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The Barbie Movie Explains It All

Updated: Mar 9

After a day of cooking and cleaning and hosting Thanksgiving, I sat down to finally watch it. The Barbie  movie.

 

And I loved it. It’s brilliant, silly, funny, witty, amazingly designed, touching.

And very, very sad.

 

Take the “prologue,” something I have not read anyone comment upon. It is a clever but disturbing parody of the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey. To me, very disturbing, because I am seeing it as the older version of a very young girl who got a Barbie doll probably at the age of eight and played with them, but also played with baby dolls.

 

Barbie was introduced by Mattel (also willing to be parodied in the film) by Ruth Handler (notice that is the name Barbie takes at the end of the film when she becomes human). Mrs. Handler used the Lili doll from Germany, but none of us knew the origin of Lili. She was a “sex doll” and a character in a racy cartoon series. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2023/05/25/barbie-trailer-creator-pornographic-origin-doll/

 

The opening sequence shows depressed little girls playing with doll babies with voice over by Helen Mirren about how they were just being acculturated into being mothers and were copying their own mothers in household drudgery. They look miserable—not something I remember.  Then the monolith of Barbie in its 1959 rendition—clad in the suggestive black and white bathing suit--appears against the elipsed sun, and they are changed into happy children who see new possibilities as they touch the shapely legs in their high heels. Like the apes in 2001 who take a major step of evolution when the monolith gives them “tools” (weapons, actually) to fight their oppressors, the little girls take a major step of evolution and now destroy—literally—their baby dolls, rather gruesomely.  They have taken control of their own destiny and it doesn’t include children.

 

Parody? Of course, but historically significant in how it is portrayed? The little girls have rejected their female fertility and roles as mothers, is another reading. It’s my reading. They can destroy their dolls, just as they will soon have the right to destroy their offspring legally so they can pursue careers and sexual freedom, like Barbie, the offspring of Lili, can do.

 

I know that some of you are reading this and saying, “Good grief, that’s extreme, Barbara. It’s just a silly movie.” I don’t think so. The rest of the film is about just that—how Barbie is a role model for girls to pursue careers because Mattel created Barbies in all kinds of job gear, from astronauts to doctors to presidents. Well, not until after they made a fortune on Barbies whose main goal was fashion and accessories, and after a lot of criticism for the consumerism, which is also parodied in the film, and even more for modeling a bizarre body image. Barbie doesn’t marry; she’s the eternally happy career girl. She is the Julia of the Obama administration propaganda about how women need the government. 

 

It’s not lost on me that the last line is Barbie going into a building happily and saying, “I’m here to see my gynecologist.” (Brilliant, again.) She’s about to be invaded by medical science.

 

So, while I am drawing a connection between the movie and pro-choice movement, and the Barbie doll and porn and consumerism and the overweening state, that doesn’t mean I don’t admire the movie. I just think it’s more subtle than even its fans realize.

 

This is to say nothing about the satire about “patriarchy,” America Ferrara’s speech with the perfect final line, “and somehow it is all our fault”—or, how poignant and true! And the jibes at consumerism, and how we need each other to be who we are as sexual beings and in every other way.  It may not explain it all, but it does give us a lot to discuss. I loved it and may do a podcast episode on it.  Barbie did change society, probably not for the better, but we cannot change the past.  We can only understand it.

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