From the feminist perspective Barbie Dolls have been an easy example of unrealistic body image expectations, but as a writer I credit Barbie with the first real story lines I ever had. My young aunt went off to college and Europe, married a wimpy guy and half-forgot about her original Barbie collection so when my grandmother decided to move into our basement after my grandfather died (bad idea) she threw a lot of stuff out. She sent my aunt’s beloved cat to the pound and kicked the massive Barbie collection to the curb. We kids scooped up as much of it as we could. Home-made couches, an actual home-made house with lights that worked and ceramic plates along with trunks full of retro, extremely well-made clothes for the stiff-legged early model Barbies and the “wig-lady” Barbie who came with three 1960’s style wigs!
Our version of play went like this:
1. Line up the dolls and take turns picking your favorites.
2. Pile every bit of furniture, clothing, accessories into a heap, shout 1-2-3 and then grab as much as you can as quickly as you can. This method added to the economic drama of the game. The cute boy doll had to live with his poor family under the rocking chair, but all the rich girls loved him.
3. Spend around two days setting up house, quietly scheming the twists and turns of the actual game. Once my sister and I made the original Ken doll (we called him Peter Parker) be in a hipster band. We recorded his music into our cassette player and had him perform it once our friends got back from vacation one summer. It was a smashing success. Once we took the Marie Osmond doll we had, painted her green and made her a witch.
4. Play the game. The playing of the game never really competed for fun with the grabbing and setting up part. The process of building worlds and plotting lives held us captivated for hours and days–sometimes with breaks for meals and sleep the only time away from the imaginings. One year we made thousands of Play Dough pieces of food for the Barbies–watermelon, hamburgers and hot dogs. That took days.
My brother wasn’t allowed to bring friends into the house after a few near misses breaking my father’s stereo system, so he set fire and blew his army men up in the yard (his friends were banished from the yard then).
So this weekend when we visited The New York State Military Museum and Veterans’ Research Center in Saratoga Springs I was surprised to find this weird set of displays based on real events yet strangely similar to our childhood imaginings. This game is a little more intense.
I was so mesmerized I didn’t even notice the stands holding the GI Joes up when I took the picture.