Disappointing Dora

By Legal Eagle

Before you have kids, if you are anything like me, you have this idea that you won’t let them get sucked into consuming various television shows, junk food, brand names and etc. Then reality hits as your 2 year old points at an ad in the supermarket carpark and says, “Dere’s Wiggles, Mummy!” Children are very good at picking up on these things, even when you try to shield them.

Children’s TV shows are a big factor in exposing kids to certain brands and concepts. I find some shows stupid or repellent. For example, I can’t see the attraction of Teletubbies or In the Night Garden, although my daughter loves these. I can’t stand Hi-5. I’m not a big fan of Lazytown. Why are half the characters puppets and half real people? Why does that girl have pink hair? And “sports candy” (otherwise known as fruit) – what a lame concept.

By contrast, there are some children’s TV shows that I don’t mind. My favourite is Playschool. I like Sesame Street, Thomas the Tank Engine and Charlie and Lola too. I can deal with The Wiggles.

I’ve always been quite fond of Dora the Explorer. Dora is no-nonsense, capable and self-sufficient. She uses initiative to solve problems.

Dora the Explorer and Boots the monkey

Dora the Explorer and Boots the monkey

However, this may be about to change. As Mia Freedman explains at her blog Mamamia:

Dora is something of a post-modern feminist icon and an absolutely brilliant role model for very little girls. In a scary world of Bratz dolls and Barbie dolls and Pussycat Dolls, Dora is an inspiring oasis of sanity.
Dora is smart and sassy and it’s not about what she wears. Her only accessory is her backpack which is all about utility.

And now? Now? DORA IS GETTING A MAKE-OVER.

Gone are the shorts, t-shirt, sensible shoes and simple haircut. Dora will now have long hair, a short skirt and ballet flats. Will she also have a belly-button ring, eye make-up and a spray-tan?

The news release shows a new sillhouette of Dora:

Teaser - Doras new look

Teaser - Dora's new look

Noooo! I’ve said it all before in an earlier post on girls growing up these days:

It seems to me that there are some very weird messages mixed up with the way in which our society portrays teenage girls.

First, there’s the whole body image thing. I’m sure some of these celebrities must have had heaps of plastic surgery to make them look the way that they do. Plus, their business is “looking good” so they can devote time to diets, workouts etc. But to a vulnerable teenage girl who doesn’t fit in with the slim gorgeous stereotype, these images just serve to further compound her misery, and make her feel unattractive and unworthy. (Although, hey, that makes her more receptive to buying rubbish!)

The reality is that there are many body shapes out there, and lots of beauty which doesn’t fit into the stereotype. I once worked with a girl who fulfilled all the stereotypes: tall, blonde, clear tanned skin, slender, big breasts, regular features – you name it, she had it. Yet I found her very unattractive, because she had a sour, sullen look on her face and often made unpleasant comments about others. Attractiveness is not just about looks. But teenage popular culture doesn’t seem to portray this.

But the other thing that worries me is the way in which girls seem to be expected to grow up very quickly. After watching Video Hits, I went to the supermarket, and my eye was caught by one of those horrible little pink magazines at the checkout (”TeenZine” or some dumb name). The cover had a heavily made up girl who looked about twelve. It was a bit disturbing: the virgin and the whore, all in one. Unfortunately, the first thing that came into my mind was that this picture would be a pedophile’s dream. I was reading an article the other day that the catwalks are full of 13 and 14 year old models. That just seems revolting and ridiculous to me on a number of levels.

It’s true that childhood and teenagerhood are modern ideas. In the European Middle Ages, one was considered to have reached adulthood at the age of 7. My grandmother was born in the Depression era and had to grow up quickly in another sense. She finished school at the age of 14 and went out to work, because she had to earn her keep. It seems childhood is a modern luxury. But there seem to be mixed messages in society as to when one should start behaving like an adult. I think it would be very confusing to be a teenage girl these days.

The whole thing reminds me of the description of Susan in the Narnia books:

“…She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

It seems sad to me if girls are encouraged to become mini-adults too soon. I hope my daughter doesn’t grow up too fast. After all, you’ve got the whole of the rest of your life to be an adult.

As a feminist and the mother of a young girl, I will boycott Dora if they “sex her up” and turn her into a mini-adult.

There’s a petition you can sign here.

(via Mamamia)

(Hat tip to my beloved husband)

Update:

It seems there was a debate mid last year about the makeover of old cartoon characters (see NY Times Article here).

Some makeovers have been successful, others have not. I must have missed the flop that was “Earring Magic Ken”.

Here’s a post at Feministing about Strawberry Shortcake’s makeover.

Another post at UTNE on cartoon makeovers notes:

Sleek and sinister, slim and sexy—are these the characteristics that are emblematic of our modern culture?

Update 2:

Earring Magic Ken wasn’t actually a flop – he was the highest selling Ken ever and immensely commercially successful…it’s just he didn’t appeal to his target audience (young girls). However, he did appeal to another audience…

Earring Magic Ken
Earring Magic Ken

Prism Magazine explains the popularity of Earring Magic Ken within the gay community.

In 1993, Mattel takes a stab at modernizing Barbie’s main squeeze. Some might say it tried too hard. Maybe it’s the doll’s foofy mesh shirt, the screaming-lavender vest or the pendant — which many insist resembles a c**k ring — but Earring Magic Ken is quickly labeled the “Queer Ken.” Mattel is not amused. After adamantly denying the doll is gay, the company pulls Earring Magic Ken off the shelves, despite it being the biggest-selling Ken doll in the company’s history. (editing added)

A search on the Net shows that Earring Magic Kens are now a collectable item. For some reason, I find this absolutely hilarious.

Update 3:

Nickelodeon and Mattel have been forced to reveal the new Dora after uproar from parents.

Doras new look

Dora's new look

45 Comments

  1. Posted March 16, 2009 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    I suppose the closest you be able to get to the traditional Dora will be the Wild Thornberry’s…. with the one having a similar silhouette to the Sell-Out-Dora being the elder snotty-nosed teenager sister who is (most of the time) the villain.

    Ooooh, I’ve just figured it out…. it’s not Dora…. it’s the evil Angelica Pickles who has taken over the show!

  2. Posted March 16, 2009 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    In a world fraught with pink princesses needing to be rescued from Prince Charming I was thrilled to discover Dora. Someone recently made a comment “I know a lot of parents like you who are anti-princesses” and that angered me. I am not anti anything, I am for strong, dedicated female role models for young girls. Nothing wrong with princesses, but I can’t understand why all need a prince to be complete. The focus on physical appearances is also what bugs me. Kids have their entire life to be obsessed with that (and yes, obsess they will) so why do we need to push that? Let my girls be kids. Let them dig in the dirt for worms if they want to (ok, I am not that fond of worms but you get the picture). My adventure and exploration always be a part of our children’s lives.

  3. Posted March 17, 2009 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    Dora shouldn’t need a spray tan, she’s supposed to be hispanic. Or are they changing that too?

  4. Posted March 17, 2009 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    It sucks when they give classic cartoon characters makeovers for a new audience. I remember when they made an American version of Superted. Superted used to have the accent of a plucky young English man; then it turned into the accent of a bratty US kid. You bastards, you stole Superted!

  5. Posted March 17, 2009 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the petition link!

  6. Richard
    Posted March 17, 2009 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Why is it so impossible to not let a 2 yr old or 4/6/8/10 year old watch so much tv or, here’s a revolutionary idea, no tv?

    No wonder brand names are so recognisable to tinytots when they are parked for some many hours in front of the idiot box.

    Just Say “No”.

  7. klaus k
    Posted March 17, 2009 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Can’t remember where – perhaps boingboing – but there is a body of eliterature on the contemporary trend towards less charismatic versions of cartoon characters.

  8. lilacsigil
    Posted March 17, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Just remember – Susan’s behaviour meant that she couldn’t go to Narnia/Heaven with the rest of her family. She was condemned for trying to be an adult when she wasn’t. CS Lewis (and indeed a tremendous number of people) have no sympathy or concern for girls who *do* imitate what they are shown to be appropriate, adult behaviour. They are called “prostitots” and men who rape them get light sentences because the underage girl “asked for it” or “looked slutty” or “was drunk”. It’s easy to blame the visible face of commercialisation of childhood (the blonde pretty girl you mention, the young models) and much harder for people to confront the market forces behind it. Challenging this new Dora is a good start.

  9. Posted March 17, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Dora the explorer appears on commercial TV so she does not feature in my children’s viewing mainly because of the ads that interrupt the show. So whatever the message that may be there for a young girl is undermined by the advertising for products that I don’t approve of…

    Re Hi five as a bloke I totally get it; if you have to watch TV with your offspring it is nice to have something that makes the experience pleasurable. Lazy town is actually very cute and quite popular in this house I actually see it as a homage to classical pantomime. My son loves it. The Wiggles were cute for child number one, but I have avoided them like the plague the second time around mainly because they seem to be trying just a bit too hard and they are very patronising to their audience.

  10. Posted March 17, 2009 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I’ve successfully banned television in a household with two teenagers. It became clear that both (in this case a niece and nephew who lived with us for a couple of years) were tanking at school thanks to television habits, so it went off and stayed off. That said, my partner and I had to go without too for this to work. Not sure how it could be effective with little children, though — I’ve always been much better with teenagers than little kids, but then, I’ve also always been utterly draconian (as my own mother was with me).

  11. Posted March 17, 2009 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this snippet, LegalEagle.

    I know exactly where you’re coming from, although my girl loathes Dora with a passion.

    Magilla’s nearly 7, and for the past couple of years has thought that being skinny is cool, and also came home from her father’s with the idea that she looked “better with decoration”.

    I restrict my comments to a bland, “Oh, really? Why is that?” and pretty much leave it.

    I’ve introduced her now to Punky Brewster as a plucky, resourceful little girl who doesn’t dress like a whore, and does the right thing by people.

    Luckily I never had to suffer In The Night Garden, and the amount of pc-dreck out there for kids is appalling.

    We rarely watch television that’s not dvds, and my girl has an extensive collection to choose from.

    I vet all her television shows before she’s allowed to watch them.

    You can’t lock your kids away from modern inventions as much as you’d like to, but you can control their access to it.

    And those dreadful little Bratz are verboten in this household.

  12. Posey
    Posted March 17, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I’m the second youngest of six kids and we were not allowed to watch tv during the day and only between sundown and 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights up until the end of high school. It wasn’t really a big deal for us, there were plenty of other enjoyable things to do that didn’t involve electronics, or being indoors, though I do accept it’s harder for a maximum of two adults with only one or two offspring and no other help to enforce such draconian measures today. But then many young parents do, somehow, without too much angst.

    Young kids, all kids, don’t need to be entertained or made safe by tv and playstation and there are other arguably less harmful ways of protectively confining their movements, if that is the partial objective, other than by a flickering screen.

  13. lomlate
    Posted March 17, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Being the nerd I am I like to think of a technological solution that may be impracticle depending on the child’s age. Why not torrent every season of the shows you think are good and hook up a hard drive type device to the TV, something like an appletv? That services the “sometimes i need to plonk the kid down” aspect and prevents them from watching “the wiggles”.

  14. Posted March 17, 2009 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    LegalEagle you need to either get yourself another video recorder – I did that with my girl. Several 4 hour vhs tapes with PlaySchool back to back non-stop was a Godsend.

    Or get a dvd recorder and just save the PlaySchool straight onto disk.

    Otherwise, I’d recommend Where’s Boo? for a fun watch. The Hoobs can be fun for the littlies, and I always preferred The Hooley Dooleys for musical entertainment.

    The Muppets are also especially fun, although it took a bit of time for my girl to get into them. Muppets From Space is a fave, as are The Princess Bride and The Dark Crystal and Neverending Story.

    There are lots of good shows out there, and Miss Piggy is just awesome as a rolemodel lol!
    Needless to say, being a household of film fanatics, we’ve literally hundreds of dvds covering all genres, so there’s no excuse for her not to have something appropriate to watch.

  15. Posted March 17, 2009 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Poor LE, although I do sympathise. In the end, you go with the flow, relying on you kids to sort thinds out. We did exercise a degree of censorship, but mainly so far as adult things – sex and violence – were concerned.

    I think that the thing that we tried to achieve was to give the girls access to a range of material. We would and did say no to requests triggered by things like advertising,

    Maybe a post at some point, talking about our own experience.

  16. Posted March 17, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    I am surprised you are prepared to run as far as you do with C S Lewis’s account of Susan which you quote. I’ve long thought that was a pretty misogynistic passage and line, pretty much in line with blaming everything on Eve.

  17. Posted March 17, 2009 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got back into kids TV with my 2yo grandson (I let his parents sleep in most Sat and Sun mornings). Thank goodness for ABC2, but I prefer to keep the TV off… megablocks or going out and giving food/water to the birds (esp talking with the magpies and investigating the different trees) keeps him very amused… difficult tho he was in Melbourne.

    I CANNOT STAND NIGHT GARDEN – How can good old Uncle Clau-Clau-Claudius have fallen so low??

    That said, there ARE some good kids programs (and Channel DVD is always useful). “Bottletop Bill” is brilliant the way the bits and pieces of scraps come together as the scenes change… if you like Play School turn scraps into toys, then you’ll love Bottletop Bill.

    There were two things I did with my daughter and TV… control the programming: Either to bore her senseless (“Oh Dad, not BBCWorld/News/Current Affairs again! I’m outa here!”), or ensure it was something I thought had merit, be it Thomas the Tank Engine (she became a Beatles fan because of Ringo) or even “nice/whimsical” cartoons like Aaaargh Real Monsters (Oublina turned her into a Kate Hepburn fan), Angry Beavers (hey, I liked the 60s music), Rocko’s Modern Life (what a role model!), and Fairly Odd Parents (I can have a touch of the Cosmo’s). All of these were good for “cuddle up on the couch”-time.

    Rugrats was good value… not only because it was “nice” and sometimes very touching… but because I could say “You’re being a right little Angelica… stop it!” which can be a good shorthand for a complex cluster of undesirable behaviour that is hard to put into words quickly, but which the kid knows is a BAD THING.

    The other thing I tried to avoid was the flashy 10-seconds a subject no-long-term-focus-needed shows.

    TV/DVDs can also be a soft introduction to topics that you want a kid to investigate in future years. Films such as “Jason and the Argonauts” can help develop an interest in other classics, for example.

    And whenever possible I leave the subtitles ON. When older, the game with DVDs can be to put the subtitles in French or German, (or maybe spoken in French with English subtitles) to get across a feel for other languages and how they are related. I’ve since found out that there are programs in third world countries to put same-language-subtitles on films shown in villages, because it helps older people who never got much schooling increase their literacy.

    Just because something is a book doesn’t mean it has value. Well-chosen TV can be better than some printed material… in fact, I think some printed material aimed at kids is very counterproductive.

    btw: We never had a TV until I was in grade 1 or 2, so by the time I saw “Play School”, I considered myself “too grown up” to watch it, and was heavily into watching Julius Sumner Miller doing really neat stuff.

  18. Posted March 17, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    I must admit I also read CS Lewis’ account of Susan like LE — in fact, I also found it pretty affirming, in part because I found most teenagers’ obsession with sex (a) made them stupid, and (b) led them to overrate one thing at the expense of everything else. I’ve always agreed with Bob Hope on sex: ‘it isn’t the best thing in the world, and it isn’t the worst thing in the world, but there’s nothing else quite like it’.

    I do like the story of the ‘Earring Magic Ken’ marketing miss. Someone in advertising must have paid for that stuff-up 😉

  19. Posted March 17, 2009 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    LE said: I never had a Ken. There was one Barbie who was the designated “man”

    When my daughter was into Playmobil, the “Daddy” was played by a long-haired character intended by the manufacturer to be female, and “Mummy” was played by a short-haired character intended to be male. What happens in your house?

    (And I hate Night Garden so much I have on my Facebook “Interests” section (on weekends: “Hating Iggle Piggle and friends”)

  20. Posted March 18, 2009 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    C S Lewis wasn’t really condemning Susan at the end of the ‘Last Battle’ by not granting her immediate access to heaven – in his terms, she probably remained unredeemed, but this puts her on equal terms with just about every other inhabitant of Lewis’s earth. (He commented later that perhaps Susan would find her own way back to heaven.)

    I’m not sure if Lewis is really blaming Susan, either. He criticises her, yes, but he does so in a rather oblique way – through the words of another character (Professor Kirke), who was, of course, just another ‘imperfect’ human.

  21. Posted March 18, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Here’s the new “tween” Dora.

    http://tinyurl.com/ddatfq

    Still not sure how she’s going to manage in the cute ballet flats. Maybe she’s going to be a stay at home tween.

    “One Barbie who was the designated man” – OMG, that’s so cheap! And funny.

    Which part of “screaming queen” did the company not notice when they created Earring Ken? Damned shame he had a truncated shelf life.

  22. Posted March 18, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] said “Dave, I think I need to join that Facebook group”
    It isn’t a group AFAIK, just what I put in freeform text under “Activities” in the profile, not a group, not a fan, not a page. For clarity to non-FBers, my “activities” section is:
    M-F: I’m boring.
    F/Sa/Su : Megablocks, chasey, blackboard and chalk, find-the-dummy, getting jumped on, talking with magpies, hating Iggle-Piggle and friends, cleaning grubby faces, passing on toddler-taming skills.

    Tell you what LE, YOU create the group or page, and I’ll join it!

  23. pedro
    Posted March 19, 2009 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    The new Dora is hardly a Bratz. I won’t be panicking if my daughters get excited by the new look. They both already like dressing up despite not watching shows providing the inspiration you fear.

  24. Posted March 19, 2009 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    So I take it she wont be exploring much more than a shopping mall from now on, because that new outfit would last five minutes in a jungle.

  25. Posted March 20, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    And where is her backpack… so no food, no water, no tent…
    Aaaah, exploring the concrete jungle. (actually the beasts at the top of the food chain in the concrete jungle are a lot scarier!)

  26. Sinclair Davidson
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Both my daughters have outgrown Dora, but with a new tween Dora they might watch again.* So the producers might simply be following the market (and of course creating new mechandise etc.)

    * Right now they’re watching the same shows that their brothers watch (Simpsons and Dragonball Z). I think a new Dora might be a better option. (I personally lie Ben 10 and Kids Next Door).

  27. Posted March 27, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Dora will now have long hair, a short skirt and ballet flats. Will she also have a belly-button ring, eye make-up and a spray-tan?
    .
    Oh no!
    .
    I don;t have kids but my nephew is a huge fan of Dora and it’s a cool show. Isn;t Dora a kid. Why why why why – does she need to be a Hip Hop ho’?
    .
    As Bill Hicks said marketing? Advertising? Kill youself.
    .
    ‘Cept me? 🙂

  28. Molli Unknown
    Posted April 9, 2009 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand why you think Dora looks “sexed up” She looks adorable. She does not look prerogative in any way. Being a teenager of today I can honestly say that I have seen worse at the high school I attend. If you think this is bad then you’ve been hiding under a rock.

  29. Helen
    Posted April 15, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Molli, prerogative? I do not think it means what you think it means.

    LE is not talking about Dora being “sexed up” but being required to perform femininity in the approved manner of the sex/shopping/conventionally attractive stereotype, whereas before the character was allowing girls to identify with someone who didn’t bother with this performance and engaged in adventurous stuff instead.

  30. cheese
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    wheres boots

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