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“”Since the beginning of time, since the first little girl ever existed, there have been dolls. But the dolls were always and forever baby dolls, until…
|—Helen Mirren, as the narrator of Barbie|
Barbie (also known as Barbie: The Movie in promotional material and merchandising) is a 2023 American satirical fantasy-comedy film based on the seminal line of fashion dolls from Mattel. The film stars Australian actress Margot Robbie in the title role (she also served as the producer) and was directed and co-written by Greta Gerwig. The story centers around a typical Barbie (Robbie) living in a utopian toyland populated by Barbie and Ken dolls called "Barbie Land".[note 1] When a series of unusual incidents in her otherwise perfect life leads her to ruminate about her existence, the title character and her friend Ken (Ryan Gosling) travel to the real world in search for answers, all while being hounded by Mattel's corporate management who catch wind of their presence and seek to put Barbie back in a box.
The film was a critical and commercial success upon its release on July 21, 2023, with praise for to its writing, casting, set design, irreverent camp humour and its philosophical themes, as well as spawning a myriad of memes such as the "Barbenheimer" phenomenon which crossed over Barbie and the World War II biopic Oppenheimer (about J. Robert Oppenheimer) due in part to both films sharing the same release date.[note 2] Some corners of society weren't too keen on its progressive messages, however, and the film was also banned in Vietnam for a map that was taken grossly out of context, and in parts of the Middle East and Africa on homophobic grounds.
Barbie is a line of fashion dolls first released in 1959 by Mattel. Jewish-American toy creator and Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler came up with the idea for the doll after witnessing her daughter Barbara – whose nickname provided the basis for the doll's name – play with paper dolls such as those of Debbie Reynolds. Most dolls at the time were in the form of baby or child dolls with the expectation of their owners playing the role of "mothers" to their "children", and the idea of an adult-proportioned doll marketed towards young girls was a relatively new idea at the time. Handler's initial pitch wasn't well-received, though she later found inspiration from a decidedly adult novelty toy called Bild Lilli based on a comic strip from the right-wing German tabloid Bild. Ruth then took three of the dolls home, and with the help of inventor-designer Jack Ryan,[note 3] the toy world changed forever in 1959 with the introduction of Barbara Millicent Roberts, whose teenage persona is a far cry from the borderline softcore smuttery exhibited by Lilli. Mattel later acquired the rights and tooling for the original Bild Lilli doll in 1964.
The dolls' popularity also led to controversy, most especially with how it was viewed by critics as a negative influence on young girls under the belief that it presented a grossly unrealistic grown-up fantasy, as well as some rather controversial products from the doll line, such as the Sugar Daddy and Earring Ken, Pregnant Midge, Teen Talk Barbie and Video Girl Barbie, the latter of which earned notoriety as a possible avenue for pedophiles to use for filming unsuspecting little girls at least according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In some territories such as Saudi Arabia, the doll line was banned as it was perceived to be a "perverted" influence and was also banned on antisemitic grounds owing to Mattel's Jewish origins.[note 4] The ban proved to be temporary, however, and many an Arab girl has fond memories of spending their Eid money on a doll or two and has sung the praises of the "Jewish" Barbie for inspiring them as women. More modest alternatives have tried to fill in the void left by Barbie in areas where she was banned such as the Fulla doll but this could not obviously shake the brand recognition Barbie has even in those areas.
Mattel also found themselves in a feud with MCA Records over the Aqua song "Barbie Girl" which they perceived as having tarnished Barbie's reputation and unfairly stereotyped the character as a "blonde bimbo". The courts sided with Aqua and ruled the song to fall under fair use as a parody, and Mattel would eventually use the song in their marketing albeit with modified lyrics to avoid any risque references. Aqua later recalled in a retrospective interview with Rolling Stone magazine that the affair only served to bring about publicity for both them and Mattel, with vocalist Lene Nystrøm opining that the toy company should have capitalised on the song's popularity "from the start". Fellow Aqua alum Søren Rasted also speculated that the whole suit may have been a carefully orchestrated publicity stunt on part of Mattel.
Barbie is a typical doll in the (ostensibly) utopian toyland known as Barbie Land, enjoying her best day ever, every single day with her identically-named neighbors and the similarly cookie-cutter Kens. Then one day a series of unusual occurrences in her otherwise perfect life take place, leading her to question her mortality, flat feet and cellulite. She then seeks the advice of an eccentric Barbie[note 5] who urges her to venture into the real world in search of answers and to restore the balance in their realm. Barbie then sets off to the real world, but not without Ken who comes along as a stowaway. As they arrive, they encounter derision and discrimination from passers-by as well as run-ins with the police who continually arrest them for their antics; Mattel catches word of this through the FBI who alerted them to Barbie and Ken's presence. Barbie arrives at a school where her former owners study, having received visions of those who played with her; Ken, on the other hand, learns about the patriarchy and begins to develop a twisted perception of it. On the school campus, Barbie meets a tween girl named Sasha whom she saw in her visions. Sasha and her classmates bitterly berate Barbie for promoting consumerism and degrading children through unrealistic expectations for girls, even spuriously calling her a "fascist", reducing her to tears. Soon enough, suit-clad men from Mattel arrive and take Barbie in, whom they confront at their headquarters with an ulterior motive; Barbie escapes and encounters Sasha and her mother Gloria, a Mattel intern whom she discovers to be the source of her existential crisis.
Meanwhile, Ken spreads his patriarchal propaganda throughout Barbie Land, which he transforms into a twisted patriarchal dystopia with him and the other Kens dominating over the now-subservient Barbies. Barbie falls into a depression upon witnessing the sweeping changes that the Kens have made, but Gloria comes to her aid and delivers an impassioned speech, restoring her self-confidence. Armed with Gloria's message, Barbie and her allies plot to retake Barbie Land from the Kendom rebellion by deprogramming the brainwashed Barbies and luring the Kens into infighting, using the ensuing conflict as a distraction to regain their power and avert the altering of Barbie Land's constitution. As the dust settles, both the Barbie and Ken factions realize the errors of their societal system and pledge to make changes to their way of life, with the Barbie Land government finally granting equality to the Kens and outcast dolls (or at least to some extent in the case of the Kens). Ken bemoans his lack of purpose without Barbie, who confesses that she has no interest in Ken; Barbie assures him that he will be fine as "just Ken", encouraging him to find an identity for himself. Barbie, who also remains unsure of her purpose in life, meets the spirit of Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler, who expresses great pride in her creation and explains that her story has no set ending. Ultimately, Barbie chooses humanity over her previous pretend fantasy as a doll.
Now I am become Barbie, the destroyer of men.
“”An assault on not just Ken but all men.
|—Piers Morgan being pathetic|
“”A feminist, misandrist and pro-transgender and gender division agenda movie directed by liberal and misa-feminist Greta Gerwig.
|—Conservapedia with their equally pathetic assessment|
Upon the film's reveal and right up to its release, conservatives, especially those in the men's rights movement, lambasted Barbie for its strong feminist themes and its portrayal of masculinity. Piers Morgan for one called the film, "An assault on not just Ken but all men"; Ginger Gaetz, wife of Florida representative and noted Trump ally Matt Gaetz (R-FL), also called for a boycott after watching the film on its debut and spuriously interpreted its depiction of men as useless and unintelligent, never mind the fact that the film's message wasn't in any way intended to be misandrist. By the end of the film, both the male and female denizens of Barbie Land eventually come to terms with the mistakes in their own gender-supremacist systems they live in (and in Ken's case, create), and Ken admits in the end that the machismo he built up and propagated created more problems than it solved compared to finding his own self-worth, i.e. being "just Ken". Some have also pointed out the hypocrisy in Ginger Gaetz's criticism where she stated that the film "lacked family values", with critics calling out allegations of sex trafficking and indecent sexual relationships with underage girls by her husband and questioning Matt Gaetz's presence in the theatre where there were minors in attendance. Unsurprisingly, Ben Shapiro, Ted Cruz, and fifty-something manchild Elon Musk joined in on the fun. Shapiro went on to make a video where he claimed to have "destroyed" the movie and he even deliberately set a Barbie doll on fire, thereby playing "weird Barbie" himself, just because he's a grifter clearly cashing in on the hype and ensuing outrage. Comedian and podcaster Marc Maron bluntly likened those in the manosphere who tried to cancel Barbie to overgrown man-children, opining that their calls for a boycott of the film are "a bunch of fucking insecure babies."
Joseph R. Atilano of Philippine Daily Inquirer labeled the film as "woke" in an op-ed and questioned what was perceived as Hollywood's embrace of progressive ideas, deeming it "not normal at all"; independent news outlet and Duterte scapegoat Rappler rebuked said claims, opining that "labeling movies as 'woke propaganda'” oversimplifies the complexities of modern filmmaking. Filmmakers often take inspiration from real-world events or phenomena to create narratives that various audiences can relate to", also agreeing that the term "woke" has become something of a snarl word by wingnuts to dispel any sincere attempt at societal change. Interestingly enough, Jack Butler of the conservative National Review rejected mainstream conservative consensus about the film and characterised it as a "post-feminist satire of what feminists imagine a perfect world looking like and of what they imagine male dominance is like", noted that in the Real World, "Ken is rebuffed in all of his attempts to join the male hierarchy that purportedly dominates the world. He must return to Barbie Land to institute it; what he institutes there is so shallow that it collapses almost as quickly as it is set up. Meanwhile, though Robbie's Barbie restores female dominance in Barbie Land, she chooses not to stay there, electing instead to become fully human".
Joining the list of countries which banned Barbie (besides Vietnam, who banned it for an alleged depiction of the nine-dash line[note 7]) are Algeria, Cameroon, and Kuwait, who saw the film's themes and inclusion of queer actors[note 8] to be a promotion of homosexuality. Lebanese authorities previously condemned the film and considered banning it for similar reasons, but they somehow decided not to do so when they found nothing objectionable in their review of the film, eventually clearing it for release on August 31.
And if accusations of misandry and rampant promotion of homosexuality weren't enough, the crankier portions of society, specifically Ivan Tuttle through his cultish ministry (Ivan Tuttle Ministries International) and Regeneration Nashville pastor Kent Christmas, have gone so far as to label the film as not only a vehicle of the homosexual agenda, but also satanic.
Ruth Handler's golem
“”We mothers stand still so our daughters can look back and see how far they've come.
|—Rhea Perlman (as Ruth Handler in Barbie)|
The film's themes have been the subject of discussion from various commentators and scholars, who noted Greta Gerwig's treatment of existentialism, feminism, and toxic masculinity. One Jewish feminist publication even praised Barbie as a "beautiful golem", comparing the doll to the artificial clay creature in Jewish mythology and how Ruth Handler imbued her own female golem with all her hopes and dreams for the younger generations.
What was I made for?
The film's ending symbolises how Barbie, once a mere husk of plastic, grows to move on from the seeming perfection of her sickeningly-pink dream world as a mere object and embrace humanity, even if it means the consequence of old age, flaws in human nature and mortality, analogous to the Biblical Adam and Eve. Despite its flaws, Barbie accepts life for what it's worth and chooses to live alongside her human friends under the alias Barbara Handler.[note 9] In a way, she becomes disillusioned with the ostensibly-perfect yet hollow and humdrum life of a fashion doll and undergoes an epiphany of authenticity. Rather than confine herself to an overly idealised state of femininity, she comes to terms with how complex womanhood is, but through Gloria and Sasha's resiliency, she realises "the richness of the human experience, despite its fleeting nature, holds more value than an eternal yet hollow plastic existence."
Barbara's meeting with Ruth Handler also symbolises the joys of motherhood. She sees Ruth as a mother figure, confessing her anxieties about her self-worth, but Barbara is praised by her creator, who expresses great pride in how the doll she named after her very own daughter has inspired generations.
We are women and we are free! Bringing an end to patriarchy!
Throughout most of the film's story, Barbie Land is portrayed as a sort of utopian, girl-led Themyscira where women are on top of the proverbial food chain, but cracks in this seemingly perfect toyland become even more apparent when the Kens (initially) content themselves as accessories to the Barbies and the other dolls[note 10] are even worse off as second-class citizens, often ostracised and derisively called freaks and/or outcasts behind their backs. Ken's struggles to gain acceptance within his circle and throughout Barbie Land are done through exaggerated juvenile machismo and are noted to resemble the men's rights movement.
That being said, Gerwig's film has been observed to subvert expectations of an exclusionary feminist screed as decried by conservatives. By the film's end, both male and female factions of the Barbie Land society acknowledge the pitfalls of their respective supremacist ideologies and make amends with each other, highlighting how the matriarchy can be "as bad" as the patriarchy, and by extension, how ideological extremes can cause misery and woe in society — case in point the far-right/alt-right and communism where both can be just as oppressive anyway. Jean Guerrero of the Los Angeles Times opined that "a world that disregards men and their feelings is an inverted form of patriarchy and also cruel" and how males who perceive themselves to be disenfranchised are radicalised, i.e. "conveniently and poisonously exploited by right-wing manfluencers from Andrew Tate to Josh Hawley."
The unlikely pairing between a miserable scientist and a jolly blonde fashion doll
|—Tyler Austin Harper|
Barbie's simultaneous release date with Oppenheimer became the subject of many an internet meme which commented and ruminated on parallels between the two otherwise disparate films. Some commentators have also noted how societal anxiety from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine led to a morbidly amusing crossover making light of existential dread and the value of human life as a whole.
Barbie, the doll, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, the person, do have one thing in common. They have some responsibility for the marking of the anthropocene, the global geological event horizon that uniquely defines the advent of a human-altered Earth. Barbie is not solely responsible for plastic appearing everywhere in the environment, just as Oppenheimer was not solely responsible for the atomic bomb. Although commercial plastic was available in 1898, worldwide plastic use was still minimal when Barbie was introduced in 1959 (390 kilotons/year in 1960 vs. 35,680 kilotons in 2018). For atomic bomb explosions and nuclear energy, the defining event horizon is Plutonium.
Not everyone is amused by the phenomenon, however: some, especially Japanese audiences, took umbrage at what they viewed as an insensitive meme, dislike-bombing (pun unintended) the trailers for Barbie (even if Barbie in itself had little to do with Oppie if not for its simultaneous release date with the biopic about him) and leaving scathing comments criticising Westerners' callous attitudes towards the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- American Girl - Another toy and media franchise by Mattel, also questioned by certain reactionary groups for its promotion of progressive ideas
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic - Ditto, except they're made and marketed by rival toy firm Hasbro and are more about equine fantasies
- Also occasionally spelled as "Barbieland".
- Not unlike the earlier Doom Slayer/Isabelle pairing due to Doom Eternal also releasing on the same day as Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
- No, not that Jack Ryan.
- The Handler family is Jewish, so go figure.
- Whom the Barbielandians derisively refer to as "Weird Barbie" due to her appearance having been caused by certain owners mutilating their dolls. Girls mutilating their Barbies is apparently not too uncommon.
- Hari Nef who portrays Doctor Barbie is transgender.
- The map appearing in the film was meant to be a child's scrawling of a world map, not an actual political map of the world. The dashed lines in question were strewn all over the map and not just in Asia which Vietnamese and Philippine authorities questioned.
- Namely Kate McKinnon (who is lesbian), Scott Evans (who is openly gay), and Hari Nef (who is transgender)
- Not to be confused with the other Barbara Handler, i.e. Ruth Handler's daughter whom the dolls were named for.
- Specifically, the rejected Barbies and Kens as well as Pregnant Midge, Allan, and Weird Barbie.
- Barbie (I) (2023). Helen Mirren: Narrator IMDb.
- (MOJO Classics) Paul Hogan "Shrimp On The Barbie" Australian Tourism Ad (1984) MO JO, YouTube, 2016.
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons And Doom Eternal Are The Original Barbenheimer
- Vietnam bans 'Barbie' movie over South China Sea map
- Mary G. Lord, Forever Barbie: The unauthorized biography of a real doll (Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2004).
- Barbie owes her existence to a 1950s German comic strip
- All About Ruth Handler's Daughter and Son, After Whom Barbie and Ken Were Named
- "Meet Lilli, the High-end German Call Girl who became America's Iconic Barbie Doll". Messy Nessy Chic. 29 January 2016. Retrieved 05 August 2023.
- These 5 Barbie Doll Controversies Will Blow Your Mind
- "'Jewish' Barbie Dolls Denounced in Saudi Arabia". Anti-Defamation League. Archived from the original on May 25, 2011. Retrieved August 7, 2023.
- The Tribe - 18 min film by Tiffany Shlain
- "Barbie at 60, and how she made her mark on the Arab world". Arab News. January 5, 2019. Retrieved December 16, 2019.
- "Barbie loses battle over bimbo image". BBC News. 25 July 2002. Retrieved 2007-08-08.
- Elliott, Stuart (26 August 2009). "Years Later, Mattel Embraces Barbie Girl". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-07-11.
- Greene, Andy (2022-04-01). "'People Probably Want to Kill Us': The Oral History of Aqua's 'Barbie Girl'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2023-08-14.
- What Happened To The Band Aqua?
- Barbie in the microwave by Anastasia de Waal (21 Dec 2005 20.58 EST) The Guardian..
- Piers Morgan Is Furious That the ‘Barbie’ Movie Doesn’t Center Around Ken by Kate Hudson (July 14th, 2023, 2:01 pm) The Mary Sue.
- Essay:Worst Liberal Movies
- Barbie Movie is Super Feminist... Unfortunately. Melonie Mac Go Boom, YouTube, 2023.
- ‘An assault on not just Ken but all men’: Piers Morgan slams Barbie. Sky News Austrailia, YouTube, 2023.
- Congressman Matt Gaetz’s Wife Calls for 'Barbie' Movie Boycott. Inside Edition, YouTube, 2023.
- Ben Shapiro DESTROYS The Barbie Movie For 43 Minutes. Ben Shapiro, YouTube, 2023.
- Barbie Is Not Anti-Man at All, Actually
- Marc Maron Calls Conservative Men Trying To Cancel 'Barbie' "Insecure Babies" & Says Greta Gerwig Film Is A "Masterpiece"
- Barbie Turned Woke
- ‘Barbie’ awakens: A response to the film being called ‘woke propaganda’
- Conservatives Are Getting Barbie Wrong
- Lebanon, Kuwait Poised to Ban ‘Barbie’ for Promoting Homosexuality
- Chikhi, Lamine; McDowall, Angus (August 14, 2023). Maler, Sandra (ed.). "Algeria bans 'Barbie' movie, media and official source say". Reuters. Archived from the original on August 14, 2023. Retrieved August 15, 2023.
- Cameroon bans 'Barbie' film for not corresponding with country's values
- Choukini, Kassem (August 24, 2023). "Barbie Won't Be Banned In Lebanon Afterall". 961. Retrieved August 24, 2023.
- Right-Wing Christians Think the Barbie Movie Is Demonic and Want You to Boycott It by Siobhan Ball (Jul 20th, 2023, 7:51 pm) The Mary Sue.
- Barbie (I) (2023). Rhea Perlman: Ruth
- Barbie is a Beautiful Golem
- Ford, Lucy (July 19, 2023). "Barbie is a greater study of existential dread than Oppenheimer". British GQ. Archived from the original on July 21, 2023. Retrieved August 6, 2023.
- Barbie Dolls — Design Life-Cycle
- In the beginning, there was Barbie: Turns out Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie is a Biblical metaphor after all. by Alissa Wilkinson ( Jul 20, 2023, 8:00pm EDT) Vox.
- Why did Barbie want to become human? — The Socratic Method
- Barbie’s Ending Is When It Finally Transcends Corporate IP
- Dockterman, Eliana (July 21, 2023). "Barbie Is a Movie About Male Fragility. Let's Dig In". Time. Retrieved August 6, 2023.
- Pickles, Katie (July 21, 2023). "In Greta Gerwig's Barbie Land, the matriarchy can be just as bad as the patriarchy". The Conversation. Archived from the original on August 6, 2023.
- Guerrero, Jean (August 4, 2023). "Column: The 'Barbie' movie's radical message: We all need more 'Kenpathy'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 6, 2023.
- ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ tell the same terrifying story by Tyler Austin Harper (July 19, 2023 at 8:48 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
- Barbie Vs Oppenheimer: The Final Battle. Lessons In Meme Culture, YouTube, 2023.
- Volume of plastic waste generated in the municipal solid waste stream in the U.S. from 1960 to 2018 by Ian Tiseo (Feb 6, 2023) Statista.
- Warner Bros. apologizes after "Barbenheimer" memes cause controversy in Japan
- Why the Japanese 🇯🇵 are Upset at Barbie the Movie. Dean From Japan, YouTube, 2023.