Complacency and American Girl Dolls

Two recent books warn Americans that our society stagnated after the moon landing: The Decadent Society and The Complacent Class. Both imply that the 2000’s are running on fumes and have no equivalent of the Saturn V rocket. We have barely altered our physical world in decades, improvements in cell phones notwithstanding.

This has launched an interesting debate (you could even call it a game) where people look for counterexamples. Here’s the most recent one I’ve seen

This week I saw a reinforcing example of stagnation.

In the 1990’s I used to read the American Girl doll catalogue from cover to cover every year. Everything is terribly expensive but also delightful to look at. I had the Molly doll and I read a few AG books about how she was inconvenienced on the homefront during World War II. She complained about having to eat turnips from a Victory garden, but she was encouraged to be patriotic and support a cause greater than herself. Her father is away with the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

I was a little dismayed when I saw that you can now buy a mini Molly doll for your 80’s doll. My life is now “historical”, so I am officially old. Great.

It’s not lost on me that American Girl is playing on nostalgia to sell more product. Millennials like myself might buy this mini Molly doll so we can re-live memories of childhood vicariously. However, I’m going to use this to illustrate “the great stagnation”.

You can be inwardly focused or outwardly focused. The WWII war effort was a time when America was dynamic and focused on achieving great things.

“Courtney” the 80’s doll is pictured next to a Pac-Man arcade machine. Her goal is to keep herself sufficiently entertained. She can listen to her Walkman if Pac-Man gets boring.

Today, 40 years later, people are still starting at screens just like Courtney the 80’s doll. The reason we are buying a mini 1940’s doll to gift to a 1980’s doll is because so little has happened since 1980.

You can make jokes about an infinite recursion of American Girl dolls. It’s funny because it won’t happen. You can be inwardly focused or outwardly focused. Molly’s America is outwardly focused, and that makes her exciting.

I don’t think anyone is going to give a 2050 doll a mini Courtney 80’s doll. I’m even more certain that no 2050 doll is going to get a mini 2010 doll complete with tiny 2010 iPhone.

Maybe by 2040, there will be something new to ignite the imagination.

Incidentally, LEGO seems to think humans will be on Mars soon.

17 thoughts on “Complacency and American Girl Dolls

  1. Scott Buchanan November 17, 2020 / 11:01 am

    So true…also note how many movies are remakes of 1970s-1980s flicks. Hard to wrap our heads around fact that first Star Wars movie came out in 1977, long before many readers on this blog were born, but we are still milking the franchise.


  2. Jamie November 17, 2020 / 4:30 pm

    “…so little has happened since 1980.’ Oh please. So our recent progress doesn’t “translate” well to toys. That shouldn’t be the measure of our advancement. With few exceptions, you can listen to any song ever recorded, watch any TV show or movie, read anything that has been printed, anywhere, at any time. You can talk to and see any friend or family member no matter where they are in the world. Whatever you are interested in, you can connect with thousands of other people around the country and world with similar interests. All of these advancements have broadened our horizons and you might argue this now is reflected in the 30+ multicultural Barbie dolls currently available.


    • Joy November 17, 2020 / 4:36 pm

      That’s a good point. There has been a revolution in information technology, and it does not translate well to toys. The point in some of the books I cited is that a sense of shared rising prosperity results from advances in the physical world. Another point of interest about advances in IT is that, if you value those innovations highly enough, then the “real wages for the median male worker have stagnated” talking point might change to “everyone is much better off because the internet is so incredibly valuable”.


      • Purple Tortoise November 18, 2020 / 11:32 am

        Sometimes I imagine a conversation with someone back in the 1940s. They say, “How absolutely wonderful it must to have a handheld device that allows you to communicate instantly, even by two-way video, with someone on the other side of the world.” I reply, “Naw, it isn’t all that great. 99% (or 99.9%) of the calls I receive are from spammers and scammers.”


  3. kaleberg November 17, 2020 / 8:33 pm

    Nostalgia tends to peak about 40 years back, so our current nostalgia centers around the 1980s. In the 1960s, it was the roaring 1920s with its bootleggers, flappers and booming stock market. In the 1920s, it was the 1880s and the closing of the American frontier complete with wild west shows and cowboy movies. Molly would have loved a doll from around 1900. She was probably reading Anne of Green Gables, the Wizard of Oz, the Betsy-Tacy books and other stories set in that era. She would probably have gifted her 1900s doll a doll from the Civil War era.

    I’m not sure that “no 2050 doll is going to get a mini 2010 doll complete with tiny 2010 iPhone”. You’re talking about 2090, and I can’t imagine why not, save for a catastrophic collapse of civilization or, even less likely, an end to multi-thousand year little girls play with dolls thing.


  4. Josh Wheeler November 18, 2020 / 12:31 pm

    two lazy points of refutation – Factfulness by Hans Rosling (everything’s getting better) and google maps


    • Joy November 18, 2020 / 12:48 pm

      Thanks for the comment and the chance to clarify. The world is better today than it was in 1980. The complacency I speak of is expanding on ideas explained in the books I cite. Privileged people are “digging in” to enjoy their own bubble, and the conversation about complacency is meant to galvanize them into taking more risks and meeting new people. My post is not meant as proof that world has not meaningfully changed since 1980.


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