Magazine article The Christian Century

No More Villains

Magazine article The Christian Century

No More Villains

Article excerpt

My school-aged self was intrigued by the Purple Pie Man. He was the villain of the 1980s Strawberry Shortcake franchise. Tall, sporting a purple hat and a thin mustache, the Pie Man was a constant if vague menace to Strawberry and her various sweetly named friends.

In the years since I thrilled to the Pie Man's threat, television has spun off in two opposite directions: increasingly violent images for boys and threatless universes for girls.

Even as we rightly worry about the violent media images that bombard children, villains like the Purple Pie Man have been stripped from girls' programming. Even Dora the Explorer, heroine of the quintessential program for preschoolers, has greater threats to face than does the updated version of Strawberry Shortcake. The message seems to be: even toddlers can stand up to evil better than elementary school-aged girls.

Purple Pie Man is a casualty of an era in which television is produced in perfect sync with consumer culture and its moneyed plans for girls. The children's programs of my generation were linked to lines of toys, and this was a lucrative enterprise. But the newer versions of Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony have taken things several steps further. The characters no longer look like pudgy-cheeked dolls. They have been smoothed over and glossed up. Their hair is sleek. Pudgy cheeks have been replaced by tiny bodies and exaggerated eyes. The ragdoll apron is gone, traded in for always changing trendy outfits. In other words, these animated dolls have become idealized images of the girls themselves. …

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