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Girls, Ghouls, and Girlhoods: Fashion and Horror at Monster High

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How does a zombie doll in a popular horror franchise for tween girls serve as a productive site of contestation among overlapping visions of girlhood? In this chapter, I examine Ghoulia Yelps, a zombie character in the popular Monster High fashion doll franchise, not only as a toy in a global flow of licensed consumer goods but also as a site of identity construction and digital media production where facile notions of girlhoods are both enacted and reimagined (Forman-Brunell, 2012). Monster High is reconceptualized here as the site of converging cultural imaginaries (Medina & Wohlwend, 2014) in which children play in and out of gendered futures around fashion, adolescence, diversity, and schooling. Critical analysis of tween girls’ digital play with a zombie doll on social media reveals the resonances, slippages, and paradoxes among identity texts produced about, for, and by girls. Wohlwend, K. E. (2016). Girls, ghouls, and girlhoods: Fashion and horror at Monster High. In V. Carrington, J. Rowsell, E. Priyadharshini & R. Westrup (Eds.), Schooling zombies: Engaging with youth, popular culture and new pedagogies in a landscape of crisis (pp. 115-129). New York: Springer.
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... Fine lines between play and threat are made visible in the scenario with Emily and her ceramics teacher. These lines may not be clear for students, especially those who are immersed in horror text cultures where the fantastical can be read as violent by intervening adults (Wohlwend, 2016). We are left asking how teachers and researchers can prepare for the ranges of participation that we hear or might hear, within embodied literacy entanglements. ...
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Purpose This paper aims to examine tensions around play, performance and artmaking as becoming in the mix of expected and taken-for-granted discourses implicit in an after-school ceramics makerspace (Perry and Medina, 2011). The authors look closely at one adolescent girl’s embodied performance to see how it ruptures the scripts for compliant bodies in the after-school program. While these performances take place out-of-school and in an arts studio, the tensions and explorations also resonate with broader issues around student embodied, performative and becomings that run counter to normalized school expectations. Design/methodology/approach A contemporary approach to nexus analysis (Medina and Wohlwend, 2014; Wohlwend, 2021) unpacked two critical performative encounters (Medina and Perry, 2011) using concepts of historical bodies (Scollon and Scollon, 2004) informed by sociomaterial thing-power (Bennett, 2010). Findings Playing while painting pottery collides and converges with the tacitly desired and expected ways of embodying student in this after-school artspace. Emily’s outer-space alien persona ruptured expected discourses when her historical body and embodied performances threatened other children. While her embodied performances facilitated her becoming a fully present participant in the studio, she fractured the line between play and reality in violent ways. Originality/value As literacy researchers, the authors are in a moment of reckoning where student embodied performances and historical bodies can collide with all-too-real violent threats in daily lives and community locations. Situating these performances in the nexus of embodied literacies, unsanctioned play and thing-power can help educators respond to these moments as ruptures of tacit expectations for girlhoods in school-like spaces.
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