the doll games
shelley and pamela jackson


interviews: carolyn guertin

Shelley: B***** shrunken heads? Do tell. I realized, talking to some friends who also grew up in the sixties and seventies, that we're the first generation whose parents wouldn't let us play with B*****s (bad role model).

Carolyn: I was a like-minded child. I had no B*****s and had no interest in them as glamour girls (my mother was some close approximation of B***** herself, so they were never banned in my house), but my sister had a sizeable collection. I did have a few tries at hanging them—happy day when i learned how to tie a noose at Brownies—or leaving them in 'dungeons' to rot. One sunny day though when i was about 5, i hit upon a really bright idea. I packed up my sister's dolls in a suitcase, and trundled them off to my father's workshop. Once there, i carefully and meticulously sawed all of their heads off. I then tied them by the hair to my belt as shrunken heads and ran off to my friend Ruth's to play 'witch doctor'. My sister was not amused... and my parents miraculously let me live to tell about it.

As for my sister and I, we had some treasured dolls, but we knew enough to despise B*****, though not without some secret fascination with what seemed to us to be her shameless sexuality. Those terrifying breasts!Does your shrunken head belt still exist?

Alas, no, my parents had little appreciation for my artistic bent (or my brother's, who was suspended from high school for crucifying a skeleton on stage in a play he wrote) and the shrunken head collection went onto that great trash bin of broken toys on high. It'd be fun to recreate it. Barbie's monstrous sexuality had slipped my mind for a moment there. I don't remember it making a big impression on me as a kid—maybe just because the top-heavy bodies went missing—but, actually, my mother would be horrified to be identified with same. She's still trying to be Donna Reed.

Oh and i should add that i had similar disdain for G.I. Joe. One summer my friend Jim and i attached little plastic parachutes to his collection and dropped them from an overpass onto to the 427 highway in Toronto to watch them dance with trucks.

I like the GI Joe story too. We weren't allowed such warlike toys, but we did have Big Josh (or rather my brother did, but we coopted him)—remember him? He was a lumberjack (why?) and he made a chopping motion with one arm when you thumbed a button on his back. Big Josh had a bright orange pelvis or "permapanty" which caused us some problems in the nude scenes.

Permapanty?? Who would have thought that lumberjacks were the type to wear panties—or was this to solve a libidinal incontinance problem? (His or kids'?) Makes me think of that old Monty Python lumberjack sketch. Amazing to hear that even the presence of caring, responsible parents can't stifle imaginative play. Was this all before or after you and your sister starting sprouting phantom limbs?

Really manly dolls usually have some kind of pubic bulge, though obviously nothing more explicit than that. Maybe toymakers found the suggestion of underwear less disturbing than the simple absence of genitalia. We resolved the issue differently (with clay attachments) so the underwear posed a problem.

The other day I asked my childhood best friend if she had ever played with dolls; I couldn't remember. She said she mostly liked to blow things up, but that she did play one doll game. It was "Ken picks up B***** hitchhiker" (and then rapes her, cuts her head off, and throws her body off a cliff). Nice.

A literary advisor to the Electronic Literature Organization, Carolyn Guertin is a scholar of the new media arts and the feminist avant-garde in the English Department at the University of Alberta. Curator of 'Assemblage: The Women's New Media Gallery' in the U.K., her own creative and critical works have been published internationally in print and online.