Complacency and American Girl Dolls 2

It’s time to revisit American Girl Dolls and the Saturn V rocket. The trending topic among millennials is the new “historical” American Girl doll who lives in the year 1999.

Previously, I blogged about the historical Courtney doll from 1986 in “Complacency and American Girl Dolls.” I used Courtney’s accessories to illustrate stagnation in the physical environment (within rich countries) of recent decades. Courtney has a Walkman for playing cassette tapes and she has an arcade-style Pac-Man game to entertain herself. I pointed out that ’80’s Courtney had to be given the World War II doll Molly just to keep life interesting.

What do Isabel and Nicki have a decade later in 1999?  

They have a personal CD player and floppy disks. It’s cute and the toys will sell. However, it does not seem like innovation has introduced many new capabilities. Isabel can listen to music through her headphones and be entertained on screens, just like Courtney could.

Isabel eats Pizza Hut and has dial-up internet access. There is no sense of sacrifice or expanding the frontier. The world was settled, and history had ended.  

What counts for adventure in 1999? Shopping vintage clothing. Just like Courtney, Isabel revisits the past to get a sense of purpose or excitement.

This is Isabel’s diary. Having nothing to do besides look at clothes from past decades, she obsesses over status. Presumably “Kat” complimented her hat in person. Facebook didn’t start until 2004, so Isabel is not worried about “Likes” in social media.

So, what did I do with my kids for their school break on Presidents’ Day?  We went to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to see the Saturn V rocket.

This spacecraft cabin was the core component of the Apollo Command Module Mission Simulator for NASA. The cabin replicates the Command Module where crews rehearsed procedures such as reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.  My kids liked the physical switches.

We watched Apollo 13 (1995) when we got home.

There is something exciting about expanding our physical frontier. The courage demonstrated by these astronauts is inspiring. The Apollo 13 mission was in 1970. Are we, like Isabel, going back to vintage items to find purpose?

I posted some observations about the TV series Get Back, noting that Paul McCartney is an inspiration for classroom teachers. Get Back and Apollo 13 are also interesting studies in team production. Much of the dialogue is about how they are going to work together to solve a problem. The culture on display at NASA is special. The combination of ambition, trust, sincerity, and humility is significant. There is some jockeying for status, but ultimately the people in Apollo 13 seem united and excited about a common goal that is greater than themselves.

You can see an interview with the real Capt. Jim Lovell on YouTube.  Lovell had big dreams. He did get to command a mission in space. However, Lovell “lost the moon,” meaning he did not get to be one of the first humans to walk on the moon. He’s clearly disappointed by this in the movie, but he maintains focus on what he can do for himself and his crew to get back to their families. As an adult in progress, I find his example to be helpful.

From what I can see on the website, the American Girl doll historical series currently culminates in listening to music and eating Pizza Hut. Isabel is preppy, whereas Nicki cultivates her unique and separate personal identity as a skater chick. Having no external adversary and no frontier to explore, they focus on fashion. As tempted as I am to show the floppy disk drive to my kids (seriously tempted), I don’t think I’ll buy these dolls or their books.

If you are looking for a historical hero story for kids, The Bravest Dog Ever is about a dog sled team that saves a town in Alaska by racing to deliver diphtheria medicine.

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