Dora – GASP – Grows Up

Ah, yes, if we didn’t need something else to get our knickers in a twist over, now there has been “controversy” over the fact that Dora the Explorer is growing up.

She’s a “Tween” girl – a middle schooler. The doll connects to the computer, and she plays games that are consistent with Dora’s habit of exploring and learning in English and Spanish. Sounds diabolical to me.

Okay, not so much, but I was stunned to see that people were up in arms on CNN, Reuters and on blogs and other legitimate news outlets talking about how Dora has gotten “sexy,” and that in some way kids are being violated.

You can’t make this up.

What had anyone seen of this doll before fomenting this uproar? A silhouette. You know, this just boils my gravy, but at the same time it’s totally laughable. Play is the application of the imagination. Glad to know that these outraged people—even people signing a petition to prevent Nickelodeon and Mattel from marketing this toy—have such, active and fertile imaginations. The ability to create the destruction of innocence and impugn corporations for their motives from a simple black drawing is an impressive feat of the imagination indeed!

Take a look at this silhouette. I see a fun-loving girl engaged in being active, but then I’m steeped in Dora lore. This new character is attractive and innocent. But I’ll bet you that no one in marketing at Nick or Mattel thought that this would become a Rorschach test for overly imaginative consumers. I bring my perceptions of Dora to looking at this. Others bring their own.  And all I can say is, “Wow.” A lot of people seem to equate getting older with burgeoning sexuality. Have these people spent any time with tweens lately? This isn’t their big issue. But that’s the way it’s always been—for poor Barbie, too—people project their own fears and frustrations onto a hunk of plastic and then work themselves up into a tizzy. Aren’t there more important and productive things to do?

Well, Nick caved to the whackos on Monday and showed a picture of the new Dora. They weren’t going to reveal it till next fall. I’m sorry the crackpots rained on their parade.

Even though the picture is out now, I’m still not allowed to tell you in detail, but I’ve also seen Mattel’s doll and a demo of how it works. Our children are safe. That’s probably all I’m allowed to say. Actually, in my opinion, this is a very savvy move on the part of Nick and Mattel, and I’m predicting that there are a healthy number of little girls who will love this. These will primarily be the kids who are loyal Dora fans and who will want to go on additional adventures with her. If they become fans, it will be because there’s something about the doll and the content that appeals to them. It’s that simple. What these companies both understand—and have invested bushels of dough in determining—is what appeals to kids at the target age, and they know how to keep them entertained and engaged.

And as you can see, there’s no threat here. America can breathe a sigh of relief.  I know I’m personally relieved. I was so afraid that Nick was going to turn sweet little Boots into an S&M icon. Or that Backpack was going to become a repository for contraband. Or that Dora, our sweet Dora, was going to go from innocent adventures with Map and her pet iguana to loitering down at the 7-11 in fishnets and even sneaking a puff on a purloined American Spirit cigarette. Glad I don’t have to worry about any of that—especially since that would have been so in keeping with what Mattel and Nickelodeon have done in the past. Please. I wonder if anyone thinks things through any more before having an outraged reaction!?!?

Oh, wait, an emotional reaction you can have in a split second. Thinking something through takes time, and in our culture of instant outrage, time and cogency might not let us get our daily dose of irate catharsis. That’s what my local news is for. Oh, and the Dora controversy made that, among stories of how heartless landlords are evicting people who don’t pay rent.

What’s so appalling about every little “controversy”—the speed with which people become outraged at anything these days. Opinion, even in the face of galloping ignorance, gets people all fired up.  I know, it makes media, but my goodness do we really need this kind of insanity validated by CNN and Reuters?

Can’t we teach our kids that feelings aren’t facts, that an emotional reaction may not be correct? That our biological patterning to protect ourselves from danger may not apply in every situation. I’m exhausted just from hearing how ticked off people get at anything these days.

Now, protecting our children is a paramount concern, but haven’t we gotten a little—Oh, what’s the word?—insane when the over-reaction to a silhouette and a press release about new developments in the “life” of a cartoon character is so extreme?

Even after seeing her, you may not like the new Dora, and it may not fit your values system. That’s fine, too. Don’t buy it.  You, the shopper, hold the ultimate power. Mattel and Nick do their homework, make their best strategic plans, and then the fate of any toy is really in the hands of the kids. If they’re not asking for it, chances are parents aren’t buying it.  (Oh, and as for the people who are now incensed about Bratz? Where were they for the better part of the last decade when they were snapping them up faster than Barbie’s for their little girls?)

So, moving forward, how about we let the market work and ratchet back the thoughtless, manufactured and unjustified outrage? And, by the way, if we’re so concerned about our kids staying innocent, as so many of these posters aver, what are we doing letting them watch “Lost” or “Twilight,” for example? Don’t get me wrong, I like these a lot, and kids can handle the content very well, but there’s more threat to an idealized notion of “innocence” from these, and many other books, TV shows and movies that are hot with these kids, than a silhouette of a doll. Of course, the toy industry has always been an easy target for free-floating anger and anxiety. (More on that later.)

You want something to be cranky about? Think about the A.I.G. scandal or the decline of reading scores among U.S. students. These are controversies that are at least based in facts.

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