It’s one thing to feel old. It’s another entirely to have yourself relegated to the annals of history while you’re not only still kicking, but kicking ASS, thank you very much.
The whole thing about being a Formerly is that you’re not old; No, you’re not exactly young, but you’re in this weird, funkified limbic state where no one–not marketers, employers, the opposite sex and least of all, you-seems to know quite what to do do with you.
Well, this latest pop cultural bitch slap, courtesy of my friend Marisa, is the latest in a series of ever-shocking reminders that young and old are entirely relative. This, of course, should not shock anyone. If you’re a kid, teenagers seem old, and the moment you hit 21, they seem hopelessly juvenile. Still, when you’re reminded of this fact when you think everyone is using the same set of reference points, it can take you by surprise.
If you’ve got girl children, you’ve probably heard of American Girl, the incredibly expensive but agreeably wholesome series of dolls and accessories that the under 12 set is positively mad for. (I initially boycotted them a few years ago them when they wussed out and severed ties with Girls Inc., under pressure from right wing groups who didn’t like that Girls Inc. supported abortion rights. Then my girls started begging and pleading. It’s not a perfect compromise, but I now send money to Girls Inc. and let them have a doll. They’re better than the Bratz–a.k.a., American Hooch Dolls–and if the American Girl Dolls were real girls, they seem like they’d be smart enough to use birth control in the first place.)
ANYway, American Girl has a series of historical dolls–Vivian has Felicity, a girl in colonial Virginia who is as plucky as she is a skilled horsewoman–which come with storybooks featuring the girls being strong, smart and brave in the context of their eras. Kit Kittredge, the Depression Era reporter doll, was played by Abigail Breslin in a movie last year. There’s Addy, the escaped slave doll, a Mexican-American doll living in 1824, Josephina, and others from the last two-plus centuries.
And then there’s Julie Albright and her best friend Ivy Ling. Guess what historical era they’re from?
“History is World War II, the Depression! They treat Julie and the ’70s like it’s the same thing,” cries Marisa, who read the Meet Julie book that came with the doll (she arrives decked out in a white peasant blouse and bell bottoms, with a braided leather belt with beads and a crocheted hat) to her daughters before bed the other night. “It talked about Billie Jean King and male chauvinist pigs. Her friend Ivy had the pocket book made out of old blue jeans and she wore those Buffalo shoes I really wanted but my mom wouldn’t let me get! Mood rings and everything. Am I historical simply because I remember that stuff?”
Apparently American Girl thinks so, and it’s easy to see why a little kid would agree. To my girls, for whom “the olden days” means any time before they were born, Julie’s world is as alien to them as Felicity’s, as is Iliona’s, the captured Greek girl whose diary as a Roman slave we just finished reading (really good book!) So what’s the difference?
I’ll tell you what the difference is: The difference is, the moms buying the dolls were ALIVE when historical old Julie who belongs in a museum because her life is so crusty and dusty, and, well, OLDEN. If I were American Girl, I’d hold off on adding any more dolls to its historical line from eras where the purchasers could conceivably have been alive. And with women having children later, this means avoid making a doll from as little as 35-40 years ago.
The 1970s: Nostalgic reverie or serious teaching opportunity about the history of our great nation? You decide.
(That’s Julie, above, in the photo in her ’70s bed in the psychadelic colors with the hanging poison beads. She’s thinking about how Billie Jean whipped Bobby Riggs’ male chauvinist BUTT the previous year. She’s also thinking about ironing her hair to make it even more like Susan Dey’s and how come her mood ring is always that same kind of dark blue green. Could it be that mood rings aren’t accurate?)