Thursday, August 11, 2005

I Didn't Mean To

Systemic hypoplasia. Don't get it.

I'd wager most of the people reading this post right now already now whether they have it, though. Those with the disease do not physically age like normal people and therefore look younger than they really are. The disease varies from victim to victim — one person could be forever trapped as a prepubescent sixteen-year-old, while another could look like he or she was a twelve. In rare cases, victims of systemic hypoplasia look like children all their lives.

I'm reminded of this strange affliction because I brought it up with Drew last night. (Technically, I had forgotten this conversation took place until I was reading an article on Andy Milonakis in the new Rolling Stone.) I'm not sure why, but at some point I got on the subject of Baby Doll, a character on the Batman animated cartoon show that I used to watch as a kid. She has the disease. She's also a former child actress, Mary Dahl, who played an adorable toddler moppet on a popular sitcom. Baby even had her own catchphrase: "I didn't mean to," spoken in a creepy cutesy child voice that makes you want to barf and shiver at the same time. The episode details that Mary Dahl quit her show to make it as a real actress — after all, she is twentysomething during her "child" stardom. But she fails. And she can't deal. Reverting back to the sitcom character and toting a doll that houses a semiautomatic, Baby Doll kidnaps her old TV family and forces them to relive the show or die.

The episode is one of the darkest I'd ever seen. In fact, I'm fairly certain they never aired it during the original "Batman" timeslots — weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Instead, I first saw Baby Doll's premiere on Sunday night, before the "Simpsons," when FOX ran some of the edgier "Batman" offerings. (Notably, "Batman" is the only television show to ever be created as a weekly afternoon children's show that eventually edged onto the regular prime time schedule.) In the episode's final moments, Batman frees Baby Doll's hostages only to have the pint-sized villain escape to an amusement park. They eventually — and predictably — stalk each other into a fun house hall of mirrors, where Baby Doll shatters one mirror after another in an effort to off Batman.

When there's only one mirror left, she turns to it. It's one of the kind that distort your body. In this last mirror, she's stretched out to adult proportions. Just like any actress would, she monologues. "Look! That's me in there. The real me." She touches the mirror. "There I am." Then she drops her Baby Doll voice and speaks like a middle-aged woman. "But it's not really real, is it? Just made up an pretend like my family and my life and everything else." Then she turns to Batman, smoldering rag doll in cocked. "Why couldn't you just let me make believe?"

But instead she shoots the mirror. Then repeatedly clicks her doll-gun, now out of bullets, at the spot where the adult-sized her used to be.

"I didn't mean to."

I can actually remember my mom being in the room for this and asking "This is a kid's show?" I guess it still was, even if the people who made it weren't necessarily considering a ten-year-old audience at the time. I believe they created Baby Doll specifically for the show, and this theory is bolstered by the character's appearance.

As you can see, she looks like a cross between Rhoda from "The Bad Seed" and Elmyra from "Tiny Toons," the latter of which the "Batman" team had worked on previously.

The part that really gets me is that the writers actually referenced a fairly obscure disease on a popular TV show. Even today, in the tenth year of the internet, I can't actually find that much information on systemic hypoplasia. It's real — I think — but you'd think it would be the fodder of made-for-TV movies and tabloid sob stories. Apparently no. (Maybe it's actually not real.)

The episode is creepy, for sure, but something about the disease is especially unnerving. Being stuck as a child all your life. Not a midget, a child. But a child that thinks and talks and feels like an adult. And no one would ever regard you as an adult. And eventually your skin would age and sag and you'd be this child body wearing a suit of aged skin. Yikes. If I had this idea, I think I'd be pissed too. And then I think about some hospital ward in some city somewhere where there's a special ward for systemic hypoplasia victims. And the room is littered with a combination of toddler shoes and cigarette boxes and stuff — see, because they live here, the kids-not kids — and one day they just get sick of everything and revolt. And they come marching down the hallway, this army of children with deep voices and thirty years of adult-sized angst.

And they're carrying bats.


Baby Doll should have gone on to direct instead.

NOTE (6.19.2010): For those interested, I've put up a new post on Baby Doll and where her creator may have drawn inspiration from.


  1. no you're totally right, andy milenakis totally has systemic hyposplasia.

  2. Mary Louise Dahl's last name is a nod to Roald Dahl, I believe, who did a number of stories about ticked off little kids.

    You know, stuff like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Witches, The BFG, and Kiss Kiss.