They’re gorgeous; they’re funny and just a bit gruesome. They’ve developed a fan base that would impress any star—and they’re dolls. Mattel’s Monster High dolls to be exact.
They’re the teenage children of the classic monsters of literature and movies, and they are going to high school. Moreover, since they’re from the House of Barbie, you can bet that their fashions are off the hook, and that the intelligence and complexity behind every aspect of Monster High has been deeply considered and artistically expressed.
So why monsters? And why in 2011? The toy industry always reflects the current culture, but in the case of Monster High it’s not just that there’s a lot of popular vampire and supernatural fiction and TV shows right now. In fact, Monster High has more in common with the TV show Glee than anything else.
Monster High appeals (primarily) to older girls (ages 8 and up) who may have outgrown traditional fashion doll play. These girls are in school now, trying to adjust and fit in and figure out who they are. Any parent knows how stressful this can be for kids. Just as the kids in Glee struggle with being individuals and negotiating the sometimes turbulent social and personal structures of high school, the kids of Monster High all have one thing in common: None of them look “normal.” In fact, the tag line for Monster High, “freaky just got fabulous,” is a subtle by nonetheless powerful message about the validity of individual identity—even within a social construct.
That’s a particularly important message for kids as our too-often-polarized culture defines people as groups—just as the high school culture can for kids still forming their identities.
Monster High is all about being an individual, celebrating what’s unique and different about each human being, seeing beyond the surface and somehow making it all work. It’s a very supportive message for kids delivered with appropriate humor and, of course, drop dead style.
I’ve always believed that we become what we play, that the identities we try on in the world of the imagination can become elements of ourselves as adults. Sure, the Monster High toys are beautiful and fun, but most importantly they encourage kids to explore their worlds and express themselves, and that’s the best play of all.