Bratz - a rejected Journal column
On the day my first community columnist piece was published (an article on swim safety on a cold and snowy day; - how’s that for timing?) the Journal-Sentinel ran a column directly above my own. Written by Jonathon V Last of the Philadelphia Inquirer, it traced the messy battle between the makers of the Bratz line of dolls and the Barbie empire.
It was a fine article, one that hit a nerve in my house. We’ve been discussing the mammoth decision against MGA Entertainment, the makers of Bratz, for some time now. To greatly simplify the issue, after winning a court decision in their favor Barbie’s owners at Mattel want all Bratz merchandise removed from store shelves. The action would remove the most serious threat in years to Barbie’s domination of the market.
It also greatly worries the resident seven-year old Bratz fan in my house.
That last sentence is what worries me. Just by admitting, - in print no less - that my daughter likes Bratz I’m inviting trouble. To some people that’s no better than bragging that I let her juggle steak knives (and obviously, for the record, I don’t.)
My daughter has gone to birthday parties where the invitation clearly stated that no Bratz toys would be accepted, and she’s gone to homes where no such toys may cross their threshold. Fine. I have no objection to that. Every parent has the right to decide what is right and acceptable for their own child.
To me and my wife, that line in the sand doesn’t begin or end with a doll.
Bratz’ signature has always been funkier than good ol’ Barbie, and yes, to most critics that difference comes off as sexual. It’s an odd world that spends forty years decrying Barbie as a sexualized and unrealistic ideal, then decides to hold her up as a model citizen, but compared to Bratz Barbie comes off as your sweet Aunt Marie.
Bratz dolls dress funkier, they have more fashionable hairstyles, their tie-in merchandise is colorful and flashy, they’re urban rather than Malibu, and their feet pop off. You read that right. Rather than force tiny shoes on the doll, leaving a hundred lost pair around as a threat to my toddler, the makers of Bratz have the dolls switch out entire foot/shoe combinations.
Let’s see Barbie do that.
Those are some of the reasons why Bratz made such inroads into the market. It wasn’t about sex, and it certainly wasn’t to aspire to the ridiculous hyperbole labeling the doll‘s ‘streetwalkers’. It was because someone finally presented an alternative to their Grandmother’s increasingly bland and predictable Barbie.
As much heat as Bratz takes in the media, there must be a great and silent majority of parents who agree with me on the issue. After all, in 2005 sales of Bratz reached $750 million. They couldn’t all have been bought by ‘bad’ parents.
Who knows. Maybe once Mattel gobbles up the Bratz line it can use some of that revenue to give Barbie a makeover of her own - but, uh, maybe skip the bare midriff