Gwen Thompson, a new American Girl doll, comes with an unusual backstory. See, Daddy walked out, Mommy lost her job and then the roof over their heads. She and Gwen are now living in a car. Yes, they're homeless. Is this good for role play? Gwen, like the rest of the Mattel-marketed American Girl line, goes for the unemployment-unfriendly price of $95. Critics have set upon this piece of plastic, saying her tale paints men as evil and women as helpless. And anyway, they're not sure they want to expose their little princesses to the harsh reality that some people get tossed onto the streets. For an added kick, Gwen has no friends at her new school, where the mean girls taunt her and call her a loser. (Mattel, obviously asleep at the wheel on this one, says Gwen's plight is supposed to provide an anti-bullying, stand-up-for-yourself lesson). But if folks today are so upset about Gwen, imagine what they would've thought about Little Miss No Name, a Hasbro doll launched in 1965. Those were much less politically correct times, obviously, that gave birth to a barefoot, burlap-dress-wearing, tear-streaked ragamuffin with giant Keane-esque eyes. She had one hand outstretched in a panhandling pose. She didn't last long, though—she's a collector's item on eBay now, fetching hundreds of dollars (more if the plastic tear is still on her cheek). Since Little Miss No Name didn't have a Dream House or a Corvette, her franchise prospects were limited from the start. Not so for Gwen, who's remarkably sunny and fresh despite her unfortunate situation and has an array of add-ons for moms to buy. And if her hair gets mussed from sleeping on the floorboards, she can get a fancy 'do at the American Girl salon. Only $20.
—Posted by T.L. Stanley