For the Kids

Interesting.

I was banging on about “Monster High”, and the dolls in particular, last week, and among the comments (most of which were along the lines of “Aaaaghnopleasestoppitnomoreofthedolls!”) was this, from Kai Savage:

I made some note somewhere to Christopher Fowler’s piece in Black Static about the whole teenifying (definitely a word) of the horror genre. How, in order to appease the Christian right, vampires have been de-fanged and werewolves neutered so that they can become slightly dangerous, but essentially bad-wanting-to-be-good pin-ups for teens.

… As with every product that companies try and sell the arse off, this kind of sexualised undead perfection is now being shoved down the throats of pre-teens. As if the whole Barbie debate wasn’t bad enough we now have unattainable visions of beauty and perfection for pre-teen Goths??? So much for Goths and other subcultures trying to avoid conformity and prom queen beauty ideals!

Which echoes my own sentiments. I’m all for the idea of kids having monster dolls, mostly because it’s massively cool, but there’s something about the concept of a Bratzified-vampire which makes me very uncomfortable. We’ve had misunderstood vampires, sparkly vampires, now we have Draculaura. And call me cynical, but I highly doubt it’s demand driving supply, but rather a supply attempting to manufacture demand. When was the last time you saw a girl look at a picture of, say Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster and say, “I’m really into this but it, like, totally needs to come with a hairbrush”?

Kids have dolls. Girls have dolls. I had dolls. Because I am a girl, and stuff. I had (for my sins) a good number of Sindys, and the occasional Barbie. And yes, thanks for asking, I did wrap one of them up entirely in bandages (medical household, natch) and turn her into a mummy – but I never felt the need to own Cleo de Nile. My monsters were always monsters, not the pre-teen marketing department’s idea of a monster.

I first got into horror and sci-fi because they were unsuitable. They felt rough and unguarded. Dangerous. My grandfather, ever the bad influence, liked to read me H.G. Wells’s “The Star” as a bedtime story when I went to stay. I did a roaring trade in bookswaps with my best friend: my mother’s Jilly Coopers for her dad’s Stephen Kings. My own dad’s William Gibsons – sneaked from my parents’ bedroom (and still sitting on my study shelves right now) and read under the covers at night; two collections of vampire stories bought in town and smuggled home in my schoolbag. This was generally speaking, my path.

As I’ve said before, of course, I read Christopher Pike & Point Horror too – and yes, they were squarely aimed at teens so I’m very aware there’s a line here. But at the same time, they never felt as diluted as this new paranormal juvenilia (for want of a better word): not even looking back at them now. I outgrew those books, but not the genres they represented – which is why I’ll still pick up the odd YA book that falls within those lines. They’re not always what I hope for – but that’s not necessarily always the books’ fault.

But just as I’m treading a line, and (to be entirely honest) still trying to work out how I feel about pre-teen horror as industry, there needs to be a line where the dilution stops, before it becomes too safe, too guarded… too much associated by the next generation with the things of childhood, things to be put away in due course.

The edges of maps used to be marked with the phrase: “Here be dragons”. You passed them at your own peril.

And I can’t help but wonder whether that’s exactly how it should be.

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