Culture Notes


Issue: "Cleaning up Longview," Nov. 23, 1996

Doll jihad

What are we to make of the Nissan commercial that shows Barbie dumping Ken and running off with G.I. Joe? Some culture vultures are saying it shows the American woman choosing the macho militaristic male stereotype over the more sensitive but wimpy man of the '90s. Others--probably those who spent good money on the Barbie wedding dress and the Ken 'n' Barbie Dream Home--are accusing Barbie of adultery. The Islamic republic of Iran fears Barbie's cultural influence. "Barbie is like a Trojan Horse," says Majid Ghaderi of the Iranian Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. "It carries its Western cultural influences, such as makeup and indecent clothes." The Institute is promoting instead the Sara doll, dressed in a chador and sold with her brother-doll Dara as chaperone. Though Barbie may be a poor substitute for the traditional baby dolls--which let little girls practice being mothers--her universal popularity among the world's daughters is likely to confound the best theories of both Islamic fundamentalists and feminists.

Michael Jackson Jr.?

The latest celebrity to indulge in a desire for a trophy child is Michael Jackson. Having divorced Lisa Marie Presley, Jackson, like his pop-culture counterpart Madonna, is having the child out of wedlock. The mother-to-be is his nurse, Debbie Rowe. Reports are that he is paying her half a million dollars for getting pregnant by artificial insemination; now, apparently the two have married. With his tastes for toys, his private amusement park, and his Peter-Pan-like refusal to grow up himself--not to mention the accusations of child molesting--Michael Jackson seems hardly the best father-figure. But in the weird world of celebritydom, no whim goes unindulged, money can buy everything, and morality is no obstacle. A child is considered another fashion accessory.

Prime-time spirits

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In 1948, when television was a brand-new invention, the liquor industry set a policy of not advertising in the new medium. This is about to change. Soon, TV screens will be lit up with commercials for whiskey, vodka, and other kinds of serious alcoholic beverages. The national networks--NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX--are saying they will not accept the ads, which will be targeted instead to their local affiliates and to cable networks. Seagram has already been defying the ban on local stations in a pilot program. Because of the industry's voluntary abstinence, liquor has never advertised on TV before, so there are no federal regulations against it, as there are for tobacco products. The FCC and the Clinton administration are threatening action, but the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States promises to protect its First Amendment rights in court, if necessary. The liquor industry argues that a shot of whiskey contains no more alcohol than a glass of beer or wine, both of which are advertised on TV. The commercials, the council promises, will be tasteful and will not be targeted to children. But the purpose of advertising, of course, is to sell more product.

Boxing for Jesus

Evander Holyfield was considered a washed-up has-been, a 15:1 underdog, up against Mike Tyson, one of the most feared boxers in the game and the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Before the fight, Mr. Holyfield was insisting that he would win, telling reporters that God would give him the victory as a way to help convert unbelievers. Mr. Holyfield, a devout Christian, had widespread sympathy, but no one gave him a chance against the convicted rapist Tyson. Mr. Holyfield knocked out Mr. Tyson in the 11th round and is now the new heavyweight champion. Sportswriters are describing the unlikely victory in terms of David and Goliath. Mr. Holyfield just says, "I give the glory to God. He gets the credit."

Parental guidance on the Web

Parents wanting to evaluate movies and videos to see if they are appropriate for children can now get quick information from the Internet. A new, free service called Screen It is now available on the World Wide Web. Screen It analyzes movies in terms of 15 categories, including not only the usual sex, violence, and profanity concerns but also other potentially problematic areas, such as alcohol/drugs, blood/gore, bad attitude, frightening scenes, guns/weapons, imitative behavior, jump scenes, scary music, and tense family scenes. Also included are "topics to talk about." The service also gives a short description of the movie and assesses its appeal to kids. Screen It can be accessed at at


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