[above: That is not — I repeat, NOT — a Chinese character tattoo on Barbie's neck. That model doesn't come out until 2011.]
Barbie turns fifty this year, and in keeping up with the times, Mattel has started selling "tattoo Barbie." I really, really, really wish I were making that up:
We begin in Southern California, where, just in time for spring, Mattel Inc. has released Totally Stylin' Tattoos Barbie. The doll comes with a set of more than 40 tiny tattoo stickers that can be placed on her body. Also included is a faux tattoo gun with wash-off tats that kids can use to ink themselves.I'm afraid I'm going to make the word "pornification" a bit of a cliché, so I'll just say this: America... hell in a handbasket.
A spokeswoman for the El Segundo toy maker said it was a great way for youngsters to be creative with their pint-sized gal pal. But some parents are horrified by this body-art Barbie, labeling her the "tramp stamp" queen of playtime.
Meanwhile, Mattel is stepping up marketing in Barbie's country of manufacture: the six-story House of Barbie in Shanghai:
It's a multimillion-dollar bet that its 11 1/2 -inch plastic toy will appeal to Shanghai's material girls, even in this horrible economy.China is a place where one-child moms dote over their daughter's every whim. I smell success, but there are doubters:
"There's no reason why in five to 10 years, China shouldn't be the biggest market in the world for us," said Richard Dickson, Barbie's general manager, sitting on a lattice boudoir bench on the store's fourth floor, where girls can design their own dolls.
The store also contains a salon where moms and daughters can get facials and manicures.
But there are plenty of doubters who point out that you need only go into a Chinese home. You won't find many girls playing with dolls, let alone dolls with blond hair and blue eyes.Ah, but that's the key to many entrepreneurial ventures: Don't sell them what you need, but make them feel they need what you sell. We'll see if "Shanghai Barbie" ("with bigger eyes, a rounder face, and a softer complexion ... no tattoos") ends up changing the face of China — or even makes the girls of China want to change their face.
God help us all. (And a note to parents: If there is even the remotest chance your child will go online to Google "tattoo Barbie," please please please make sure that "Safe Search" is on.)
Sphere: Related Content