Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Kindle, Barbie, and Biology As Destiny

Barbie image Wikipedia
The kid who lives with us, a somewhat sophisticated young lady recently turned three years of age, has learned to operate the family Kindle Fire.

The saga began when we started to alternate our night-time reading with short YouTube videos of classic fairy tales: Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, The Pied Piper, Hansel and Gretel, and similar fare. 

Taking a short cut to the point of this story I'll note that she quickly learned how to navigate the Kindle by herself. Of course, she needed help in finding a favorite, gladly provided by the adult present. However, during the last few episodes when she's been allowed to browse on her own after being helped to find a certain video, I've noticed that she always ends up watching a Barbie video. And to her, such drivel is much like its food equivalent, potato chips. She has to have more than one.

She cannot read, or more accurately cannot read more than one or two words. She is forced to rely on the "other videos like this" recommendations generated by the system. I've noticed she picks her next choice usually by the colorfulness of the preview image or by the presence of a female figure. 

She, of course, has requested and been allowed to watch certain fairy tales with a female protagonist like Cinderella or Snow White, and so it is possible that the Barbie recommendations arrive after those stories are selected.

I'm not so naive as to believe that the ethos of Rapunzel or Rumpelstiltskin or Snow White are thoroughly feminist, at least not in the way that I want the youngster to understand her place in the world. However, the Barbie-doll-ethos is far worse, far more sexualized (Barbie wants Ken's approval) and materialistic (Barbie is all about things).

Last night there was a confrontation. Once again Cat-in-the-Hat or Curious George had evolved into two or three long Barbie videos. I took the Kindle away and sent the tiny culprit to ask her mother why she shouldn't watch Barbie. Tears followed, of course.

Nevertheless, I remain intrigued at the idea of a three-year-old girl -- a child we've taken great pains to deflect from salt, sugar, and soda, a little girl given gender-neutral toys, a toddler fascinated with Moby Dick, dinosaurs, and creepy-crawlers found on the lawn -- has been so easily seduced by the commercialized sexualization and materialistic marketing of corporate America. 

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