e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



Distressing story in the New York Times. In "Beloved Characters as Reimagined for the 21st Century," the Times reports on toy companies making over '80s semi-icons like Strawberry Shortcake. Obviously, the companies wish to make some nostalgia dough from people my age who are having kids. Fine. Sure, characters evolve to fit the sensibilities of new decades. Warner Bros. famously began to de-emphasize the racist content of Bugs Bunny (disgusting stuff--check out the awesomely comprehensive DVDs) in favor of BB's sexually ambiguous trickster persona.

What's distressing about the new make-overs, though, is the way the companies are imagining/shaping the identities of milennial kids--girls in particular. Strawberry Shortcake is now very skinny and talks on a cellphone instead of playing with her cat. I guess animal shelters don't pay much for product placement. The company also is moving the Strawberry Shortcake gang away from their affinity for candy and toward a love of fresh fruit. Elsewhere, according to the story, the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have "less attitude." Huh? You don't want young boys growing up in wartime to have attitude, I suppose. My favorite, though, is the plan for the new Care Bears: "less belly fat, longer eyelashes." I'm not making this up. What kind of weird zoological rationale does the corporation have for this move? I doubt that bears today are skinnier. And I really, really doubt that they have longer eyelashes.

My objection is not that these characters are changing. And it's not personal, either. I was never into any of these cartoons. (Remember on "Family Ties" when baby Andrew arrives and Alex P. Keaton tells him "Enjoy your childhood; I know I did and it was the best two weeks of my life"? That's kind of like me as a kid, minus the conservatism of course.) My problem is the reprehensible contribution these companies are making to body normalization and consumerism. All for profit. Let's not kid ourselves...Strawberry Shortcake was always about selling dolls. Now she's about selling cell phones and negative body image too, both of which are even more lucrative than action figures.

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