In 1972, the Kenner Corporation introduced a fashion doll onto American shelves that could only be described as innovative; sporting a large, oversized head and an eye‐changing mechanism controlled by a pull string, the Blythe doll was a marketing disaster, terrifying girls rather than attracting them. Blythe was cast into obscurity until it came to the attention of a New York photographer, Gina Garan, in the 1990’s. Garan started photographing vintage Blythes she found on Ebay, and published her work in a 2000 book, This is Blythe. The popularity of the book led the Japanese toy manufacturer Takara to produce a new line of Neo‐Blythes with a marketing strategy targeted not at little girls, but rather ‘big girls’ like Garan who saw in her the “rare and unique, the beautiful and the funny” (Garan 2). Blythes are now consumed internationally by adults who identify with the doll and assign to them an emotive, as well as creative, connection. A particular identity arises from collecting Blythe, an identity that is given meaning by the sites of representation, production, consumption and regulation in the “circuit of culture” (du Gay et al 3). In particular, it is within the acts of production and consumption of Blythe that one can come to see the changing role of toys in the lives of adults, and how they are no longer just emblems for childhood, but also the embodiments of larger dreams and desires.
“Why do all us women collect dolls that were intended to be children’s toys? What are our reasons? I feel I grew up far too young. My dolls for me represent the
GEND1002: Reading Popular Culture Tutor: Ana Dragojlovic innocence of my childhood, something I never want to lose, or something I am trying to recapture.” – Maddy*1
Toys will always be an emblem of childhood, and the innocence and purity associated with that age. However, that is not to say toys are completely childish; rather, they possess a certain power based on a “recognition of possibility” (Phoenix 9). Toys are essentially, representations of reality, an “abstraction instilled into concrete form” (Phoenix 7) that embody a particular concept. For Blythe collectors, their 11 inch companions capture some a simple beauty, some “childhood image” (Fleming 43) that has been lost in the contemporary fast‐ paced age of technology and mass consumerism. Their vintage origin further makes this recognition possible, as the rediscovery of Blythe translates into a rediscovery of this past age.
A particular identity is associated with the practice of collecting Blythe dolls, which says as much about a collector as it does about the hobby itself. As a consumer product, it is marketed to individuals based on their perceived identity, but it also actively produces the identities that this construction is based upon. Most Blythe collectors are female; they are stay‐at‐home mums, students or graphic designers (Atkinson online) who found Blythe special because of the wider practices associated with Blythe collecting. Many of these women had not collected dolls before Blythe and thus don’t identify themselves as strict doll collectors; rather, they see Blythe as a creative hobby or an expressive outlet which allows them to customise, photograph, crochet, knit, sew, paint, for their 1 Name changed to protect identity, collected by interview via http://www.weplaywithdolls.net/forums
GEND1002: Reading Popular Culture Tutor: Ana Dragojlovic dolls. They are often inclined towards…