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Archive for November, 2012

YooDara Zen Doll

A friend recently found a YooDara Zen doll at an airport kiosk and, knowing my interest in such things, gave it to me. I hadn’t seen these little string dolls before, but they seem to have become ubiquitous features in most airports and malls. Though the YooDara name and the appearance of the dolls suggests a voodoo connection, nothing on the YooDara website makes that explicit. Instead, we learn that:

Within the realm of the 9th dimension lives a vast empire of magical beings known as the YooDara. These harmonious people have watched over humankind since time began. Their concern over the human suffering they witnessed, and our lack of magical powers to combat it forced them into action. They discovered how to move between their dimension and ours, and soon began casting their spells upon us.

According to this lore, the YooDara only exist in our world as string dolls, but can still work their magic on us (for a fee, of course). The 36 dolls are divided into four “tribes” of Power, Protection, Good Luck, and Wisdom. It may not come as a surprise that the Zen YooDara falls into the last category, where he is joined by such luminaries as Albert (Einstein) and (Isaac) Newton, as well as an elephant, lion, bride, punk-rock dad, and Rico the “lover.” The handy chart of characters identifies Zen as a white male Buddhist with the power of patience. He also “gives you the wisdom to balance your life with harmony and peace.”

Like many white male Buddhists, the Zen doll embodies a careless orientalism. Rather than the drab monastic robes that a Zen monk or priest would wear, he’s decked out in red and gold stereotypical “Chinese” garb. He even sports a queue, the legally mandated hairstyle for men (though not monks) under Manchu rule in China during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Nothing ties him to the religion of Zen besides a vague notion of “the East” and the popularĀ  association of Zen with patience, harmony, and peace. In these respects, the YooDara Zen doll fits into the many other examples of Zen we find in American pop culture, but there’s something a little different about the marketing of these dolls.

While many of the Zen products I’ve reviewed on this site are aimed at middle- and upper-middle-class consumers who see in Zen the sophisticated, minimalist aesthetic or organic, natural qualities that mark refinement and higher class status, YooDara is pitched at a much broader audience. As Zen continues to proliferate as a brand, it loses its elite cachet and becomes kitsch.

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