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Christopher Wilde
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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Blythe Doll Redux: Blythe Dolls Reaching a Tipping Point


By Christopher Wilde

On April 30, 2008 I published that Blythe Dolls were reaching a tipping point and are due for a major resurgence.  Currently Blythe Dolls are a high end collectors item.

I based this inspiration on my interpretation of the collective unconscious, a theory of shared consciousness developed by Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung (a colleague of Freud).  I use my theory to predict trends based on variables gleaned from a variety of sources.

Last Sunday I opened up the Salt Lake Tribune to see a representation of a Blythe doll accompanying the article, "Europe Bound? Plan Ahead."

The section of newspaper (at right) is a perfect example of an archetypal image.  I contacted the author and illustrator Barbie DeSoto to ask her about the inspiration for this piece.

"I have never heard of (or seen) Blythe dolls, actually...As far as my motivation for my illustration, it just kind of came together. I decided to make the body small so the focus would be on her expression. Also, since I mixed flat, drawn shaped with pieces of photos, the exaggerated proportions would make sure not to confuse people about its realism."-Barbie DeSoto.

And yet.  in my opinion. she unknowingly drew a wonderful representation of a Blythe doll.  This is an indication that many of us are subconsciously carrying around different forms of Blythe Dolls in our heads.  Incidentally Carl Jung did a lot of work with archetypal images (see Man and His Symbols).  Jung demonstrated that symbolic representations can be found naturally appearing across all cultures, essentially suggesting that certain archetypes are hard wired.

I can't say that a Blythe doll is specifically a hard wired symbol.  In the case of Desoto's work the large head suggests a kind of frazzle one might experience during a failure to plan ahead for Europe, A sentiment of stress that cuts across all cultural lines.  Many readers will also note that a large head and small body is a representation associated with alien visitors from other planets and has graced popular culture for decades, and that all of Tim Burton's work (The Nightmare Before Christmas) tends to follow the same look.

The distinction here is that a Blythe doll is uniquely a representation of femininity and, I suspect, a modern reinvention of a fertility goddess.  The symbol for a fertility goddess is a full belly and large breasts.  If that seems like a stretch consider that in past eras feminine power was esteemed for the ability to reproduce.  However in our current age of controlled reproduction the esteemed goddess quality of women is to be cunning and intelligent while maintaining a graceful feminine mystique that is not highly sexualized.  That is to say those are the socially preferred qualities not the necessarily what is most often represented.

Responding to my previous article, Ms. Desoto had this to say:

"I think you're right about the Blythe dolls. They'd be a non-sexualized option for the "tween" demographic (unlike Bratz dolls which I also find unattractive) plus they're well-designed -- not too cutesy. And, this is merely a personal wish, they would hopefully help encourage young women to focus on becoming strong individuals rather than negating the feminist movement by making it chic and hip to be nothing more than consumers and desperate seekers of male validation."

A variety of Blythe Dolls can be found on Ebay.  My research into their sales patterns demonstrate a frequent turn over, the majority of the dolls sell depending upon the quality and type.  I was surprised at the number of dolls transacted at a price over a thousand dollars.  There also appears to be a trend toward a specific look and style of Blythe doll selling better than those which appear to me too cutsie.

In order for Blythe Dolls to cross the tipping point into a mainstream explosion there needs to be a television show; however I believe a better avenue would be to do a Pixar style (ala Toy Story) movie about a girl named Blythe (p.s. keep Tim Burton away from the set).  If the story line follows the general principles I've outlined here the film would most likely be a gigantic success as no one has yet to adequately capitalize on the unconscious Blythe.  In the mean time, over the next six months expect to see a greater number of representations appearing in advertising and other forms of media.


Anonymous said...

Interesting ideas, tho I'm not sure, however sad some may find it, that a goddess archetype can ever be totally physically unsexualized (what's wrong boobs and brains, anyway?). But I do understand the point being made and it is one to think about.

Anonymous said...

Very nice story! I really enjoyed reading it because I am a Blythe collector.

I too have seen more and more animated images in advertising of girls with overly large heads.

Since I've been collecting (for only 3 years) I've seen the popularity of Blythe grow on Ebay; before you could find lot's of girls from 2001 to present makes. Now they don't come up very often and when they do they are selling at a much higher price.

Thank you for writing this lovely article!

Lindsay Taylor

Anonymous said...

I don't really agree with much of anything you have said. That an illustrator used a large head for a "goofy" look is nothing new. It's been done for years and I hardly suspect it has anything to do with a Jungian bent toward doll collecting.

Additionally the thought of Blythe as a modern day fertility goddess is really beyond absurd. She's perhaps the most non-fertile seeming doll I can think of (save for vintage flat-chested Skipper dolls). Nothing of the Venus image at all.

And I think the beauty of doll collecting is often in that it isn't something done by the masses. Particularly niche dolls like Blythe. So keep Pixar away. Keep tween marketing away. And keep armchair philosophy away. It's all just a bit much.

Cynthia Thornton said...

Nice article! Interesting ideas. For me, I fell in love with Blythe when I was a little girl- I saw her and was trasfixed. She has an innocence that belongs to children and baby animals, the large eyes (proportioned to the head) and small body. I think it is this innocence that makes her so beguiling. Think of the time period Blythe first came out, is there a connection? Why is she coming back after so many years? Could it be there is a subconcious desire for a more innocent age?

Milkberry said...

Interesting article, although I'm probably opposing some of the points. I do not agree with Blythe Doll to be for the masses. And like anonymous said, keep Pixar away. (And what's wrong with Tim Burton?)

Blythe can represent many, many things for many, many people. If for you it represents femininity or a fertility goddess, for another person Blythe could just mean their childhood, or a fashion icon, or something they aspire to be, an art piece, a muse or like a friend of mine tells me, 'Children of the Corn'. Why do you love her? Why do you hate her? All answers are distinct and different.

My question would be why now? Why the next six months? Blythe dolls has been around since 1972, and it has already resurged back at 2000. It's still owned by Hasbro (and before anyone says anything, yes they've licensed it to CWC but it's still Hasbro's) so knowing how commercialized and huge Hasbro is, I'm guessing that they like it this way too. If Hasbro wanted to mass produce, I think they would have done that long time ago.

Of course this is just strictly my opinion. For me it is better this way. I guess what is unique about Blythe dolls and their collectors is that most of them "found" Blythe by themselves. They found her, get to know her and fall in love with her. For example a person who doesn't know about Blythe dolls might read this article you posted and decides to learn more about Blythe and will probably say "Ugh she's ugly" or "Wow there's something about her" and decides to learn more before finally buying his/her doll. Thus another collector is born.

If it's for the masses, it's just there for you to look and see, and I guess it wouldn't be as special anymore. But that's just my opinion I guess :D

Julia ♫°♪ said...

i agree with MILKBERRY !!!!
(@⌒ー⌒@)ノ ♪

Anonymous said...

First of all, I have to tell you that in the following sentence, "do" should be spelled "due": "On April 30, 2008 I published that Blythe Dolls were reaching a tipping point and are do for a major resurgence."

Actually, Blythe has been undergoing a major resurgence for the past several years, ever since the photography book, "This is Blythe," by Gina Garan hit the stands (in 2000), triggering the reincarnation of the Blythe doll in 2001.

"The distinction here is that a Blythe doll is uniquely a representation of femininity and, I suspect, a modern reinvention of a fertility goddess. The symbol for a fertility goddess is a full belly and large breasts." If a fertility goddess has a full belly and large breasts, then how can Blythe possibly fit that mold? After all, Blythe is skinny with prepubescent breasts.

"In order for Blythe Dolls to cross the tipping point into a mainstream explosion their needs to be a television show, however I believe a better avenue would be to do a Pixar style (ala Toy Story) movie about a girl named Blythe (p.s. keep Tim Burton away from the set)." I agree with this statement, but "their" should be spelled "there." I would also recommend inserting a semicolon between "show" and "however," as you have two sentence fragments which need to be joined.

ariel @ abieka said...

Thank you so much for stopping by my blog Christopher! And thank you for the link to your article, it is an interesting take on the rapid growth in the Blythe fanbase/community and the collective consciousness. I'm a new part of that rapid growth, so it's pretty relevant to me.

I have some different ideas to your article. She's not a modern translation of the fertility goddess, she's a blank slate that we project our imaginary stories. Because she's not locked into that fashion-boyfriend-makeup-consumption script of Bratz or that exaggerated sexuality of Barbie, she has a wider range available to her. Blythe is "officially" and physically a teenager, so she can carry off the ingenue, Alice, naivette, the candy-girl-child, and she looks like a girl-child. But she's just "grown-up" enough to pull off the haughty princess, the all-night-clubber, rococco lady, sophisticate, urban punk, hollywood glam, hippy...all the modern female archetypes we feel like exploring. It's also a totally female world Blythes live in. All girlfriends, BFFs and sisters.

Looking at the really popular Blythe dolls, as stock issues or customised dolls or third party fashion lines, they tend to be the ingenue types, but often there's a darker edge to them. A little bit goth, lolita, or harlequin, and with some real wit to them. I think this is because they are actually in the demographic of the older girls (and boys). They aren't targeted at the tweenie market at all, they belong to the 20-30-40-50-somethings who might like sweet feminity, but appreciate more complicated images with a little bite.

The idea of Blythe achieving the "tipping point" to become part of the mainstream via a movie or tv, would force a 'script' onto her and change her nature totally. The characters would have to be quantified and given personalities. Those dolls would stop being blank slates that we project emotions and stories onto, and become less flexible. There might even have to be some boys in a movie. Ack! Maybe there would be more commercial success courting the tweenie market. Maybe not. It is already saturated, and is there room for a product that ranges from $80-$420ish new? Those prices only go up for collectors on the secondary and customised markets. The quality of product would have to change to bring that price down, and the current fan base would probably fall away. And Blythe is already part of the mainstream in Japan, which shouldn't be dismissed.

It would be cool if the success of Blythe dolls was part of the collective consciousness. But I think it's got more to do with anime and kawaii emerging in Japan, then making the crossover to western culture. After all, Blythe flopped badly in 1972, and reportedly scared kids. Since then we've had pokemon, power puff girls, chibi, dragon-ballz, hello kitty...the simpsons, south park, spongebob squarepants, just about half the kids cartoons today with the big head-big eyed thingo. So I reckon Blythe just fits in better in 2001-8 than 1973.

Alright, this is just me rambling on while I should be doing something else - like fixing up the layout on my blog! Thanks again for the link. :)

If you are interested in the collective consciousness idea, maybe you'd appreciate the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a jesuit and contemporary to Carl Jung. As part of his work to reconcile the church to science, he presents the evolution of the "noosphere" of consciousness, which roughly corresponds to Jung's collective consciousness, and he uses examples of the spontaneous widespread emergence of common trends and ideas that are similar to the new popularity of Blythe Dolls.

Christopher Wilde said...

To: The commenter above.
Thank you so much for your corrections. I'm guilty of numerous grammatical errors and I encourage anyone at anytime to email futureosophy@futureosophy.com any time you find them. As you see I have made those corrections.

thought I should address comments about the fertility goddess statement from the article .

Historical fertility goddess symbols have provided a representation of female power connoted by "fertility" as the true power of women. My statement is that the modern representation of women is not fertility but intellect (the large head). While the form of feminine power has shifted from mind to body, the purpose a god symbol serves to the individual has not. Thus we empower our gods with the attributes we revere.
Hope that clarifies.

JafaBrit's Art said...

I found your article interesting but like others not sure I agree with all your points. Despite my current painting series that is inspired by large eye dolls I was never interested in dolls when I was little, and my interest in that regard hasn't changed (although I do have a cultural interest I don't collect them).

While you are saying the figure drawing represents an example of a blythe doll, I disagree. Partly because this type of need to emphasize large eyes has been around for centuries (the blythe doll was modeled after the drawing and paintings of Keane) and it seems more coincidental. When I did my big eye fashion drawings in my 70's scrapbook it had nothing to do with blythe dolls. It was just a fashion that was inspired by a model called twiggy and everyone wanted big eyes.

while I agree collective consciousness in regards to large eyes the blythe doll itself doesn't really represent anything other than a recent fad (from what I am seeing baby boomers are the driving force behind many collecting fads-such as patch and sindy dolls).

Anyway, thanks for dropping by my blog and I enjoyed reading your post and the comments.

pixelkitty said...

Tween Market?

Obviously a quote from someone who hasn't looked into the market that collects these dolls.

The average age is well above 20, with many collectors over the age of 30.

If this doll were meant as a toy, then perhaps a marketing ploy as crass as a movie might be a good idea, but Blythe is meant as a collectable, to be admired and displayed. Not to end up in pieces and neglected by a child.