Monday, January 16, 2012

Malibu Barbie, Holiday Barbie ... Bald Barbie?

Barbie with Puppy Swim School

Wow. I can’t believe I’m going to come down on the side of Barbie.

I can’t believe I’m about to say that her ridiculously blonde hair, disproportionately stacked build and glittery outfits are all that they should be.

Because sometimes, they should be.

A campaign recently began to ask Mattel to create a bald Barbie in support of children with cancer. Mattel’s subsidiary, American Girl, has received similar requests.

A Facebook group dedicated to the cause has nearly 120,000 likes. Many on there tell heart-breaking stories of illnesses that have impacted their children and other family members. In an article written by the Associated Press, the page’s founders say a bald Barbie would help raise awareness for children with cancer.

Sorry, but "awareness" is a grown-up word, a grown-up notion. Do children need to be aware of cancer if it isn’t in their world? Do children in that situation want a doll that looks like them or do they want a doll that does what so many dolls do for girls – provide a fantasy world? 

I have no children, but I have had cancer. I was fortunate to not lose my hair and got more than few jolts of the real world when sitting in oncology waiting rooms with people and children who had.

As a kid, however, I had the kinds of things that make you realize you are not like other kids. I wore leg braces and, later, a back brace. Walk out the door with bolts on your shoes and metal around your neck and try to feel like the other kids.

Yet what I needed most back then -- and got -- wasn't some awareness campaign or a toy that looked like me. I had parents who somehow, miraculously, made me believe that as much as this stunk, it shouldn't have to affect who I was or who I wanted to be.

When I went to Girl Scout camp, I went to regular old camp. One year, we were visited by kids from a nearby camp for disabled children. There was a girl who visited who had the same back brace I did for the same reason I did. My parents sent me to Girl Scout camp, let me play basketball, climb trees, ride my bike and generally be a regular kid. This other girl's parents sent her to a camp for disabled kids. I wish I had been older and more mature to talk to her about it; the memory of that saddens me to this day. 

For a child with cancer, I  imagine her regular kid world would include her toys and her dolls, no matter how unreal they look. For little girls, Barbie is a fantasy world. She’s held up as ideal, a beautiful ideal, someone many little girls grow up wanting to be.

For a sick child, I would think that would be a wonderful escape. Feminists and cultural critics have long debated the wisdom of Barbie as a role model, but in this case let the child have her fantasy and spare her the teaching moment. I suspect even without a special Barbie, a little girl with cancer is gaining quite an awareness of what the real world has to offer.

Do children need this "awareness" in their toys? That’s what it comes down to. Barbie is not alone in this regard. The pink juggernaut of breast cancer has had things such as rubber duckies, Beanie Babies and even a pink Sponge Bob Square Pants toy.

In a perfect world, children would never have to be aware of these things. But in a world that’s far from perfect, letting a child believe her Barbie is perfect might be some of the best medicine of all.

The image promoted by those who want Mattel to create a Beautiful Bald Barbie.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One Life, One Soap, One Era Almost Over

A pimp -- and a surgeon. Quite the career arc for Marco Dane.

 Well, it was a pretty good “Life.”

On Friday, Jan. 13, after more than 40 years, “One Life to Live” will come to its end. Llanview will be no more. Pimps will stop being surgeons and rich guys will have to find someone besides local housewives to be their hookers.

A sad day indeed.

The Llanview folks can’t even go hang out with their friends in Pine Valley, because they’re gone too. “All My Children,” one of the most successful soap operas of all that took place in fictional Pine Valley, bit the dust last fall.

Soap operas, a genre of drama that dates back to radio days, are a dying breed and the likes of Victoria Lord Reilly Buchanan (and maybe a few more last names since I stopped watching) and Dorian Lord seemingly have no place in the viewing world anymore.

In 1970, there were 19 soap operas on all three networks. Once “One Life to Live” ends its run, there will be just four – "The Young and the Restless," "The Bold and the Beautiful," "General Hospital" and "Days of Our Lives."

“One Life to Live” debuted in 1968 and was never the sexy soap opera. For some reason, though, it was always my favorite. “All My Children” was edgier in terms of weaving in contemporary issues, and “The Young and the Restless” figured out sooner than everybody else that teenagers and people in their 20s liked watching soaps, too.

My mom wasn’t a big soap opera watcher, but she watched this one from time to time, although she had a preference for "As the World Turns."  My Aunt Pep loved to tune in to what she called “my stories,” and as a night nurse, like my mom, she got a chance to watch them. I have a tendency to equate soap operas with ironing because I have a vague memory of them being watched while my mom ironed, not to mention aerosol starch products were pretty big advertisers.

There are a variety of reasons I liked “One Life to Live” best. Part was watching it with my mom, part was a vague recollection of being home sick the day the very first episode aired. I think someone died falling down the stairs in a hospital. However, that could have been "Ryan's Hope."

But two other reasons are a big part of it. The moral core of this story – the good people, the valiant people – were newspaper people. The good vs. evil thread that weaved through the show in all the years I watched it pitted noble newspaper publishers, editors and reporters vs. the rich and powerful.

I doubt that “One Life to Live” was why I chose the newspaper business, because the show also featured hookers and I didn’t choose that career path. But working at a newspaper was something I wanted to do since I could hold a pen in my hand, and no doubt that was part of the appeal of the show.

The second big reason I loved “One Life” was the utterly outlandish plots. I mean, every soap opera has outlandish plots. Yet for a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s when soaps were hot hot hot, this show had some humdingers that still crack me up.

There was Marco Dane, who was a pimp --  and a surgeon. Well, not officially. He was a pimp whose surgeon brother was murdered and Marco did a whole lot of studying to take over his twin’s identity and good path in life. Who knew it was so easy?

And there was his pal Karen, who was the wife of the chief of staff at the hospital – and a hooker. That the hooker housewife, whose sister was an ex-nun of course,  grew up to be well-regarded actress Judith Light makes it all the more wonderful.

And there were memory losses and switched babies and multiple personality disorders and wife beaters and people returning from the dead and evil twins and rapists and cowboys and cults and a bizarre bit of time travel.

But after Friday, it will all be gone, replaced by a new health and lifestyle program. Because, you know, there just aren’t enough of those.

You can’t blame the networks. Soap opera ratings have been tanking for years, and a scripted drama with a large cast costs way more money than talk and reality shows. The demographics of the fans aren’t what they once were, aging with each passing day.

Yet it’s not so much that viewers don’t want a soap opera; they just don’t have to tune into one that is scripted anymore. Why pay somebody to write about the rich and powerful of Pine Valley when you can just see what the Kardashians are up to? Who has to wonder what crazy antics Erica Kane has planned when you can just check out what Snooki is doing? Who needs the evil schemes of Kay Chancellor and Victor Newman when a real-life presidential candidate paid a staffer to claim parentage of that out-of-wedlock baby?

Real life – or the way television networks choose to present it -- has trumped the soap operas. And in the real vs. fake, soap operas just don't stand a chance.

Never would I think that I would like life to be more like a soap opera. But, really,  I wish they weren't so darn close. 

 "I am a common hooker. Marco Dane was my pimp. Is that what you want me to say? Do you want more filth? Do you want names?  Now are you satisfied?"