American Whirl

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I’ve written about American Girl before, such as this post. For those unacquainted with American Girl, it started off as a doll-based means for girls to learn about different periods of U.S. history, but it has developed into a phenomenal retail success story of overpriced Chinese-made junk sold in branded stores in high-end shopping malls (like, oh, say, the Stanford Shopping Center). It’s a big deal for the 9-12 year old crowd.

I don’t make a habit of creating posts about girls’ dolls on Slope, but recently I treated my daughter to some (rare) television time so she could enjoy two different A.G. movies. One of them, Chrissa Stands Strong, came out in 2009 (meaning it was written and produced in 2008, during the throes of the financial crisis), and the one she watched the next night, Grace Stirs Up Success, came out only weeks ago (meaning it was written and produced in 2014, during the peak bullish mania).

Lest you think I threw on my footie pajamas, curled up in a blanket, and watched both of these insipid things………..I didn’t. But I was in the room and saw enough to get the jist of each movie (which doesn’t take a lot, given the one-dimensional characters and plot lines offered to children).

What struck me, having semi-witnessed both of these things over a 24 hour period, is how sharply different they were. The Chrissa one was relatively brutal: it featured a girl who moved into a new town who was subjected to the cruelty of the tall, pretty blonde girls in her class (which is a story that’s only been done several thousand times, most recently in Pixar’s Inside Out) and had a side-story about a girl who was homeless that managed to hide her homelessness from the others until she was “outed” by the bitchy blonde and brought to bitter tears.

Exhibit A: Bitchy Girls

I was kind of stunned watching this, because the nastiness seemed unrelenting. We’ve all had encounters with bullies before, but the emotional ugliness foisted on poor Chrissa never let up, and having upper-middle-class be-atches-in-training laugh and taunt an impoverished girl struck me as over-the-top, even for an American Girl movie.

None of this really sunk in until the next movie, which was so sickly-sweet that I probably have type 2 diabetes now. Throughout the entire piece, the most violent “conflict” came when one of Grace’s friends suggest that maybe she not be so bossy. But that was it. It was 99% sweetness and light, and it ended with the kid (Grace) winning $100,000 from a baking contest held on Food Network (one of the many, many product tie-ins during the movie) and, naturally, giving the money to her grandparents to upgrade their bakery.

Grace is Latina, even though her parents and grandparents are lily white. This is never explained.

Now I don’t normally put huge amounts of faith in the nascent realm of Socionomics (championed by Elliott Waver Bob Prechter), but I’ve always thought that, yes, there is some crude correlation between social mood and financial markets. During the 2009 Academy Awards (held early in 2009, very near the bottom of the financial crisis), I remember Jon Stewart marveling that the two huge winners that year were There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men by saying “Does this country need a hug?” Well, Jon, actually, yeah, it kinda did.

It’s the same story with these two movies: the one made in 2008 is packed with meanness, financial insecurity, shame, and back-stabbing. The one that just came out is nonstop saccharine (which, for a chap like me, is a bit hard to take). I guess it helps illustrates the times we live in, and the mindset of the populace…………including the consumers-in-training known as eleven year old girls.