Valley of the creepy dolls!

For realz!  Anonymous gifts to little girls of  “creepy dolls” that look like the gift recipients.


Yes, my mother bought me this book.

Personally, I think the creepy part is the fact that people in San Clemente, California live in a gated community.  (Isn’t all of Orange County effectively a gated community?)  I can’t even imagine living in a neighborhood with an HOA (Homeowner’s Association, which tells you what color you can paint your house, and what color your window treatments must be, and so on), let alone a gated community.

Yes, there is house down the street from us painted a shade I call “Pepto Bismol Blue,” but there are no RVs parked in people’s driveways or on the street.  Most people keep pretty nice yards and gardens, but those who don’t make those of us who make a minimal effort look pretty good.

True story:  my husband & I were invited to visit the home of one of his college classmate’s family on Cape Cod once, 20 years ago.  We got the directions, followed them carefully, and then arrived at a gate stating that only residents were permitted beyond it.  So we turned around, drove back to a diner on the main highway, and used the pay phone there to call our hosts to get clarification on the directions.  Her comment:  “yeah, you found us.  Just drive on through.”  My husband and I laughed, and told her, “we’re the people signs like that are meant to keep out!”

22 thoughts on “Valley of the creepy dolls!

  1. Either way, they’re serving their purpose. Maybe I should be grateful that large parts of OC are basically on lockdown? Maybe they’ll stay home and off the freeways, or something.


  2. I’m in a gated deep dark forest right now, surrounded by miles of individually-gated houses, but I’m going over the wall tonight! On the homeowners’ association concept, see the press conference by the Amazon CEO (Bezos?), launching their new smartphone. His inspiration, it’s said, was a children’s book he once read about a guy who painted his house purple, the only one that was not a bland white. (The text is not before me, and I’d have to pass through a couple of ornate bronzed decompression chambers to retrieve it). The phone got a pretty bad review in the piece I read.


  3. It turns out it was some sweet, old lady trying to surprise and delight her neighbors’ little girls.
    Burn her! Burn the witch!
    I never liked Clare Booth Luce, but, damn if she wasn’t right about one thing: No good deed goes unpunished.


  4. I think giving the dolls to the little girls in her neighborhood is a really nice idea. However, the overnight/Santa Claus aspect of the giveaway was misconceived. I would have checked in with the parents first.


  5. I dunno. I thought the news video (peering through trees at house windows, an empty tree swing, abandoned toys, a child’s legs, etc.) accompanying the news story was the creepiest part.

    The gift giver should have asked the parents first but I don’t imagine people who choose a “gated community” would have responded well. Though I wonder–are there non-gated options in that part of CA?


  6. Comradde, envision a bright bilious oversaturated blue version of the pink. That’s how I’m seeing it. Don’t know if that’s right.

    Yeah, I read about the woman who just thought it would be a kind of nice surprise to get a doll that looks a bit like you. I must say, a doll seems really harmless to me, like it obviously did to her. I don’t think it would occur to me either to ask the parents about it. Forgive me for being an old coot who obviously no longer gets it, but parents these days strike me as completely round the bend. They need to stop watching so much television. Or something.


  7. quixote, another old coot or cootess, here.

    but parents these days strike me as completely round the bend. They need to stop watching so much television. Or something
    They need to be popping Miltown, dammit, like our moms did.


  8. HA-ha. Yes, quixote has it right: imagine a cobalt purpley-blue on steroids. That’s Pepto Bismol blue.

    My sense is that the fear generated by these anonymous gifts is a product of living in the medium-level paranoia of a gated community. You’re always wondering: who got in here? Who’s outside now? Who would put creepy dolls on my doorstep?

    It’s a little odd that none of the neighbors who got the dolls had apparently ever been invited inside the giver’s home, where her fascination with dolls must have been obvious. Why didn’t anyone put it all together? Maybe people in gated communities don’t actually get to know each other–if you’re inside, that’s all anyone needs to know?


  9. I lived in a gated community for a couple of years for my sins. The first few months there we never saw another human being outside. We’d see cars slowly gliding home, the garage doors opening by remote, the cars sliding in, the doors closing. We started making jokes about being caught outside the airlock.

    (Eventually we got to know some people and they turned out to be very interesting, including one 86 year-old pilot who was still flying. But the environment is beyond weird.)


  10. I have a bunch of friends who live in a gated community, and it’s a cross between a very small town (everyone knows everyone else’s business) and bizarre. If you want to get in legally, you need a code, or to call someone; but it’s easy enough to get over the fence if you’re determined to do evil.

    I think the dolls, without a message, demonstrate the importance of context in understanding things: it could be benign or not. A card left with the doll would have made a huge difference/ “I am clearing out my house, and this doll reminded me of Janey, From Mary Smith”


  11. I think the parental anxiety over the gift-giving is informed by the increasing ‘privitisation’ of children (this is perhaps not entirely a new phenomenon but has taken on a distinctive form in the ‘second modernity’). Increasingly, we are expected not to ‘see’ other people’s children – they are both somebody else’s property (and so none of our business) and a vulnerable entity, who an undue adult interest in risks endangering (paedophile alert!!). Therefore adults who notice other people’s children are seen to be weird and potentially malicious. And this old lady not only ‘saw’ other people’s children, she could identify what they looked like and where they lived (heaven forbid!).

    The good old days(ha!)of neighbours sharing an interest in the community’s children (or indeed in each other) is gone, replaced by an unspoken decision ‘not to see’ or engage each other. You see this an lot of US comedy around WASP neighbourhoods, where the woman who comes to the neighbour’s door with pie is not a welcome entity but a nosy busybody, overstepping the boundaries of ‘normal’ – always peering over the person’s shoulder to look down the hall at what should be unseen!

    This is probably enhanced in gated ‘communities’, for whom community is perhaps the ultimate misnomer, which are chosen by people who want to be privatised and sanitised from their ‘neighbours’ in a more global sense. Ironically, I think the rise of the Homeowners Association and Neighbourhood Watches are a response to this choice ‘not to see’ – where communities make a decision about what they will see, what they won’t see, and then police those lines but not others. In such spaces, ‘seeing’ what should not be seen – what is agreed to not be seen by the group – is a genuine infringement of norms, and may indeed cause panic.


  12. An interesting perspective. The “privatisation” of children had escaped me, but it does make many attitudes fall into place. (I don’t think it’s right, children are humans, not property, but that’s another rant.) It’s ironic, to me, that people who I think of as loony over-sharers in the digital world, are much more privacy conscious in the real one.

    A cultural shift. Noticed by historians first, of course!


  13. loony over-sharers in the digital world, are much more privacy conscious in the real one.

    Right on. It’s interesting how the digital world interacts with RL, and how it’s changing our notions of boundaries and privacy.

    FA’s analysis is really smart and spot-on. I will come to the (qualified) defense of American middle-class parents to the extent that they really are on their own when it comes to raising their children. We have neither truly socialized medicine in this country, nor do we have an adequately publicly funded K-16 education system. So it’s not so much parents themselves who are privitizing childhood; it’s the strategy of the larger political and economic system in which we live.


  14. the larger political and economic system

    This might be entirely middle and upper-middle perspective but it seems to me that the nature of children’s activities outside of school has changed since I was a kid there must be economic drivers for that. How many kids go home–to play outside, walk to the library, etc.–after school these days? (Can kids even walk to the library these days?) There are all manner of “after-care” programs, parents who can afford it pay for enrichment activities, many of which will eventually be aimed at college applications, and so on.

    My middle class neighbourhood back in the states (two residential urban blocks of infill single family homes) was unusual for the number of kids (ages about 7 to 12) you’d see running around together after dinner and on weekends. I think this happened because there were some anchor adults around–people who did not work but were either parents or grandmas who minded other folks’ kids–who supported a culture of kids knowing each other and adults keeping an eye out. We adults didn’t really have that much in common and socialised mainly in the context of our children but that was enough. How many adults involved with children are home after school? That’s another economic driver.


  15. Privatized childhood: Richard Sennett had a few things to say about this a generation ago in a book called _Families Against the City_, set in immediately post-Fire Chicago. It wasn’t about *physical* gates or their absence, rather it was about structural isolators and/or connectors within the households themselves. In a creative piece of research, he took a working/middle class inner-belt neighborhood on the West Side and used census tract data to compare the social and economic mobility experiences of children raised in households there that were truly nuclear and others that were basically nuclear but which had one or more tenants or inmates, often related to the adults, and who did or didn’t work outside the home.

    His conclusions if I’m remembering them were that children raised in homes whose invisible “walls” were routinely pierced by non-parental adults did better at adapting to industrial, commercial, and especially bureaucratic change over the decades of the late 19th century. Whether because they received more competing general perspectives on the larger urb, or maybe just because they could get more tips and references to work opportunities that opened and then quickly closed. I read it in grad school and used it in an undergraduate class years later, when I was disappointed with it, probably for obvious reasons about change over time. It was also quite strongly criticized in its own day on methodological grounds by specialists who probably had good reasons for their reservations. But it was something of an eye-opener for me about what you could do with fractious, recalcitrant data if you had interesting ideas to apply it to. Those city households were anything but “gated,” except in the sense that barriers to contact with the brawly world out there are usually more harmful than beneficial to youths.


  16. Indyanna,
    That book that Bezos was talking about must be Mr. Pine’s Purple House, a book I read many, many times growing up.


  17. I agree that a lot of changes in childhood are responses to new (and not so new) social and economic conditions, particularly amongst the middle class. Two career parent families are often mobile (at least in early years), so they live in new communities where they don’t have long-term links. They often send there kids to schools that are convenient for work or because they want a private education, so there is no ‘local’ school that everyone attends and which draws local children and their parents together. As both parents are outside of the home, they don’t make neighbourhood friends to the same extent. Because they don’t have local family, they need to use a lot more daycare, again often outside of their neighbourhood. And because children don’t have local friends, they need to have more formalised playdates (as they have to be driven back and forth) and often structured activities to have opportunities for play and learning. A lack of community and possibly smaller families in turn makes parents reluctant to let children play in the community, as there are less watching eyes to check in something goes wrong, and there is less likely to be a gang of children, often at a range of ages, that keep an eye out for each other. This may also be affected by less parks and green space, more traffic, and moral panics around potential dangers for unsupervised children. And that’s before we even start to discuss the impact of technologies for play, like computers and consoles.


  18. Western Dave,

    That is the book that was cited in the article I read. I haven’t read it, but I don’t think it would make me go out and buy an Amazon phone, whatever the thinking was there!


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