i’ve written before about paperdolls. about how they are sometimes so haunting and we should all be using them to teach history because their pathos seems a particularly useful pedological tool. but i’m realizing i’ve not thought enough about dolls more generally. because, you guys, DOLLS… they really capture something about the human condition, no?
though it only happened about 20 minutes ago, i’m not entirely sure how i wound up falling down an abyss (the spelling of that somehow looks odd and i am now terrified of accidentally having written abbess) of jackie kennedy doll listings on etsy but, i tell you, they are a gift that gives.
i should define pathos, because it is a word whose definition i have to confirm on a regular basis, as i just did now.
miriam webster has a rather vague definition saying pathos involves emotion. not helpful, so let’s use google’s default definition, which i rather like because it frames it in term of argument.
i realize that “yourdictionary.com” may not sound like the most legit source, but this post is coming from “myhead.com” so let’s just go with it.
anyway, with that definition of pathos on the brain, get a load of this slow pan out…
pathotic! (a word i maybe just made up because why not) and ARE YOU NOT MOVED?!?!
poor jackie. poor us. POOR WORLD! POOR HUMANITY!
imprisoned by cardboard, inhibited by a face full of hairnet, shackled by our identities, burdened by a plastic bagged bouquet, and with only a swaddled veil for companionship.
it is like something out of dante.
or perhaps it isn’t and perhaps you are not moved and you are like WHAT IS OLINE ON? i have been reading freud lately and trying to explain the nuances of our existence in time, so it’s possible i am too quick to emotion these days, which is saying a lot given my general excessiveness of emotion in every day life. but no, really…
doesn’t that move you at all?
ok, ok. if you are still like OLINE WHAT ON EARTH, just remember, i’m the one who brought you that lovely moment of reflection around the experience of hair-drying but a few weeks ago. all of which to say, come away with me in the belief that we are going somewhere good!
if i remember 20 minutes ago correctly, my musing began with this:
which seemed, an oddly catlike posture for a doll of the former first lady…
and an oddly intrusive one at that (her spanx are showing!). but it was nonetheless reasonable. and it got me thinking about dolls.
the solidity and insouciance of doll jackie’s pose there. she is both casually relaxed and tense.
look at the tension in the eyes. the hand on the hip.
is she sinking into the sofa and about to kick off her heels or is she about to leap from her recline and lecture us on 18th century vitrines?
from this angle, doll jackie expresses the same serene anxiousness that we see in real jackie’s white house portrait.
(fyi, in my googling to make sure i was spelling schikler’s name correctly- i am not at all confident in my spelling today- the name aaron schock was ever so briefly suggested in auto-fill, which reminded me of schock’s downton abbey decor-related congressional downfall, one of my favorite stories of last year and one which, i imagine, jackie, were she alive, would appreciate.)
but it all depends on the angle. i once took many many pictures of a bust i owned of wolfgang amadeus mozart, of which only this one seems to exist:
i took all these photos because i was amazed by how much the change in angle effected (affected?) the emotion conveyed.
it was a bust. it obviously wasn’t changing. but like those paintings where the person’s eyes seem to be following you around the room, so a range of emotions seemed to move across the visage of this unmoving plaster.
i was amazed, perhaps, by how dramatically a change in angle affects (effects?) one’s looks. a horrifying thought because it means other people are privy to sides of your self to which you are blind and which may not be flattering. we are all, perhaps, not as attractive as we see ourselves, which is furtherly horrifying as there are already so many ways in which we are not attractive to ourselves. the number of ways we may be unattractive to others but of which we are not aware only compounds this litany.
anyway, we’ve been looking at her here:
but look at her here:
here i’m aware that her eyes are a mile apart and she is wearing waaaaaaaaaaaaay too much blush (which is a revelation of the close-up, not necessarily the angle), but also that she looks rather more like norman rockwell’s jfk:
albeit less smug and smizey.
and now, for the coup de grâce- the image that prompted this post and which, now that i’ve banged on for several minutes, will probably have far less impact that i initially intended, so i’ll just go ahead and…
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO DOLL JACKIE? (and yes, that was a blatant stab at trying to recapture the drama i’ve drained from this scenario by framing it in full caps.)
there’s something terribly feminine mystique about this image. not the doll, mind you, but the placing of the doll in this manner so that i might be moved to blow $100 and buy it. TO RESCUE HER.
wherewent her insouciance?!
also, wherewent her lifelikeness? it is only from this angle that i am realizing that she is far more wooden that i initially saw. lookit.
look at her shoes. barbie shoes. but wooden looking as well, as though she were at the forefront of a dutch clogs with kitten heels trend.
look at her hair. it is painted on, no? why did i assume it was doll hair? looking back at the earlier close up, it is clearly not.
it is painted on. were you, like me, so tantalized by her ear-bobs and broach and the blusher and the country mile between her brows that her trompe l’oeil hair entirely escaped your gaze?
now that i look at the close-up again, the slope of her shoulders is looking a little odd as well. i wonder how she would look standing up. i wonder if the person selling this doll specifically chose not to photograph her standing up because she looks wacky. is this a doll that only charms when seated? is that why doll jackie is crying into the lace?
because she is limited to postures of recline?
and what is she reaching for? to what does that extended right hand beckon?
it reminds me of the scene from meet me in st. louis, when john truitt’s tuxedo is stuck at the tailer’s shop and esther goes running back up to her bedroom and throws herself on her bed.
and when her sister rose asks what happened, esther replies, nothing, i just wish i were dead. that’s all.
because her boyfriend is unable to take her to the christmas dance and she may now have to go with her brother.
i imagine doll jackie has deeper emotional defenses. i imagine that, were doll jackie’s boyfriend unable to get his tuxedo out of the tailer’s in time for the christmas dance, she would manage stoically without wishing she were dead.
which suggests that, if it has come to this for doll jackie:
the situation is dire.
(is my repetition of this image increasing or decreasing its pathos? are you inured? do you wish i would stop? do you not care at all? you are still reading, however, so i assume you must have some emotional investment in this strangeness i am working through…)
fyi, context: doll jackie dates from 1961. the outfit is drawn from real life. real jackie wore this dress. or, at least, this dress is an homage to a dress real jackie wore.
it’s unclear whether the inaccuracy of the ribbon’s color and the suit’s shade- on doll jackie the ribbon is beige and the suit is brown while in the photographs the ribbon is clearly white and the suit is cream- is indeed inaccuracy or simply the relentless melt of time and its deleterious effects on doll clothes and ribbon hues.
it is, you will notice, not the dread yellow dress picture for which she is so famous now.
and the brown and beige makes for a rather blah contrast.
in your imagination, does jackie wear beige? in mine, she is always in brights.
in double checking this against the franklin mint’s doll jackie wardrobe- which does indeed have a skittles-esque palette- i am reminded that the franklin mint’s doll jfk is THE WORST.
and i am also reminded of reading, ages ago, in some profile, an aesthetic evaluation of clay aiken as looking like the love child of k.d. lang and howdy doody.
there is undoubtedly some howdy doody in this jfk doll’s genome, ammirite?
which, speaking of dolls and pathos…
arhghghhrhrrhhrhhghhghgh! does he make you want to save him or run trembling away?
and just to get this out of the way while we’re here, i’m limiting my exploration of doll jackie to etsy, but trust me, there’s pathos a plenty to be had on ebay as well…
so where were we? ah yes. with that peek into parallel worlds, i think i’ve just indirectly established how doll jackie might wind up here:
if it were my doll destiny, fifty years down the line, to be married to the spawn of howdy doody and shivering naked in red heels with cloth biceps and pelvis, i’d pull a face-plant too. that is not a future wherein one finds contentment.
it is not a future where one feels human nor loved.
but then we’re talking about dolls here.
i will now attempt to make my prolonged discussion of dolls have a purpose…
i have recently become cognizant of the fact that, in a single day, i casually see jackie’s face a ludicrous number of times.
this is a condition of writing about someone- you think about them a lot and their image is a part of that.
in my case, because i am writing about her, it’s exaggerated, but it’s part of the broader culture as well.
as thomas mallon has argued, the kennedys are already a “cultural screensaver,” popping up at random all over the place. this has always been part of their allure- they are so visible- and their endurance- they are still so visible.
we can see this through the ridiculously wide range of products onto which their images are emblazoned.
(which, without fact-checking, i’m going to declare a historical inaccuracy because he was more famous for smoking cigars, and i’m going to imagine that the embargo with cuba was ongoing in 1969 led to this historically inaccurate pipe pendant.)
my point being that there is a certain casualness, an everydayness to the kennedys’ image in american life.
for a huge percentage of the population, they are still a part of what richard dyer calls “the coinage of every day speech,” and which i would suggest is even more casual/influential because it is often occurring outside the realm of actual speech, as a visual phenomenon.
this is absolutely not new. part of what makes it so interesting is that it was happening almost from the beginning.
i’m edging up to a point about whether or not things have changed in this way.
is there a kim kardashian doll? there appears to be but do people actually buy it? my googling of kim kardashian doll mostly just brought up photos of kim kardashian in various doll-like poses rather than actual dolls based on kim kardashian.
it is not that we are no longer being sold things. kim kardashian’s app is hugely popular. kim kardashian is the author of a book. kim kardashian is frequently selling things and using her image to do so.
and no, no. i’m not setting up some parallel where the kardashians are the kennedys of our times (though, um, aren’t they kinda?), but rather i’m trying to get at a shift by deploying examples wherein kardashian illuminates that shift within a modern context.
so the selling is still happening. we are still being sold things through celebrity. an obvious point so i’m not sure why it just to me so long to establish it. perhaps because the point is actually not so much about the selling as about the encounters with the image that is also used to sell.
how many times a day do you see a kardashian or think about the kardashians? how many times a day does that name pop up in the sidebar of your screen?
my impulse is to see everything on a continuum and so i cringe at the thought of characterizing anything as NEW! because it is all, i think, part of an evolution (every teacher who tried to inculcate me with the notion of evolution as an unviable theory probably just shivered in horror). so that the response to the kennedys, their slippage into the things of every day life like wine-stoppers and dress patterns and paperdolls and rugs, was not necessarily new. it was a reiteration and so it looked different. and that difference made it look new.
is the way kardashian’s image circulates within our contemporary culture a reiteration of that?
but the kennedys no longer look new do they?
which is, perhaps, what these dolls really throw into high relief?
i mean, these guys look embalmed.
and seriously. doll jackie’s lipgloss here:
that lip gloss is shades of gossip girl, which are in no way historically accurate.
but this isn’t about accuracy, it’s about emotion.
this is going to seem like a digression, but it isn’t… last night, i was watching a movie from 1978. an unmarried woman.
which is amazing and you should all watch it on netflix this minute. in part, because young emily gilmore’s bitch-face is supreme:
but there was a realness to the film, by which i mean a texture to the interiors and the setting, which i realized came from the fact that it was set in 1978 and filmed in 1978 and also filmed in the new york of 1978. so it looked really really authentically 1978. because it was 1978.
it looked 1978 in a way that, despite all the attention to period detail and aesthetics, mad men never entirely looked of its time, because it was filmed fifty years after the fact.
there was, in even the grimiest scene, a high gloss.
so that even the scene above- mad men at its least chic- has a distinctly anthropologie vibe.
i’m beginning to wonder if anyone is still reading this. and, if you are, if it is simply to watch the spectacle of my trying to bring these 2,288 words back around to the pathos of doll jackies.
well, i’mma do it. because what the dolls emphasize to me, i think, is the wide expanse within that split- the way the present looks versus how it is portrayed in retrospect.
the doll jackie i found most moving was not this one:
though she would, superficially, seem more- to reevoke my made up word- pathotic.
she is literally caged in cardboard in a way which suggests some proximity to both a coffin and a guillotine.
i’m realizing now that her white gloves appear to be painted on so that she is denied the liberty of ever removing them, a creative and manufacturing decision which makes this doll jackie a strange throwback to the hans christian andersen nightmare, the red shoes.
all of which is intellectually and emotionally interesting but which does not add up to her moving me.
at least not as much as this:
i had not realized until writing everything you’ve just read that my response to this image and to this doll may be stronger precisely because when i first encountered her and it, i was informed of the date of origin.
a date which locates this doll within the safety of before. and which lends it a pathos which is contrived in everything coming after november 1963.
this guy is just plain not believable.
he is perilously close to this:
he’s too modern and therefore cartoonish. too obviously 90s or early 2000s.
this doll jfk knows i know what’s going to happen to him and he knows too. he is ready and grins in spite of it.
he is already in a box.
his wife is already braced for impact.
these dolls know what’s coming.
this doll, this 1961 doll, in contrast, does not know what lies ahead.
and so she sits back in her bloomers on her bed of lace alongside her price-tag and gazes out into the murk of the future. a future we all now know.
i’m personifying dolls. i’m reading deep meanings into the practicalities of their packaging. but i’m also suggesting the emotions we bring to inanimate objects and, more specifically, images.
images testify to the passage of time. as does the aesthetic distance from here:
or from here:
in the one she’s rather ordinary, not yet an icon. in the other, she is a star.
there’s a scarlett before the war vibe with this one, non?
from the scene at twelve oaks when she wants to tell ashley wilkes the secrets of her heart and so she is reluctant to nap.
there are, of course, vivien leigh dolls too, which i will include here solely because they collectively betray our culture’s alarming changes in attitude towards women’s weight…
and princess diana dolls and marilyn dolls and michelle obama dolls. there are dolls galore. dolls are, perhaps, an undervalued aesthetic form in our national life.
now i’m thinking of the time on sex and the city when standford tried to make it with the guy who had all the madame alexander dolls…
but what of this?
why does it seem so poignant? why am i tempted to have it blown up and framed? this, presumably, hastily taken photograph intended to make me shell out a hundred bucks on a fifty year old doll. why does it move me so much that i have written all these words and wandered down all these alleys of thought to try to explicate the emotional appeal it makes upon me?
i have written all of this, and i still do not know.