Acton Institute Powerblog

A Dystopian’s Guide to Barbie Dolls and Disney Princesses

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Proponents of limited government often talk about utopianism because it led to so much dystopian grief in the most infamous socialist experiments of the 20th century. Anna Mussman makes another utopian/dystopian cultural connection in a recent essay at The Federalist.

She draws a connection from the airbrushed world of Barbie Dolls and Disney princesses, to the thirst for dystopian fiction among the girls who soon outgrow those imaginary companions. Mussman suggests that when girls raised mainly on a steady diet of such stuff wake up to the ugly realities of life, they often swing from an appetite for idealism to its opposite extreme, an appetite for a nihilisitc mode of dystopian fiction that shares with the earlier phase an excessive emphasis on the individual to the exclusion of the community.

So, what if you’re in full agreement that those anorexia-inducing dolls are indeed bad karma, but your extended family is hell bent on springing a Pink Fairy Princess Barbie on your daughter every chance they get, leaving you either to cave or play the curmudgeonly Grinch? If you’ve chosen to cave, there’s still hope:

My sisters and I owned Barbie dolls (people kept giving them to us), but we had no idea how we were “supposed” to play with them. Our Barbies were pioneers with large families. They wore calico dresses that we sewed ourselves. They rode in covered wagons made from shoe boxes. Barbie may have entered our home, but Mattel and its commercial power did not.

What was her parents’ secret?

The answers that I observed in my own upbringing might seem radical. We did not watch any television (commercials are powerful things). We were not showered with material possessions—if we wanted a new doll, we usually had to earn money and buy it ourselves. When we were young and impressionable, our parents joined our doll games, and created playtime storylines like, “potluck wedding” or “missionary journey to Thailand.” Because they spent as much time with us as our peers did, and far more time than any commercial entertainers, their opinions and outlooks were more influential. They were able to consciously build a strong family culture that provided us with an alternative to aspects of the mainstream world. Our imaginations were filled and expanded with a vast range of books that possess no tie-in merchandise.

It’s an encouraging story, but the opposite is too often the case–kids raised by popular culture while the parents are away. This is no way to raise citizens capable of sustaining a free and flourishing society, or of returning “the heart of the parents to the children, and the heart of the children to their parents.”



For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD & Blu-Ray Combo Pack

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles DVD & Blu-Ray Combo Pack

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Jonathan Witt