bag filled with.... "The Champ."
A Muhammad Ali action figure.
While this was not a Barbie by any means, Ali was a big hero around our house. My Dad was a lifelong boxing fan and from an early age, my sister and I'd join him to watch bouts in our fabulously shag carpeted den. It was, however, Ali's history as a conscientious objector that elevated him to Legend in our household.
In addition to The Champ, we got his rival "The Opponent" (clearly Ken Norton). Both Champ and Opponent came with a few accessories (robe, gloves, title belt) and a complicated spring like contraption that was supposed to make them punch but my sister and I never got it to work.
Surprisingly, (perhaps most so to us), Nora and I liked these boxing beefcakes.
The Ali doll succeeded where Johnny and Jane dismally failed because it was sexy. The Champ and his buddy woke up our sleepy suburb of crushingly dull dolls with some much needed bravado and testosterone. Mrs. Sunshine threw over her nerdy, turtle neck wearing spouse in favor of the Champ's copious charms and, in the rock hard arms of the Opponent, Mrs. Happy really started to smile.
Now, when my contraband toting friends came to play, I had a love interest for Barbie that, unlike boring, blow dried Ken, promised an evening worth getting dolled up for. The Opponent was a hunk too and we usually cast him as the Bad Boy, the one that'd capture Barbie's attention for a bit (like when he flew on the Jet Glamour Airplane and initiated her into the Mile High club), but he'd always betray her in the end, sending our Girl back in to the arms of her loyal, kind, and very muscular Champ.
It's been decades since I've thought about those dolls. I have, though, followed Ali's transformation from loudmouth, Heavyweight Champion to gentle, elder statesman and throughout, I've admired his spirit, his strength, and his charitable works (much as I admired his chiseled, plastic torso back in the day.)
R.I.P, Champ. You really were the greatest, and we are the better for it.