I took aim at my familiar punching bag, Strawberry Shortcake, recently. And I got to thinking (which is, by the way, one of those useful phrases that actually captures the way the mind works): what's the problem? Why does she stand in for everything I detest in children's books? What's the big deal?
Here's what I think: the books are horrible. Truly awful. Written, as my sister told me, "as though the author was both drunk and lobotomized." And maybe I could deal with that on its own. I mean, no one's going to want to read them ever, but does it make them evil? Of course not.
What makes them evil is that the sickly sweetness masks the agenda: Be nice. Be sweet. Conform. Obey. Silence yourself. Stick with the herd. Be nice. Be sweet….
I don't sound paranoid, do I?
The one that really pushed me over the edge was this:
Spoiler alert: I am totally going to tell you how this ends.
So here's the gist of it: Blueberry Muffin comes along to Strawberry Shortcake's fiefdom, and wants to say thanks to everyone for how welcome they're making her feel! She's going to have a party! Or a picnic! Or something! I forget what! And I surreptitiously threw this book away years ago because it was casting a toxic miasma over my house!
But Ginger Snap feels left out! Oh no! And then when the party happens, she walks out and no one notices! Which makes her feel like crap! And in her heart, she turns against Blueberry Muffin! And you can't have any negative feelings in Strawberry Shortcake Land! Even internally! Stop it right now!
See, here's where it got especially creepy for me. Because Strawberry Shortcake (or SS as we'll now call her—see how it's all there, hidden beneath the surface?) basically shames Ginger Snap: we must always be sweet! You're sorry, aren't you? I know you are—you must be sorry! We must ignore our true feelings! Besides, look at Blueberry Muffin's bell bottoms, she is way cooler than you are! So toe the line or you're done for! (I'm exploring the subtext here.)
And by the end, Ginger Snap is doing what everyone else does! She apologizes! And Blueberry Muffin and she will now be friends! And not only that, but she regrets ever having had the temerity to act any other way! She was so wrong, SS! She'll only be nice now, for ever and ever!
Don't get me wrong: If anyone new ever moves into my Adorable Baked Goods Valley, where I live, I would very much want people to be kind and welcoming. And if the new baked good was cooler and more well-liked than my kids, who were just ginger snaps (and who likes those? And then there's the whole racial subtext, because just like Scary Spice, Ginger Snap is not white, therefore different, and somehow that is part of it), I would hope that everyone would get over it and still be welcoming. But this book? It's insidious, SS's wide adorable face is this perfect representation of forced docility, the pattern of happy smiling obedience that our culture prizes in its female population. SS practices the false niceness of the mean girls in 7th grade: "We're just trying to help you, God. Don't you see that if you: didn't act so weird/weren't so different/would smile more/dressed normally, we would like you then? God!"
Gee, I sound totally crazy. Ah well. There you go. I hate these books. I hate them I hate them I hate them. Whether it's logical or not.
At least they have some inclusiveness with Huckleberry Pie, who appears to be the gay best friend. But even that seems cliché, and faceless, and authoritarian. Strawberry Shortcake: I am so glad you are out of my life.