Courtney and her Pac-Man lunchbox are perfect
American Girl — the purveyor of fancy historically themed dolls that my parents never bought me as a kid, not like I’m mad about it or anything — is digging deep into the past for its latest doll. Yesterday, the Mattel-owned brand threw swaths of older millennials and Gen Xers into an existential crisis by announcing their newest “Historical Character” doll comes from the faraway time of 1986.
According to her introductory book, the Courtney Moore doll is “an avid gamer growing up with her blended family in the fictional town of Orange Valley, California.” And in addition to being a video game developer in the making, our pal Courtney has impeccable taste in mid-’80s cool-kid swag: She wears a necklace of Lip Smacker lip gloss, goes to sleepovers with her Care Bears sleeping bag, stores her scrunchies in a Caboodle, and sticks puffy animal stickers on her Lisa Frank folders. The collective scream over Courtney among 30- and 40-something women on Twitter is both a grim acknowledgement that fine, we’re getting old, but also an acknowledgement of how perfectly these miniature items are working as childhood callback. Do I need to own this sleepover accessory set that comes with one of those paper fortune-teller things that I’ve long forgotten how to make?, we’re all asking ourselves. (The answer is probably yes; collecting miniatures is incredibly soothing.)
But for me, the most likely item I’d add to my cart is Courtney’s Pac-Man lunchbox set, because look at this lunch! It’s perfect. I can actually smell the weird plastic-meets-rubber aura of the insulated Thermos, and feel the particular rattle of that empty plastic clamshell lunchbox as it bounces along my body, a uniquely little-kid lived-in memory (by middle school, of course, most of us “graduated” to metal lunchboxes or brown paper bags). There’s that bologna and cheese sandwich cut in half diagonally, where the only thing missing is the awkward plastic sandwich bag — not a Ziploc — it would’ve been packed in. There’s a Little Debbie brownie, with its multicolored sprinkles in its plastic bag looking so much like a real Little Debbie brownie, either a compliment to American Girl or a knock on the bakery brand, take your pick. A miniature can of cheese balls, themselves a jolt of nostalgia, but particularly when you remember the feeling of prying off that round plastic lid. The apple slices I can take or leave, a trace of the same feeling I’d feel about whatever “healthy” item would appear packed in lunch.
Whether or not 1986 is worthy of a historical doll is debatable (though surviving the Reagan years is worthy of some praise), especially when comparing Courtney with her counterparts, which include Addy (escaped slavery) and Samantha (a young suffragette with the prettiest accessories). But in her lunch, at least, she is superior. The others can enjoy their hanky-wrapped tea sandwiches, while Courtney gets to eat highly processed and delicious cheese balls while owning the arcade.