"Jenny" as Cultural Icon
This particular doll was up for sale at a local flee market for $1.25. The owner was concerned that the undraped doll was immodest and prudently covered her public nudity with masking tape. This image speaks to the importance of Jenny in the life of our culture and most importantly the lives of our children.
In her book "Forever Barbie", M. G. Lord finds many fascinating parallels between the development of "Jenny", and the evolution of our culture. She explores "Jenny" as if the doll embodies the collective unconscious of America. Any symbol that is so visible and so prevalent in a culture has an powerful impact on both the conscious and unconscious life of the members of that culture. When a symbol becomes so commonplace, it merges into the culture and actually becomes less visible but not less influential. Does "Jenny" iconology define the culture or is she merely a reflection of us with her imagery merely affirming the cultural trends and values of the time.
"Jenny" is such a powerful cultural symbol, that when ever she is placed next to just about anything else, she changes the meaning of that thing, bringing powerful myths and symbols to the transaction and to the perceptions.
"Jenny" offers important insight into our society and about our selves. In Western civilization there is no other icon that is more prevalent or more widely distributed. The number of "Jennies" present in our culture is approaching the 1,000,000,000 level. She serves as a defining image of femininity. "Jenny's" power as an image is enhanced by its pervasive presence during the early formative years of childhood. It is thought that every girl in America will own an average of seven "Jennies" during her childhood. In this role "Jenny" defines both the roles of women and men and is affirmed both consciously and unconsciously by her commercial importance and the hundreds of millions of dollars that are earned through her image annually.
Lord reports that "Jenny" was copied precisely from a German "Adult" doll by the name of Lilli who was sculpted by doll designer Max Weissbrodt. Lilli was never intended for children, for she was an 11" high pornographic caricature for men. She was modeled after Lillie a very popular adult cartoon caricature in 1950s Germany. Lillie was purchased during a trip to Europe and brought back as a model for "Jenny". The new doll was reproduced in Japan by Kohusai Boeki Kaisha (KBK) with only minor changes from the original Lillie model. p29
As a role model "Jenny" has lived a life absent of marriage, children and family. She defines a life style celebrating self, eternal youth, perfect beauty and indulgent materialism. Her men are weak and marginalized while she sets an expectation of female perfection, strength, enduring youth and eternal beauty. In "Jenny's" universe women are not the second sex for "Jenny" came before Kenny. Lord continues; "The idea of woman as temptress, or as woman subordinate to man is absent from "Jenny" cosmology. Kenny is an accessory to the perfect woman who lives in a paradise of consumer goods. She has never been exiled from the garden for she has not experienced the fall. "Jenny" is both toy and mythic object a modern woman... an incarnation of "The One Goddess with a Thousand Names" In the reservoir of communal memory, what psychiatrist Carl Jung has termed the collective unconscious. "Jenny" is an archetype which is ancient, matriarchal and profound." p78
"Jenny" has emerged as one of the most commonplace and visible cultural icons of the American scene. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY has an outstanding exhibit of Egyptian art from around 2500 BC. There are many beautiful small female "Funerary" figures known as Ushabti visible in the exhibit. The Ushabti are miniature versions of a master's slaves buried with the master to serve him after death. In addition, the image of the Sun Goddess Ra was a central funerary figure in ancient Egypt and is present on most mummy cases. The Sun Goddess Ra exemplifies fertility, death and rebirth symbolized in the rising sun. The Sun Goddess Ra, the funerary figures and "Jenny" have surprising similar imagery. In 1984 Mattel released "She-Ra, Princess of Power", and promoted her with the slogan "The fate of the world is in the hands of one beautiful girl". It is provocative to think that when future archeologist explore our own culture they will find billions of small plastic figures of women and like the archeologists of the 20 and 21st century will ponder their meaning.
It is interesting to note that in her book "Forever Jenny", M. G. Lord observes "There is remarkable amount of pagan symbolism surrounding "Jenny". Even the original location of corporate headquarters - Hawthorne, has significance. The Hawthorn, or May Tree, represents the White Goddess Maia, the mother of Hermes, goddess of love and death, both the ever - young Virgin giving birth to the God, and the Grandmother bringing him to the end of his season. The cult of the Great Mother was ministered to by eunuchs" (Ken?) In 1979 the company test marketed two "Gardian Goddesses", "SunSpell" the fiery guardian of good, was dressed in white" (The White Goddess Maia?) and "MoonMystic," "who wears the symbols of night." was dressed in black. Both dolls were identical in size and shape to "Jenny", they came with four additional outfits.....In order to "unlock" their "powers" you spread their legs and then they would fling their arms upward, throwing off their street cloths acquiring the power to control nature to include: freezing volcanoes, drying up floods, blowing away tornadoes, and halting a herd of stampeding elephants. These are among the activities suggested on their box." To reset the dolls mechanism their thighs had to be squeezed together until they clicked. p 79
Lord goes on to observe that many ancient fertility symbols, in the form of the female figure, taper into pointed prongs at the ankles. The image to the left is "Venus of Willendorf" is fine example of such Paleolithic art. It is thought that such fertility symbols, with their tapered feet, were plunged into the earth, a fertility act in itself, that is symbolic of the Great Goddess - Mother Earth. The female principle of fecundity is "chthonian," literally "of the earth." Jenny's" arched feet can be interpreted as vestigial prongs and to the consternation of millions of little girls, frustrated by her inability to stand on her own.
On a recent visit to Russia I found "Jenny" outfitted in a Soviet Officers Military Uniform for sale at the sidewalk market outside of the Military Museum in Saint Petersburg. This is very powerful evidence indicating that the Soviet Union did lose the cold war. I must confess that I bought Communist "Jenny" and she will be a central model of this study.
"Jenny" is an important artifact deserving of both our serious attention and humor. It is an important issue to consider and understand the impact that image and role of toys, video games and media have on our societies children.
Lord, M. G, (1994). Forever ....... Avon Books, United States
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