I don't know if this was big doin's in your house, but it sure made the headlines chez Pig.
Abby Cadabby debuted on Sesame Street today.
For those of you not in the know, Abby is da Street's answer to the tidal wave of pink-and-purple girlieness that has gripped the entertainment-industrial complex for toddlers and kiddos. According to the NYT, the creative powers at da Street were worried that they had any number of female role models (earthy Prairie Dawn, gentle bilingual Rosario) except for a positive image of a very feminine girl (and no, Miss Piggy doesn't cut it - besides, she's from the Muppet Show anyway). Hence, Abby Cadabby.
Apparently Abby was created after a lengthy and detailed process involving research, focus groups, top-secret prototypes and the like. Her progenitors wanted to make sure that she hit all the girlie-girl buttons without becoming a gateway Barbie. And they wanted to be sure that the target audience (girls ages 2 & up) would like her.
Well, they didn't need to spend money on a focus group for that. They could have just visited my house.
A couple weeks ago, the Sunday NYT did a story on Abby. On the front page of the paper, in the table of
contents, was a teeny-weeny-itsy-bitsy-tiny-winy picture of the newest Muppet. India caught one glimpse of that picture and went, for lack of a better term, apeshit. India was entranced - entranced, I tell you - by a blurry newsprint picture, about an inch square. It was frightening, the Pavlovian strength of her response. "What's DAT?" she cried, stabbing at the paper with a miniature pointer finger. "What she DOING? What are DOSE?" she said, outlining Abby's wings lovingly. "Oh, that's Abby Cadabby," I said, affecting a nonchalance I didn't necessarily feel. For the rest of the day, she continued to bring up the topic: "Where Abby Cadabby? What Abby Cadabby doing?" This, based on one little picture and an offhand comment. Thank God they weren't trying to market "Cassie the Crack Ho" dolls!
So the mass-media-cum-capitalist-consumption juggernaut has my girl firmly in its clutches. Well, it was bound to happen sometime.
Since Warren and I aren't trying to keep India completely sheltered, I knew this was inevitable. And no matter how many educational, creative, non-commercial toys a kid has, there comes a point when she's bound to fall in love with whatever the hottest, trendiest piece of schlock on the block happens to be. Heck, when I was eight? nine?, I wanted a "Baby Alive". Remember "Baby Alive"? Its claim to fame was a battery-operated alimentary canal that led straight from its mouth to its butt, so that the special "baby food" spooned into its perpetually open mouth travelled straight to the special diaper at the other end, whereupon I, as the doll's "mother," got to clean it up and do it all over again. The best part was the alarming grinding noise that the doll's interior workings made as it processed its, um, dinner, which made it sound not so much like a human baby as a barnyard pig snuffling in the trough. From the toymaker's point of view it was a great gimmick, because then you had to keep buying this special food and diapers and Baby Alive feeding apparati. Sheer marketing genius. And I fell for it, oh yes I did, but I got over it pretty quickly when my mother showed no interest in driving forty miles each way to procure food and diapers for a giant oinking doll.
Don't take this to mean I'm blase about India's first bite from the commercial apple. The question is, how do we strike a balance between letting her participate in our society without being suckered by it? I don't want her to live wrapped in cotton wool, but I don't want her to fall prey to the gimme's, either. We let her watch Sesame Street, even though it's a much slicker and more commercial version of the show we loved back in those earnest 70's, because it is (comparatively speaking) relatively innocuous. She has seen only one program on commercial television in her life, and she was so upset when the program was interrupted by commercials that she cried. And while I'm not happy with the folks at Childrens' Television Workshop for their recent decision to create and market a muppet-based show for babies, I understand that they're under the same pressures as anyone else to grab and maintain market share and consumer loyalty - only now they have to compete against Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network, not just Saturday morning cartoons and After-School Specials. I'd still far rather have her watch Sesame Street and ask for an Elmo doll than have her watch the animated adventures of Polly Pocket or some such drivel intended solely as a marketing tool.
The other issue - the X factor, if you will - is peer influence. India's classroom at day care is chockablock with jackets, shoes, lunchboxes, backpacks, and hats plastered with Dora the Explorer, Strawberry Shortcake, Barbie and friends, Warner Brothers characters, and Disney princesses (urgh - my personal bete noire). Fercryinoutloud, India's diapers have Dora and her pet monkey on them (Which gives a new twist to the term "spanking the monkey," doesn't it? Or is that a really gross thing for a mother to think?). This is why I'm not in favor of keeping India completely isolated from pop culture. I don't want to give these items the cachet that comes from being forbidden fruit. Just as with her diet, I'm afraid if we're too draconian about India's choice of toys, she'll find the ones we hate all the more alluring. I'll wind up with one of those teen girls on my hands who won't wear anything that doesn't sport a logo or come from a trendy store (and God knows, I have no desire to spend all kinds of time in Aeropostale or Abercrombie).
So, flying by the seat of our pants (which is how we always seem to navigate parenthood issues), Warren and I have arrived at the following guidelines: Sesame Street is okay, as are Elmo and Wiggles videos. When I'm desperate and she's whiny, she gets to watch Clifford the Big Red Dog. We don't have extended cable, so we don't have to worry about the other channels. Seeing videos at other people's houses is fine, especially since videos don't have commercials even if the show is one from a commercial station. We don't buy clothes with logos or characters on them, although she has some hand-me-downs with smaller-scale Sesame Street and classic Pooh characters on them. Anything plastered with giant cartoon characters is out. Diapers we can't do anything about, but at least they're covered up most of the time. We're going to do our best to avoid Barbie until India's older (five? six? seven? When is Barbie going to rear her blandly perfect visage on the horizon of my daughter's consciousness?). Food items tied to TV characters: Out (although I am waiting for SpongeBob SquarePants Crabby Patty Fish Patties; why hasn't anyone else thought of them yet?). The rest we are going to have to make up as we go along.
One note of caution: Yeah, this sounds carefully reasoned and all. But if India gets her heart set on an Abby Cadabby doll for Christmas (not yet in the works, as they haven't figured out a way to duplicate her shiny, fluffy hair without making the doll a total fire hazard), you'll find me at Toys "R" Us, throwing elbows and ramming minivans with the best of them.