Publication Year: 1999
This book uses one of the most popular accessories of childhood, the Barbie doll, to explain key aspects of cultural meaning. Some readings would see Barbie as reproducing ethnicity and gender in a particularly coarse and damaging way - a cultural icon of racism and sexism. Rogers develops a broader, more challenging picture. She shows how the cultural meaning of Barbie is more ambiguous than the narrow, appearance-dominated model that is attributed to the doll. For a start, Barbie’s sexual identity is not clear-cut. Similarly her class situation is ambiguous. But all interpretations agree that, with her enormous range of lifestyle `accessories', Barbie exists to consume. Her body is the perfect metaphor of modern times: plastic, st
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
Core Cultural Icons[Page ii]
SERIES EDITOR: George Ritzer, Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland – College Park
Core Cultural Icons aims to combine theoretical and practical analysis. The series, edited by the author of The McDonaldization of Society, George Ritzer, focuses on key icons in contemporary consumer culture and analyzes them using the latest cultural theories. In this way, the series seeks to further our understanding of contemporary culture and to make theoretical issues more accessible to students who complain that theory is often too forbidding or daunting. Core Cultural Icons offers a route map for understanding contemporary culture and the leading cultural theories of today.
© Mary F. Rogers 1999
First published 1999
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without permission in writing from the Publishers.
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A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 0 7619 5887 8
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To all the people who participated in this research I owe an enormous debt. Without their stories and insights this study would have lacked life and vibrancy. While most of these research participants must remain unnamed as part of the agreement I made with them, the help of a few individuals need not remain anonymous, let alone confidential. Among them are Rae-Ellen Koenig and Jane Koenig of The Doll Express, Inc. in Stevens, Pennsylvania. Both agreed to share their experiences with me under busy circumstances when they were tired and ready for a long day to end. Similarly helpful was one of the coowners of Diamonds and Dolls.
I thank Phillip Lott for sending me many clippings about Barbie. I am also indebted to Shawn Lang for downloading material about Barbie from the Internet. Similarly, I thank Christy Stillman for getting seven Barbie collectors online to participate in this research by sharing some of their experiences. I also thank Ira Cohen for his steadfast friendship and collegiality. His is always a receptive ear as well as a critical, insightful one. Then, too, I thank Gloria Mattingly for reading several chapters at a crucial juncture in this work. Her feedback not only encouraged me but also helped me clarify my thinking on several key matters. Christy Garrett steadily helped me in similar ways, even when her schedule barely allowed her to keep pace with her own projects and commitments. Her unflagging generosity, support, and intellectual [Page x]companionship helped keep me going. I also appreciate the contributions of John Rogers, who took notes when I was nearly overwhelmed by the wealth of material on Barbie. John and I also had several conversations where his own thoughts pried open my consciousness in crucial ways. Above all, the pleasure of his company as my own energies were running low made all the difference in the world.
I dedicate this book to Don Eisman whose contributions to this research are considerable, though mostly invisible. His technical assistance and witticisms were crucial from beginning to end, as were his patience, his skills at keeping a household running on an even keel, and his steadfastness in making a home with a prodigal researcher.
Appendix: Data for this Study[Page 156]
The data for this study derive primarily from books, magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals as well as field observations at a Barbie doll auction and a Barbie doll show. The most crucial data, however, come from the written statements about Barbie that a number of people sent to me. Equally crucial data derive from e-mail statements by and interviews of Barbie doll collectors.
The single biggest set (N=87) of written statements comes from Marsden Middle School students. A friend of mine from undergraduate days teaches at Marsden and got permission from the school's principal to invite her social studies students to participate in the study. During class the students were asked to write about their experiences with and feelings toward Barbie. A few students (less than 10 per cent) chose, as they were informed they could, not to participate. Those who did write about their experiences provided diverse, colorful statements that often reflected intense feelings.
The next biggest set of written statements came from a class of introductory sociology students at Midwest State University. Midwest State University is a state-funded comprehensive university. Like the Marsden students, the Midwest State students were invited by their sociology instructor (a friend and colleague of mine) to write during class about their experiences with and feelings toward Barbie. Twenty-nine students submitted statements.
Another set of statements came from a nonrandom sample of faculty, librarians, staff, and administrative personnel at a state-funded comprehensive university in the southeastern United States. Twenty-four people (or 43 per cent) of the sample (N=56) responded to my written invitation to share their thoughts on Barbie. More than [Page 157]half (N=14) of those respondents were faculty members, nine of whom were women.
Additional written statements care from five of the eight family members and friends whom I wrote in hopes that they, too, would share their experiences with and perceptions of Barbie. Four additional statements core from a nonrandom sample of ten parents of children in a Montessori preschool located in a small city in the southeastern United States.
Cyberspatial data care to me through the auspices of Christy Stillman, a co-worker at the university where I teach. She invited the members of her Barbie collectors' group on Prodigy, an Internet access provider, to share their experiences and thoughts with me. Seven collectors did that. The other previously unpublished data on collectors derive from interviews with collectors that I conducted at a Barbie doll auction near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in April 1997 and at a Barbie d011 show and sale in Philadelphia in June 1997. I interviewed a total of seven collectors, with the interviews ranging from about fifteen minutes to about one hour each.
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