Reading Part Seven – Space Camp vs A Fairy Secret

27 Oct

A while ago, I came across some modern Barbie books for children in a discount shop, price a pound each. I didn’t buy at first, as they featured some cute illustrations but certainly nothing in the league of Burmah Burris. However, I had to pop into the same shop again the next day and thought I might as well pick a few up. Maybe unsurprisingly, I was too late and they had all gone, apart from these two.

First up is “A Space Camp Adventure”, a Barbie Sisters story. I don’t think this had sold because its pretty much outside English children’s frames of reference, as we don’t have any equivalent of this American institution.

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As you might know, I’m not usually a big fan of back story, but do you know what? I read it, and it was OK. I expected Barbarella-esque outfits and hunky-hero Space Commanders, but the story was actually a lot more wholesome than this, focussing on Skipper’s struggle to reconcile herself to living without her mobile for a weekend (brave girl, I’m not sure I could do it) and learning the importance of knowing your strengths when working as part of a team. Yes, Barbie does seem to have a spacesuit with a diamante belt and the inside of the spaceship happens to be pink, but on the scale of gender-stereotyping misdemeanours, I don’t think that Space Camp scores all that highly.

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On to “Barbie – A Fairy Secret”, which is not quite as comfortable to read. I sat down to try it again tonight, but I just couldn’t bring myself to follow the confused plot which has suffered in its translation from the film (which as you might have guessed, I haven’t watched). Partly, this is because there’s a number of slightly dodgy cliches embedded in the storyline. For example, Raquelle is the dark-haired Bad Girl, spitefully jealous of Barbie’s charms, and the plot follows Barbie’s attempts to win back Ken from the other women (er, fairies) who have stolen him away. However, the illustration is better than Space Camp, maybe reflecting the fact that Fairy Secret is a lucrative Barbie spin-off line:

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I think the two books considered together are a very good example of the way that clever old Mattel hedges their bets. Space Camp is the more acceptable face of Barbie – a fresh-faced, athletic, aspirational role model. Fairy Secret shows the other Barbie peeking through, the one who has been so heavily criticised for perpetuating offensive cliches about womanhood. Both books are being sold at the same time, from the same shop, so you are free to choose which of these approaches you want to take home with you – Ruth Handler would have approved of this dollar utilitarianism, I’m sure.

By the way, there isn’t AN illustrator for these books and the flyleaf credits Ulkutay Design Group, which sounds rather corporate and robotic to me. I still don’t find the illustrations quite as charming as the Burmah Burris era books, although actually I have warmed to them a little. There’s something about the pictures that remind of me the Sims, which I love. And I do think its an interesting touch to have made Barbie look so much like Paris Hilton – when we look back at these books in thirty or forty years, I’m sure that they will be just as evocative of the times in which they were produced as the Burmah Burris illustrations are.

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2 Responses to “Reading Part Seven – Space Camp vs A Fairy Secret”

  1. Teresa November 15, 2012 at 5:45 am #

    I love the little space camp book! So cute! It reminds me of the fun of Barbie more so than the Fairy Secret book. However, I do have the Raquelle doll and absolutely love her. Love your blog, thanks!

    • barbielea November 15, 2012 at 9:18 am #

      Thanks very much Teresa! I like yours too. Nice to hear from you, call back any time 🙂

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