Barbie: The Great Paradox
Barbie was designed to represent American aspiration. Maybe that was the beginning of our end.
By Ruby Thelot
The End Times is a column cataloguing the omens of the Apocalypse as they occur in culture.
A barren rocky landscape at dawn. Two vast legs of plastic stand in the desert. Near them, a group of young girls playing with baby dolls approaches and stares in awe. They abandon their pretend babies, smashing them into pieces, and embrace the monolith: stylish, slender, a woman, an aspiration, the new Idol, Barbie.
Margot Robbie winks.
BARBIE – Out July 2023.
By placing Barbie as Kubrick’s monolith from "2001: Space Odyssey," Greta Gerwig, director of the new "Barbie" movie, reveals the central place the doll occupies in the American psyche as the ultimate woman. (Ultimate as in “last.")
Thou shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in the heavens above, on the earth below, or in the waters beneath.
On March 9, 1959, when Ruth Handler launched Barbie with Mattel, her husband’s company, she was merely trying to fill a void in the market. At the time, God-fearing girls played with baby dolls. They pretended to be mothers, played house, and cared for the dolls as if they were their own children. In comparison, Barbie was a grown-up and she provided children the opportunity to play fashion dress-up with an older teen-aged character, who had a job, a boyfriend, a house. Unlike the infant doll, Barbie was more than a thing for play. She was an aspiration.
Courtesy of Mattel.
Using the novel medium, at the time, of television, Mattel bombarded the mind-fields of unsuspecting youth with images of the newly-launched toy.
The 1959 catchy jingle sang:
_“Barbie, you’re beautiful...
Someday, I’m gonna be exactly like you.
Till then I know just what I’ll do:
Barbie, beautiful Barbie,
I’ll make believe that I am you.”_
“Someday, I’m gonna be exactly like you,” echoed through the supple cranium of American girls and a new Idol was born. Even today, when asked asked about the doll, tweens reverberate the jingle, saying things such as, “I think Barbie is so popular because she’s so pretty, and she’s fun to play with. You could pretend it’s you when you grow up.” Barbie represents the All-American Girl, the perfect canvas for projection, providing a refracted mirror for each one of us.
Barbie, with her multitudes, continues to confuse and confound. Vain, empowered, careerist, girlfriend, homeowner, middle-class, shopaholic, role model, fantasy object. In that sense, she represents a singular ambiguous figure in the American cultural landscape, an abject object that resists binary thinking, that “disturbs identity system, order […] [and] does not respect borders, positions, rules.”
Feminist philosopher Julia Kristeva’s concept of abjection from her 1980 book, “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection,” is embodied by the character of Barbie. By abject, she means that which, “expresses a rejection of the essentialist meaning of identity which separates the self from the ‘other’ and the subject from the object, thereby establishing normative binaries.”
Barbie does not passively allow the subject to “coordinate his desires,” thereby allowing the symbolic order to endure. Neither object nor subject. Barbie is abject. Her abjection is why we are drawn to her. What is Barbie if not a statue of molten fossils made to emblematize the antithetical requirements imposed on the American Woman?
There's Astronaut Barbie. Architect Barbie. Black Barbie. Athlete Barbie. Babysitter Barbie.
BARBIE THE GREAT
The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls.
It is written that the End Times will be evident by the proliferation of false idols, false prophets leading us astray. Barbie’s protean contradictions fill her with both sins and virtues. She exhibits vanity through her fashion, but modesty in her relationship with Ken. She is materialistic but a humanitarian. Contradiction after contradiction.
She collapses all the conditions to the Apocalypse thereby causing her own. She brings down the human world all the way from Barbie Land. She is the great idol, the great furnace devouring the young. Her very existence puts ours into question.
BARBIE THE GREAT PARADOX
MOTHER OF EARTH’S DEMISE
I will be lining up to witness it on opening night.
I can’t wait.