It’s wrong on so many levels but I couldn’t help but chuckle at the news that Mattel has launched a deluxe range of Barbie dolls featuring characters from Mad Men. Yes, for a mere $75 US a pop you can score your very own Joan Holloway, Roger Sterling, Betty or Don Draper, replete with bespoke outfits and accessories. Looking at the publicity photo it’s a shame that they’ve made January Jones look like she’s been licking piss off a nettle, and strangely for Barbie they seem to have underplayed Christina Hendricks’ boobs, but hey.
Setting aside the evil of Barbie, there’s something car-crash appealing about watching the mainstream grapple with the overground in this way. Marketing people throwing lots of money at something they don’t quite understand often results in hilarious but strangely desirable curios. I have a nice stock of strange Twin Peaks-related paraphernalia made available for that short period in 1990-91 when everybody wanted to know who killed Laura Palmer.
As for who will buy these mini-Mad Men, well, please leave your Frankie-readers and Waylon Smithers-stereotypes at the pink Barbie Dream House door. Anyone who has been near a comic store in the past twenty years will tell you collectible replica figurines (they’re not dolls…) are big business; a Franklin Mint souvenir plate for the X and Y generations.
Building on momentum started by Star Wars and DC/Marvel superheroes, the majority of lovingly packaged plastic figures are sci-fi or comic book related. However we’ve also seen sports stars (notably WWF) and musicians (Jacko, the Spice Girls, KISS, Slipknot, Metallica and the Beatles) rendered in plastic, happily sharing shelf space with characters from movies with culty-type followings like Clerks, Nightmare on Elm Street and even Shaun of the Dead.
Mostly these figures stay in their packaging in the hope that one day – Toy Story 2 style - they might prove valuable. This is largely hokum. I still have all my original Star Wars toys (less a formal collection, more evidence that I didn’t really have any other interests in 1981) many of them in their original boxes. For a while in the mid-1990s (when I finally got hold of the R5-D4 figure I’d been tracking down for over 15 years) it seemed like these dust-collectors in the loft might pay for a small deposit on a house. That was until e-bay came along and created a generation of kids who could get anything anytime from anywhere. Now even my most prized item (a boxed Imperial Troop Transporter) can be picked up for mere $30.
Mattel has previously dabbled with TV and movie tie-ins with a Wizard of Oz range (a chance to buy some actual friends of Dorothy), I Love Lucy dolls and even Mulder and Scully from The X-Files so they must be confident that they can shift the Sterling Cooper crew. Just to be sure they’ve only made a limited run (10,000 of each) so it’s likely that people will snap them up. My advice to people buying them is simple… GIVE THEM TO YOUR CHILDREN TO PLAY WITH. You won’t make any money out of them in your lifetime but the idea of watching your kids, nieces and nephews creating a whole new world for Don, Betty, Joan and Roger involving trains, dinosaurs and teddy bears could be priceless.