With the tabloid murder of a certain kindergarten beauty queen still fresh in people's minds, the publication of a thoughtful book about how young, preteen girls get shelved in pop culture would seem timely. Unfortunately, Valerie Walkerdine's Daddy's Girl offers few insights in its coverage of territory picked clean long ago--like Shirley Temple, Nabokov's Lolita, and the comic strip/musical/movie Annie.
While some of Daddy's Girl's dryness can be attributed to the fact that it's an academic volume (e.g. "I have found the Foucauldian work useful in moving away from an essentialist notion of the working-class subject, whether essentialist in psychological terms or in economic or political"), one gets the feeling that Walkerdine is analyzing details without employing them. When discussing the eroticization of little girls who sing and dance, the author uses as an example a girl whose act is a rendition of Toni Basil's 1983 hit "Mickey." The reader must wade through four pages of pretentious blatherings about Basil before Walkerdine gets down to the point. Is it really necessary to know every lyric of "Mickey"--including how many times the chorus is repeated before the fade out--in order to comprehend the theory of pop-culture pedophilia? By the end of the book, the author is reduced to waxing poetic about her own artistic endeavors: "A few years ago I made an installation in a gallery in which a housewife, Violet Jones, grew wings..."
These days, it seems as though everyone is eager to unleash his or her take on sexual politics, expounding ad nauseum on the personal-is-political aspects of watching TV, listening to pop music, or examining social roles du jour. What many of these commentators lack, however, is a reason to bother the rest of the world with their musings. Susie Bright and Annie Sprinkle made it fun and compelling to think about sexual identity, and the militant likes of Andrea Dworkin at least do their spewing with passion and ambition. Walkerdine, treading carefully and self-consciously, simply bores.