Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ex Unus, Plures or Generic Ethnic Fashion Dolls

Behold! Spin Master's Liv Daniela doing a Dance of Heads. Why is Daniela juggling the heads of her peers, Sophie (pale blonde) and Hayden (golden blond)? How better to illustrate that Daniela, Sophie, and Hayden all have the SAME head sculpt? (Liv dolls Alexis and Katie share that face sculpt, too.) The only difference is their complexion, hair color, and eye color. One head, many dolls: Ex Unus, Plures. Out of One, Many.

Yawn. Oh that is a novel discovery, D7ana. No one else ever noticed that. Smile.

Okay, most toy manufacturers use a default doll mold. Why do companies use a default head? It is cheaper. Better ONE doll face than NO doll face. New companies especially may not be able to afford multiple face sculpts. They change race and/or ethnicity by changing the plastic color. White to tan represents "White" dolls. A range of light tan to darkest brown or black "make" the doll "Black." Pink to medium brown "make" the doll "Hispanic," while ivory to golden brown "make" the doll "Asian." Sometimes reddish-brown is used for "Native American" dolls. Know the code, know the race or ethnicity of the doll, right?

Well .... Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes just changing the complexion, is not enough to "represent" a race or ethnicity. First, the complexion ranges mentioned do overlap. So is the brown Chic Boutique doll Black or Hispanic? And if the brown doll is Black, does that make the tan doll Hispanic or Asian? Or even suntanned White? Categorizing race or ethnicity by complexion is difficult. 

Second, is this color coding universally known? I thought sure, if not overtly then subconsciously: everybody knows that the darkest doll is the Black one while the brighter tan doll is the Hispanic doll. But recently, two other doll enthusiasts have stated that they had not realized that Alexis was meant to be the Black doll in the Liv line-up or that Daniela was meant to be Hispanic. (If I had not read the dolls' back stories, I would not have known the intended ethnicity of those dolls either.) So another problem with "color-coded" generic ethnic dolls is that ethnic identity depends on comparison to all the dolls in the set. Alone, a generic ethnic doll can lose her ethnicity - and let's say "her" because the greatest range in race and in ethnicity appears in female dolls. Alone, a generic ethnic doll becomes a generic doll of ambiguous ethnicity.

Does racial and ethnic identity matter in dolls? Does the doll buying public care? No and yes. I can tolerate the ONE head default sometimes. There might exist a person who resembles a generic ethnic doll. Stress the word might. Some companies are creative enough to use colored plastics and paint to create visual variation. Blind doll collector-enthusiasts would not be swayed by such a ploy. They would see the same figure over and over.
Given my druthers, I would choose multiple head sculpts to portray different races in my dolls. Fortunately, there are many manufacturers of playscale dolls and action figures offering their vision of races and ethnicities. And who is to say that the generic ethnic doll has no place in a mix of varied dolls?

Why am I discussing generic ethnic dolls now? Well, I am looking forward to the Fall release of the Prettie Girlz dolls by Stacey McBride-Irby. They all share the same face sculpt, but I wonder - can they be described as "generic ethnic" dolls too? Let me know what you think.