Damage Control at American Girl

Every few years, there seems to be a new outrage involving American Girl, the doll-and-book franchise. Having begun in 1986 with three marvelously designed storybooks and matching 18″ dolls (I was an early fan), the Wisconsin-based company was acquired in 1998 by Mattel, Inc. And after that the trouble began.

In 2005 American Girl was threatened with a boycott for contributing to a pro-abortion, pro-lesbian nonprofit organization. In 2016 American Girl introduced an African-American doll with Caucasian features, and was criticized for “not accurately representing the African American culture and true African American experiences.” And all along the company has been attacked for adding random black, Mexican, Chinese and Red Indian dolls for the sake of  “diversity,” thereby straying from American Girl’s original mission.

Initially American Girls represented an approximate cross-section of Heritage Americans. We had Molly McIntire who wears plaid and lives in Illinois in 1944; Samantha Parkington, in the Hudson Valley, 1904; and Kirsten Larson, representing our immigrant Nordic community in 1850s Minnesota. Later a 1770s girl in Williamsburg, Virginia was added, Felicity Merriman. These dolls and books were eventually retired, five to ten years ago, sometimes replaced by 6-1/2″ mini-dolls and ugly new editions of the original books. (Some people made a fuss over Felicity, because her family owned slaves. And they all seemed much too privileged.)

All the diversity you need!

As I said in 2017, American Girl is used to protests and boycott threats. It usually responds by backpedaling, getting back to its roots—sort of. That year, as though to make up for all the new black and mestizo cast members, they added a wholesome-looking Country & Western doll vaguely based on the young Taylor Swift. As Taylor was noted for her ever-changing boyfriends, her avatar, “Tenney Grant,” got a boyfriend too, American Girl’s first-ever boy doll. (There are several now.)

But now we come to the biggest, latest, weirdest controversy. It’s all about a strange little 96-page cartoon book called A Smart Girl’s Guide: Body Image. It sells for $12.99 online. I gather it’s now thought too incendiary to be displayed in the American Girl stores.

The Body Image book features drawings of grotesque and blue-haired youngsters with body-image problems. We get obese Girls of Color, wheelchair-bound Disabled Girls of Color, people of uncertain race and sex…and finally, what really triggered the tabloid press and “conservative” media…young People of Color who want a sex change.

“If you haven’t gone through puberty yet, the doctor might offer medicine to delay your body’s changes, giving you more time to think about your gender identity,” a page of the text explains alongside an illustration of a Pre-teen of Color consulting with a Bengali physician. The reader is then advised that he/she can start on puberty blockers without her/his parents finding out.

It appears the American Girl people have their books packaged by a third party, and don’t actually read them. Because when the outrage started, the AG front office acted completely bewildered:

From Yahoo News, December 9, 2022:

Julie Parks, a spokesperson for the company, told USA Today that no other American Girl book has ever received similar criticism. She said “Body Image” is the first American Girl book to address gender identity and expression.

I should expect it is! And of course it drew a lot of flak. “Gender identity and expression” is a safe & permissible target in normie-conservative media these days. It’s bizarre and lurid and most people never meet up with it—but it’s a great attention-grabber. Tucker Carlson does about two segments a week on it. Meantime, substantive matters of “Race, Diversity and Inclusion,” which affect society at large, are verboten, almost entirely off the table.

The outrage over the Body Image book is mainly a distraction, a proxy for the bigger things that can’t be said. But Newsmax host Rob Finnerty gave the game away on December 12 when he said he went into the flagship American Girl store in Rockefeller Center and couldn’t find a cute little white doll that looked like his 6-year-old daughter. Predictably the whole Leftist borg on Twitter, led by Media Matters for America, came down on him, called him a liar:

Not only a liar, but a racist as well, since he was bothered by the presence (the predominance?) of nonwhite dolls when he visited the American Girl store. The rebuttals, on MSNBC and elsewhere, all had the same talking points. First they’d show a unrepresentative page of the American Girl online catalogue, where most of the dolls were lily-white.

Then they’d display a promotional photograph from the company, indicating the wide diversity of the American Girl range. Which sort of contradicts their first point:

There appears to be even a Karine Jean-Pierre doll in there. Anyway, our tweeter or media-host-of-color—Mehdi Hasan in this instance—will often tell us, over and over, that when she was growing up, there were no dolls that looked like her; no Dolls of Color whatsoever! Demonstrably untrue, but let it go.

Newsmax’s Rob Finnerty may be guilty of slight hyperbole, suggesting there were no cute little white dolls in the shop when he strolled in there last month or last summer. But it’s an understandable impression,  one I’ve often had when going into the American Girl store. (I live nearby and have to walk past it all the time.) Brown dolls, oriental dolls, black dolls with prosthetic limbs, chemo-bald dolls, East Indian diabetes-kit dolls…they do seem to crowd out the normal, American ones.

However I’m happy to say that after all this recent media ruckus, the American Girl store in Rockefeller Center has cleaned up its act. I spent some time there yesterday, and couldn’t find a single Body Image or Race & Inclusion book. In fact there are almost no books at all. They used to have a book section, but now it’s gone. Too many complaints, too many protests?

And all-American girl dolls predominate once again at the American Girl store. Though maybe that’s just for the Christmas season, and they’ll soon be back to their old tricks.

(Below: SFGIRL, from the days when when the phrase “California Girl” actually meant something. Don’t know if the VW is for sale.)










TV’s Newest Villain: the Unscrupulous Publisher (1964)

This impressed me when I first read it in Jerome Beatty Jr.’s book-biz column, Trade Winds, in Saturday Review. Patty Duke and SatRev sharing the same media glebe! Like one of those sitcoms where people from a completely different show turn up. Like the Danny Thomas episode where he gets arrested by Sheriff Andy Griffith. (This was effectively Sheldon Leonard’s pilot for The Andy Griffith Show, not yet launched.)

I found the issue of SatRev by searching the archive on Unz.com. Unfortunately I can’t scroll through the entire issue, so have no idea how this column ends. But you get the point.

Books, Commentary, drivel

Rembrandt Landscape Was Actually Painted by Rembrandt

The world-famous Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rjin painted few landscapes. For many years this Landscape with Arched Bridge was long attributed to him because of its brownish color scheme. But no one knew for sure because he didn’t sign it.

Now a team of experts have studied the problem and decided, Yep, it’s Rembrandt all right!

Currently hanging in Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie, this reattribution of the painting brings the number of known landscapes by van Rjin to a grand total of seven!

You will find it on display in the exhibition “David Hockney – Landscapes in Dialogue,” which includes Hockney’s series “Three Trees near Thixendale.”

For further information, read this piece in ArtNews.


Ask the Family Doctor: Is It Healthy When Youngster Wants to Run Away from Home?

with Ferenc Molmar, M.D.

Q. My 15-year-old has suddenly become very excited about running away from home. I discovered this when I went into the youngster’s bedroom and found a large polka-dot kerchief, all knotted up with underwear inside, and tied to the business end of my Cleveland Niblick.

I think this is a fad that the kids learn about on the television or the internet, but I don’t think it is a healthy preoccupation. You are always reading horror stories about teenage runaways who are found chopped up in bin bags with their eyes gouged out. Also, my friend in the local Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) support group tells me that she’s keeping all her children at home till they’re at least 25 because children’s brains do not develop until that age. I have considered putting my offspring away in an institution but we don’t do that in my family so all I have is the ACOA people to talk to. What shall I do?

A. It is normal for children to want to grow up fast, and running away at 15 hardly sounds extreme. In great-grandad’s day, it was normal to be married with kids by that age. Of course very few people lived past thirty then, so you had to get an early start on the day, as it were.

Dr Molmar

Nowadays I fear teenage runaways want to leave home to engage in sex perversion and prostitution. This is because society does not provide the support systems it used to. For example, when I was first practicing in Minneapolis 60 or 70 years ago, we had a special park where adolescents would cruise around in the afternoon and sell themselves to passing gentlemen (and ladies), then take the tram back home to Edina with no one the wiser.

But that was then, when everything was all white and we didn’t have crime and it was all in good fun. Now that park is a needle-exchange community center. So yes, the bin-bag problem is a natural outcome of today’s degenerate society. Perhaps you could consider sending your child to one of those progressive theater camps or boarding schools in Michigan (if they stil have them) where they let kids play out their fantasies, and maybe go camping and so forth in a tent instead of hanging outside a bus station.

column, drivel, Medicins sans frontal-lobes

The Button-Down Mind of DAN HOWLAND (1994)

Dan Howland disappeared from San Diego sometime in the late 90s and reappeared in Portland, OR, where he is said to have authored an amusement-ride quarterly journal.

This classic is reproduced as it originally appeared in Gallery News in 1994…as it is an image and we are not about to type it in.

A friend of Dan’s asked, “Why did she draw you with a bow tie?”

Dan said, “Maybe she likes bow ties.”

The whole Dave Garroway allusion was thus completely lost.


Art, Commentary, drivel, Nostalgia, Society

Why They Closed All the Art Supply Shoppes

Pearl Paint on Canal Street in NYC was the artists’ Mecca for eighty years, with its assemblage of tumbledown warehouses and 1820s townhouses, selling every sort of paint and brush and picture album and canvas-stretching doodad in the Known World.

When it closed in 2014, people were  left bereft. Where now to buy your non-repro blue pencils and comic-strip boards and Prat portfolio books?

It’s a good bet you won’t find them at the Art Students League’s dinky shop, which is just past their main entrance hall on West 57th Street. That place is about as big as a suburban bathroom, and it satisfies that immortal precept of Paul Fussell in Class: If everybody doesn’t want it, nobody gets it!

This wasn’t much of a worry when Pearl closed, way downtown. For we still had, right there, across the street, the sumptuous and eternal emporium called Lee’s.

Lee’s Art Shop lived in a late-1800s building with Art Nouveau ornamentation, a structure that was originally designed as a companion piece to the Art Students League across the street. When it went up, West 57th Street was artist-land, full of new blocks of luxury flats designed with high windows for painters’ and sculptors’ needs. You can still see some of these, in the older buildings, on 57th between Sixth Avenue and Broadway.

Lee’s Art Shop was a veritable Empire of Creativity. If you didn’t have any idea of what you wanted to do, a stroll through Lee’s might give you a dozen. Eddie Salveri would tell you about lightboxes and airbrushes and hi-fashion lighting, and Hector the Chilean Board-Master in the back of the store would advise you on the finer points of FomCor and basswood and cold-press vs. hot-press illustration board.

Then there was the tall guy in the frame section out in front. He looked like Christopher Walken. I once saw him in an animated conversation with seated comedian Al Franken, who was getting something framed (I guess), and suddenly asked, as in a non sequitur, “Anyone ever tell you, uh, you look like Christopher Walken?”

And the frame man went, “Naaooo!”

For a while Lee’s spread out to other buildings in the neighborhoods, with retail shops dedicated to lighting and furniture. Then the chill came, the extremities dropped off, only the main store was left, and it had fewer and fewer and fewer seasoned experts. I’d show my 20% off discount card, the one I’d been carrying about for 30 years, and the wench at the cash register would be totally baffled, having never seen such a thing before. Well, she’d been there less than a year, what do you expect?

I’d go visit Hector in the back, and he was curt and glum, implying I was trying to butter him up to get some freebies. I think the word had just come down that Lee’s was going to close.

As Lee’s did, sometime in 2016. As with Pearl, I stocked up heartily on discounted drawing pads, inks, paints, brushes and other supplies that mainly remain unopened in the drawers of my armoire.

As of today, the Lee’s building is still untenanted. To which I say: Karma is a bitch.

Architecture, Art, Art supplies, column

Summer’s a Breeze with Celanese

Back in the 1960s, amongst the Young & Rubicam outdoor commuter-station posters urging you to advertise in TIME magazine (because TIME is where Beefeater Gin makes its martinis marteenier—or something like that), you’d also see ads that were garmento-related, selling synthetic fabrics.

I should add that these train-station ads from TDI outdoor advertising were mainly around suburban New York City. I never saw anything like them farther away than Philadelphia.

But back to the synthetic fabrics. The two brands I remember best were Celanese Fortrel, a kind of non-wrinking, drip-dry polyester used for dresses and men’s trousers and everything else; and Klopman, another no-iron brand that you were urged to “lean on.” You’d see a picture of a businessman in his casual golf-day duds, or a young girl . . . or maybe an old girl . . . and they would be pictured standing straight and tall, and then leaning against a nonexistent wall.

Lean on Klopman. Surrealistic, eye-catching, but maybe not quite on point.

MAD magazine once ran a house subscription ad that went: “Why lean on Klopman? (Or any other newsdealer for that matter?)” The joke must have been incomprehensible to most people who weren’t at least 35 years old, prone to commuting to Grand Central from Westport or Bronxville or some such; or perhaps somehow connected to the schmatte business or Women’s Wear Daily. But that’s how MAD was, you know.

Who Klopman was exactly, I was never curious enough to find out. Celanese however has been a brand name for  unrelated companies in Great Britain, America, and Australia for the past century. The fabrics from these companies weren’t/aren’t the same, so far as I can tell. And none of those commercial concerns had anything to do with Ceylon (or Sri Lanka, as that tropical island presently styles itself).

The first Celanese company, in England, marketed a sort of imitation silk, which possibly accounted for the name. Ceylon—silk; Celanese—fake silk. It’s not a name you can trademark, of course, just as you couldn’t trademark the Burma in Burma-Shave or the Turkish in Bonomo Turkish Taffy.

Around 1967-68, the American Celanese company had a tagline to push its main stock in trade, summer dresses: Summer’s a breeze with Celanese.

The synthetic industry was riding high in the 1960s, but it always faced a barrier of sales resistance in the form of snobbish preference for “natural fabrics.” A few years later, when the designer Halston was hawking his lines of apparel on TV, he’d proclaim that they were “made from trees,” which meant they were made of something like rayon, a synthetic made from wood-pulp cellulose.

By the mid-70s synthetics were widely regarded as a joke, best employed in the manufacture of soft luggage, parachutes, and those odd ensembles called “doubleknit leisure suits.”

Traditional, natural, fabrics seldom found their way to outdoor advertising. No, they took up big display ads in the New York Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Town & Country, and Seventeen. Off-the-peg clothing lines for young women usually had stuffy names suggesting small towns in Lichfield County, Connecticut: John Meyer of Norwich, The Villager Collection. If they ever used anything like Celanese Fortrel polyester, they certainly didn’t mention it in their ad copy.


ERRATUM: The original version of this article referred to fibers made from wood-pulp cellulose as Dacron. DuPont’s Dacron is a pure synthetic. Rayon, or viscose, is the cellulose fabric.


Museums for the Demented

In the never-ending search for some socially redeeming purpose in “art”—I don’t mean actual creations in sculpture, portraiture, illustration, music, etc.; but layabout-supporting grants and foundations—someone in England has decided the art thing might be good for dementia.

From Museum Next:

In recent years, museums have trialled [sic] and tested a broad range of initiatives designed to be dementia friendly. From light therapy to counselling, massage to cognitive behavioural therapy, cultural institutions are constantly looking at how they can cater for a vulnerable audience and complement clinical care. Undoubtedly one of the most successful treatments deployed in museums, however, is reminiscence therapy.

Reminiscence therapy has long been proven to benefit the wellbeing of people living with dementia. By looking back to memorable periods in the past, sufferers can improve their self-esteem, lower stress levels, boost communication, and enhance their overall quality of life in the present. What better place to complete reminiscence therapy than in a museum?

The Museum of London’s Memories of London Programme does just that. Providing on-site and outreach activities, the dementia-friendly museum gives sufferers the resources and support they need to connect to their history and enrich their everyday lives. Participants share and listen to stories, and use museum collections creatively to spark memories.

Such programs open broad new “professional” opportunities for people seeking non-career careers. It’s the old “accessibility” racket, on a par with busing criminals and asylum inmates to the gala Morris Dance competition in Sambourne Fishley.

Once you get credentialed in this specialty, you can impose your skills on any museum that comes your way.

Training is essential to improving accessibility credentials and ensuring that dementia-friendly provision is in place. Dementia sufferers face many challenges, particularly when it comes to communication, memory, mood, emotions, and behaviour. This can be daunting to museum staff not equipped to handle any unexpected or volatile situations…

Staff training should also recognise the importance of empowering people with dementia and easing any fears or nervousness they might feel.

With the right programmes in place, museums and galleries can reach out to ensure community engagement, accessibility and appropriate support for people with dementia. Often this involves the provision of tools, techniques and therapy aids that can be utilised by families and carers.

The article is hilariously vacuous, but perforce repetitive.


Art, drivel, Medicins sans frontal-lobes

Slim Pickens Meets Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern

There are two versions of this story, both told by Terry Southern, screenwriter for Dr. Strangelove.

In the first version, Peter Sellers is hired to play four (4) roles, including “Major King Kong,” the Texan bomber pilot. Giving it due consideration, Peter refuses because he can’t do a Texas accent. So Terry Southern records some lines in his Texas accent, and Peter practices and finally relents…ostensibly.

Later Sellers claims to have suffered a hairline fracture in his ankle while stepping out of a taxi in the King’s Road. Then he seriously messes up his leg further when he falls while negotiating the 8-foot ladders he’s supposed to climb in the B-52. Was this all faked/intentional? Yeah, probably. Regardless, the insurance company won’t post the completion bond unless Peter Sellers is pulled out of the Maj. King Kong role.

Terry Southern suggests getting a real cowboy-type, say, Dan Blocker (of Bonanza!) instead. Dan Blocker’s agent declines, saying Dan finds the role too pinko. Now Terry remembers Slim Pickens, a sometime rodeo clown whom Marlon (“Bud”) Brando discovered while making One-Eyed Jacks.

Slim arrives at Shepperton Studios, west London, “in costume”—that is, his usual Justin boots and Stetson. Terry Southern and Slim Pickens are formally introduced. Southern relates:

I went straight to our little makeshift bar, where I had stashed a quart of Wild Turkey specifically for the occasion, which I was ballpark certain would meet his requirements.

“Do you reckon it’s too early for a drink, Slim?” I asked. He guffawed, then shook his head and crinkled his nose, as he always did when about to put someone on. “Wal, you know ah think it was just this mornin’ that I was tryin’ to figure out if and when ah ever think it was too early fer a drink, an’ damned if ah didn’t come up bone dry! Hee-hee-hee!”

In the second version, Kubrick calls in Southern to break the ice and serve as interpreter.

When [Slim] got to the studio, Stanley, who was in the middle of directing a scene, broke off, and called me over. “Listen,” he said, “Slim Pickens is here, and nobody can understand him. You’re from Texas, you go and talk to him. Ask him if his hotel room is okay, and all that.”

….Slim was wearing his boots and his Stetson hat. He grinned and lumbered towards me. “Mighty glad to know ya!” We shook hands and I fished out a bottle of Wild Turkey I had stashed for the occasion. “Wal, Slim,” I said, reverting to the drawl of my youth, “you don’t reckon it’s too early for a drink, do you?” It was about ten A.M. “Well, hell no,” he said with conviction, “ah can’t recall it ever being too early for a drink of Turkey!” So I poured us out a few fingers each in two water glasses, and then I asked him about his room. He had a big swig of Turkey, swishing it around like mouthwash. “Ah, hell yeah,” he said, wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve, “it’s like this Okie friend of mine says, ‘Ah don’t need much,—jest a pair of loose-fittin’ shoes, some tight pussy, an’ a warm place to shit, an’ ah’ll be all right!’ Hee-hee-hee!”


(Both versions recounted in Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern, 1950-1995. ©2001, Grove Press.)


Hair Dryer Brushes: Should You Bother?

I think I was late to the party where dryer brushes were concerned. If I noticed them at all, they were just another electronic hair-styling gimmick, lost in a thicket of hairdryers and straightening irons and curling wands.

I bought a great big wand-thing, like a light saber, about 5 years ago; never used it. My only go-to electrical device was a very reliable (and cheap, like $20) Conair dryer, every bit as good as what you get at the gym or salon.

For years I never had to think much about these things because it was easy for me to drop a couple hundred with my hair stylist every month, and no one could cut, color, or blowout like her. But now she’s gone, and I’m poor.

As seen at the gym.


Moving on, though, I have now acquired a dryer brush. This happened inadvertently. I was potted one night around New Year’s, and while I was trying to make sense of some news blog, there it was in front of me, in some interstitial ad from Amazon. It was a good-looking device and was apparently on sale.

What it was, was football. No, seriously, it was the basic Revlon model dryer-brush. But I didn’t even notice the brand or type. I just ordered it on impulse and then forgot about it for two weeks, till a huge box arrived. I mean, big enough for shipping a piece of stereo equipment in the olden days.

The device is huge, twice the size I expected. Think of a big round styling brush, and now double that and give it a big thick handle and the heft of a small Louisville Slugger.

I finally tried it out in front of the mirrors at the gym today. I am very impressed, and may never go back to the old blow-out dryers again. These doohickeys completely eliminate the need to section-part with a brush held in one hand, while you awkwardly hold the hair dryer with the other.

This one has four settings: Off, Low, High, and Cold. The Low is what’s usually called Warm on standard dryers. The Low was quite sufficient for most drying. I chopped off six inches a few weeks ago because I can’t deal with unruly below-shoulder-length hair. But I’m old, y’know.

Now I’m noticing that, like Barbie, these drying brushes have all sorts of accessories. The main one is a rigid rectangular case with zipper and pockets, big enough for your regular comb and brush and hair clips and other implements of destruction. In online reviews I see people are storing makeup in there, too. Goodbye, soft makeup cases!

I find the whole idea irresistible and will probably order one this week.



Sotheby’s Scores Another Record Year

Sotheby’s sales for 2021 surpass $7.3bn, the highest total in company history, reports theartnewspaper.com.

Proving once again that Art is Bigger Than Ever!

In part, the eBay syndrome seems to be at work: people will gladly bid twice as much online for a piece they’d scarcely look at in real life. Nevertheless, only a piddling $800 million in sales were done online.

Why pay more online? Who knows?

Quoth the article:

As the tail end of a second year governed by a global pandemic turns the corner and a new year hopefully less constricted by Covid-19 approaches, Sotheby’s total sales for 2021 have reached $7.3bn, the highest in the company’s 277-year history, and more than 68% higher than last year’s total sales for the same period, which topped out at $5bn. And the auction house has 20-odd sales still to go.

Like many people, Bruce Chatwin worked for Sotheby’s in his early life.

The landmark year shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. The Covid-19 pandemic upended nearly every tradition and convention in the art market, from the art fair calendar to how galleries sell art online. The auction houses were no exception. The inability to travel combined with a younger generation of well-heeled collectors who are new to the market, have a fondness for viewing things digitally and are keen to speculate meant the auction house was able to capitalise on the digital infrastructure they built out in 2020.

Read the whole thing, if you dare.


Night Watch Sketch Discovered in Holland

From The Art Newspaper:

Rembrandt’s preliminary sketch for The Night Watch (1642) has been discovered beneath the surface of the paint, using the latest scientific techniques. Conservators at the Rijksmuseum have also determined the worrying extent of a rippling deformation of the canvas, which was caused when the picture was moved during building work in 2003-13. This will now require urgent treatment.

Deems Taylor

The Night Watch, the most important painting from the Netherlands, has been investigated by a 30-strong team at the Amsterdam museum during the past two and a half years.

The discovery of Rembrandt’s original painted sketch was announced this morning at the Rijksmuseum.

Read the rest.