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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology

 

 

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
Joukowsky_Institute@brown.edu

Claire Russo Week 4 Response Paper Material Worlds 2 March 2007

Bratz Dolls: An Example of Modern Day Figurines?

Douglas Bailey, in his Prehistoric Figurines, discusses at length the similarities between prehistoric figurines and our modern day toy dolls. “The doll is a thing (a person even) of the child’s own kind; it is a human form with arms, legs, a head, and other body parts; it is humanoid” (Bailey 68). Bailey cites modern portraiture, sculpture, photography, and of course, actual examples of dolls, like the Barbie Doll, to reveal to readers the wide range of interpretation of the concept of the doll even in our own age. Bailey continues on to argue against theories which essentialize the ideas represented by prehistoric figurines, claiming that they strip the figurines of possible interpretation by immediately grouping them into pre-specified categories. Claim Bailey’s contemporaries, archaeologists Tringham and Conkey: “To essentialize something is to reduce a complex idea/object to simplistic characteristics, thereby denying diversity and multiple meanings and interpretations” (Tringham and Conkey 22). Goddess Archaeologists, for example, tend to categorize all figurines as either fulfilling or not fulfilling the theory that figurines are symbols of a fertility goddess; this interpretation, however, neglects to acknowledge the presence of other possibilities of figurine interpretation.

Take, for example, an archaeological dig in the future, in which archaeologists uncover a cache of today’s latest controversial doll toy for girls, the Bratz Doll. Future archaeologists, were they to essentialize their theories in finding a few of these dolls, would immediately form conclusions based on the doll’s bodily proportions: irrationally large heads and overtly prominent sexuality depicted on seemingly childlike shrunken bodies. Bratz Dolls provide an interesting modern counterpart to the irregularly shaped figurines found in Neolithic sites, as they allow modern day scholars to understand the dangers of essentialism in a modern context.

These bizarre little dolls, a hot commodity in today’s toy market, demonstrate the discord between reality and fantasy; while modern humans are perfectly capable of rendering dolls proportional to the human body, there often exist motives for exaggeration in the sculpting of these doll forms. The same is demonstrated in Neolithic cultures: ancient wall paintings depict humans and animals in anatomically correct proportions, while dolls of the same time period are more stylized and less proportionally correct (Meskell 12).

The Bratz Dolls, first introduced to American consumer-minded children by MGA Entertainment in 2001, skyrocketed immediately in popularity among the elementary school crowd. Though debuted in a small posse of four female figures, with impossibly large heads, wide eyes, luscious lips, loud makeup, small, scantily clad bodies, and bizarrely large feet, the original Bratz Pack was quickly joined by international, twin, triplet, infant, and toddler sets of Bratz Dolls.

Just as archaeologists today puzzle over the over the enlarged sex organs depicted on numerous figurines, future archaeologists would surely stumble over the swollen heads and shrunken bodies of today’s Bratz Dolls. Tringham and Conkey discuss some possible interpretations for the abnormally large sexual organs found in Neolithic figurines by citing Onians, and the following description of the Venus of Willendorf figurine from Austria: “Those areas of the body which are shown in all their rounded perfection are precisely those which would be most important in the preliminary phases of love-making, that is, the belly, thighs, breasts, and shoulders, while the lower legs, lower arms, feet, and hands are withered to nothing” (Tringham and Conkey 25). What would future archeologists surmise from today’s Bratz Dolls? It is very doubtful that MGA Entertainment, in bestowing these precious Bratz with abominably large heads, intends to reveal to future civilizations that we humans today are so full of knowledge that we perceive our heads to have swollen to the size of large pumpkins. Though the idea of sexuality is very prominent in ancient figurines, we today have no way of truly knowing the reasons behind the emphasis of sexual organs and other such configurations of prehistoric miniatures. It is highly possible that clay figurines, like Bratz Dolls, possessed meanings that went far beyond those revealed by the simplistic rendering of their figures.

The many versions of the Bratz Doll brings to mind the diversity of figurines excavated from Catalhoyuk by Mellaart; because Mellaart had essentialized his search for figurines, seeking feminine figurines which held up the Goddess Theory, he unknowingly discarded many figurines which did not exhibit outright feminine sexuality (Meskell 5). Bratz Dolls, like these Neolithic figurines, expand beyond the boundaries of femininity to include Bratz Boyz, a line of boyfriends one can purchase to date one’s Bratz Doll, and Petz, a similar line of “accessory pets.” The prevalence of other anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and even ambiguous “third gendered” dolls among what would at first seem a very specific genre of modern toy dolls demonstrates the likelihood that Neolithic peoples created figurines in all shapes and forms, to fulfill more purposes than modern day archaeologists initially assumed (Tringham and Conkey 42).

Prehistoric figurines, therefore, are not such a foreign concept when one pauses to consider the figurines of today and their somewhat bizarre roles in society. Dolls are methods of education for children, while also serving as a medium for representation of social tensions and beliefs. Prehistoric figurines, though seemingly alien to modern day people, are, in fact, not as otherworldly as was first imagined. Even concepts that initially seem very prehistoric, like the mobility of prehistoric figurine’s heads, find resonance in toys of today; in 2004, MGA Entertainment released a promotional collection of four Bratz Dolls whose heads could be exchanged in order to create “new looks.” These can be compared directly to figurines found by Mellaart and Meskell which possess dowel holes in the tops of their bodies, into which different heads can be fitted (Meskell 15).

Figurines, therefore, both ancient and modern, serve the same initial purpose of expressing societal currents of representation and self-perception. Concludes Bailey: “A figurine is a body made object-ful; it is an object infused with the essence of the body “ (Bailey 84); indeed, figurines and Bratz Dolls are just objects, but their social context imbues them with levels of meaning and purpose distinct to their individual time frames and to their individual owners.

Bibliography:

Bailey, Douglas; 2005. Prehistoric Figurines: Representation and Corporeality in the Neolithic. Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

Meskell, Lynn; 2006. “Figurine worlds at Catalhoyuk: materiality, mobility, and process,” Unpublished paper delivered at Ethnohistory Workshop, University of Pennsylvania (April 6, 2006) ( Handout with author’s permission.)

Tringhamd, Ruth and Margaret Conkey; 1998. “Rethinking figurines: a critical view from archaeology of Gimbutas, the ‘Goddess’ and popular culture,” in Ancient Goddesses: the myths and the evidence. Lucy Goodison and Christine Morriss. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 22-45.

Von Patten, Denise. About Bratz Dolls. About.Com <http://collectdolls.about.com/od/dollprofiles/p/bratzdolls.htm >.

Wikipedia Entry, Bratz. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bratz >.