But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.... (Matthew:18:6).
Commenting on the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, former child television star Paul Petersen (The Donna Reed Show), asked an important question, "Did you feel that sinking awareness in your guts when you first glimpsed the video of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey? The sudden pain that came when you realized the intent behind her poses? Who taught her the overt sexuality of a practiced exhibitionist? Didn't you ask yourself, ‘What was the goal of her pageant pursuits?'...I've found myself wondering if JonBenet ever had a chance to be a little girl. Her face haunts me, that innocent gaze struggling to overcome the mascara, the rouge, the sculpted and sprayed mane, the pouting lips drawn in by a cosmetician. What was being covered up?" (http://www.minorcon.org/littlegirllost.html).
Hollywood has a long history of stealing the lives of children. One has only to read the biographies of Jackie Coogan, Judy Garland, and other child stars in order to see the tragedy of a lost childhood. Toy manufacturers have embraced the same amorality in marketing toys to children.
Petersen asked, "Who taught her the overt sexuality of a practiced exhibitionist?" Why, we did--that is, an American culture, willfully allowing its youngest members to be victims of those who would steal their childhood, the closest thing this world has to innocence. This is not an overnight development. In 1955, "[vacationing in Switzerland], Ruth Handler happened upon an 11 1/2-inch doll with a blond ponytail, pouty lips and a seductive glance. ‘Lilli' was a figure in a bawdy German cartoon, a symbol of illicit sex that was sculpted into a doll form but never intended for children. She was a pornographic caricature, a gag gift for men" (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug02/sund/dreamgirl/chartoy.html).
Handler bought three of the dolls and gave them to Mattel toy designers. They toned the overt sexuality down slightly and, in 1959, "Barbie" was introduced to U.S. consumers, but not without concerns from parents and educators. "Barbie [was] adorned in a black-and-white striped bathing suit and stiletto heels. Her eyes were painted with black eyeliner and her ears adorned with pearl hoops....Mattel enlisted the help of psychologist Ernst Dichter to ensure consumers that this toy with breasts and an insatiable lust for clothes [was] a teaching tool, a toy that would endow young girls with the skills to attract and catch a man. She immediately met opposition from those who felt [that] as a voluptuous, scantily-clothed emblem of female sexuality, she was yet another example of the objectification of women's bodies" (Ibid). They were right.
Today, Barbie is passé. A line of dolls called "Bratz" (we need not explain the name), filled up stores in America beginning in 2001 and just as quickly were bought up by consumers, with 125 million sold in 2005 alone. One of those purchases was a "Bratz Baby" doll named "Sasha," purchased as a Christmas present for a four-year-old. After the doll was unwrapped, the little girl "turned the doll over and discovered that beneath the khaki green skirt (and baby bottle attached to a bling chain), Sasha was wearing a thong. That's right. A black mesh one....Jean Kilbourne, filmmaker, cultural critic and author of Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, says the Bratz dolls are ‘beyond Barbie,' and that is beyond shameful....[I]mprinting an adult version of sexuality on children sets them up for all kinds of problems directly related to the sexual activities that seem to be so common to teenagers. Girls are treated as sex objects, and boys don't even have to pretend there's a relationship." (Campbell, Hartford Courant, 1/4/06).
Speaking specifically of false prophets, Peter warned of those who "through covetousness shall...with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not" (2 Peter:2:3). It is instructive that a psychologist was brought in to convince concerned parents that Barbie was "a teaching tool." It is reasonable to suppose he was well paid.
Some have noted that Bratz look as if "they would be quite at ease on a street corner waiting for their pimp to emerge from a long limousine in a puff of white powder" ("Meet the Bratz," Sydney Morning Herald, December 26, 2003). "Other mothers are simply so happy to have their 9-12 year old daughters still playing with dolls that they happily overlook those aspects of the doll" (http://collectdolls.about.com/od/ dollprofiles/p/bratzdolls.htm).
These parents "happily overlook" an uncomfortable reality. Their children are being merchandised, and that involves the theft of their childhood and the potential destruction of their adulthood. When the tragic involvement of children in war (as in the Sudan) is made known, the world professes to be concerned about children becoming adults before their time. This recognizes that there is a time for children simply to be children. Some have defended Bratz with the foolish notion that their overt (and cheap) sexuality is a sign of independence, a desire to "have fun," as if there were no other way to have fun.
Yet, some recognize the danger. "‘Perhaps when we surround ourselves with sexualized images of young people we shouldn't be surprised that a segment of the society thinks that it is okay to have sex with children,' says Cathy Wing, of Media-Awareness, a non-profit educational organization..." (Joanne Richard, "Selling Sex to Kids," Toronto Sun, July 17, 2005).
Peter gives further warning about those who view others as merchandise: "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage"
(2 Peter:2:19). That is certainly an application for today.
[An upcoming issue of TBC will address some of the dangers associated with boys' toys.]