Wednesday, December 10, 2008

So crazy right now

by Peale Iglehart

Yesterday just for kicks, I Googled “girls games” and discovered a treasure trove of online games for girls: shopping games, wedding games, dress-up games, alien games, cooking games, Bratz games… I mean, if you started as an XX chromosome (so the website implies), you will never be bored again. At first, I was having some tongue-in-cheek fun with the whole thing. I started with “Carb Invaders,” which features Regina George of “Mean Girls” notoriety. The instructions go like this: “Word on the streets is to lose the pounds, you gotta cut the carbohydrates. Help Regina fulfill her dietary requirements by eating a full 2000 calories intake, but keeping the cards below 30 grams. Use the arrow keys to move left and right and position her mouth near the food. Chomp the protiens [sic] and fats, not the carbs! Hint: avoid starches, like breads and pastas, and high sugar content foods! Meats, dairy, and certain veggies are ok! Get ready to diet!”

Wahoo!!! With such an abundance of exclamation points, how could I resist?! I moved the vapid Mean Girl around and made her chomp a donut and an ice cream cone. Oops! A message popped up: “You ate 30 grams of carbs. Don’t worry. Just wear loose clothes, no one will notice.” (!!!) Regina appeared in red high heels, standing on a scale with fluffy pink trimming. The game soon lost its allure.

I turned to “Peppy Beyonce Knowles Dress-Up.” I’m not sure what was “peppy” about it, aside from “Crazy in Love” playing the background. When I pressed ‘Play,’ Beyonce (a cartoon version) just stood there in her undies. Ho-hum. She didn’t even shake around when I put on the different outfits, just stood there stony-faced. Bo-riing.

So I decided to explore the Wedding section, and, since I am a fan of Sex and the City (I know, I know), I clicked on “Sex and the City Happy Ending.” A cartoon version of Carrie announces her engagement to cartoon Miranda, cartoon Charlotte, and cartoon Samantha, and we get an up-close view of Carrie’s rock. (Meanwhile, electronically-synthesized classical music plays in the background. Classy.) I clicked the heart icon that said “Play” and was confronted with the daunting task of choosing a hairstyle, dress, veil, and even a bridal bouquet for Carrie.

But right away I was distracted: the ad in the margin featured a tear-stained African baby wrapped in a shawl. Sponsored by World Vision, the ad announced “A child dies every 4 seconds” and a timer counted down the 4 seconds. Carrie was waiting expectantly for her next dress, but I was dumbfounded. The buttons for choosing her bridal bouquet and other accoutrements were literally right next to this baby’s tear-streaked face. I lost my ironic sense of “fun.”

What kind of message does it send to girls to have “helping a child” be just one click away from choosing the winning dress-and-veil combination for Carrie? (Why girls are watching the very adult content of Sex and the City in the first place is a different question.) “Look, here’s a suffering baby! But don’t stress about that! Should Carrie wear a strapless or a halter dress?!” There’s something so disturbing about the juxtaposition of the baby’s suffering with the Barbie-ish version of Carrie (or Beyonce, or Regina) waiting to be dressed-up or slimmed-down.

All along, I knew these games were ridiculous, but that was part of the fun. But when dress-up Carrie was juxtaposed with a crying baby (presumably one sick or starving, the ad didn’t say), the games went from tongue-in-cheek fun to flat-out disturbing. They were always disturbing, of course, but I was able to laugh at Regina and Beyonce when they weren’t juxtaposed with a concrete reminder of just how frivolous they were. But seriously—picking out a wedding dress for stick-thin Carrie while a starving baby wails in the margins of the screen? Avoiding carbs on Regina’s behalf just inches away from images of starvation? What’s wrong with this picture?!

What does it mean for suffering and luxury to share the screen but not really interact? What does Regina’s diet have to do with Third World suffering? We don’t have to click that World Vision ad, but that doesn’t mean Carrie’s shopping spree is unrelated to someone else’s suffering, or that our obsession with Beyonce has nothing to do with that starving baby. Maybe they’re more intertwined than we’d like to think.


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