Tag Archives: Barbie

Barbie (2023)

Barbie, the controversial smash hit of the Summer of 2023, is an entertaining, but ultimately empty film about the emptiness of perfection. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, and starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, the film asks us to imagine what life would be like if our identity under capitalism as consumers was taken to its logical conclusion. What if we could become what we buy?

Barbie opens with a parody of the opening scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Since the beginning of time,” the voiceover, read by Helen Mirren, says, “as long as there have been little girls, there have been dolls.” Until recently, however, little girls have only played with baby dolls, limiting their the scope of their ambitions to motherhood, the voiceover continues. We then look up to see a giant adult female, Margot Robbie as Barbie, the very sight of whom inspires the girls to smash dolls on the rocks, freeing their minds and allowing them to imagine themselves in any career they want.

Or does she?

A little girl who plays with a baby doll to prepare herself for her future life as a mother still has a future, however limited and sexist that future may be. Some day the doll will be a real child. She never imagines herself as the doll, or even as the doll’s mother, but as the mother of her own future son or daughter. That same girl who plays with a Barbie, even before the innovations in the 1970s that allowed Barbie to have a real career as a doctor or a lawyer, imagines herself as the doll, as a piece of plastic formed into the shape of an adult woman. She commodifies herself, trades reality for perfection, a body that will grow old and die for a body made out of  polyvinyl chloride.

The feminist utopia in Barbie that angered so many social media conservatives is, at very best, a stage, an artificial world where talented performers like Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Simu Liu, and Dua Lipa in the very briefest of cameos, can sing and dance in a never ending chorus line. No performer, however, except maybe Bruce Springsteen, wants to spend his whole life on stage, especially if he’s cast in a supporting role. Ken, played by the 43-year-old Ryan Gosling who looks as if he spends at least 6 hours a day in the gym, resents being cast as the boyfriend to Margot Robbie’s Barbie, as a member of the chorus line, one of many Kens even if he’s the lead Ken, instead of as the star in his own production. He doesn’t even get to be a real boyfriend anyway. Neither of them have genitals.

Barbie, in turn, the still gorgeous but 33-year-old Margot Robbie, is beginning to feel the anxiety most women feel in their mid-30s. Is she starting to get fat? Is she crying for no reason and making her makeup run? Is she going to die some day? Barbie’s, or to be more specific “stereotypical Barbie’s, anxiety gets so bad that after consulting “Weird Barbie,” Kate McKinnon as some kind of frumpy thirty something goth girl, she decides to make a trip to the real world, more specifically Los Angeles, to seek out the little girl who has been playing with her in a way that’s made it impossible to revel in her plastic fantastic perfection. What she finds is essentially, another Greta Gerwig movie, or, to be specific, Ladybird, a teenage girl and her mother in a contentious relationship. Sasha, the girl, is an angry “woke” tween played by Ariana Greenblatt. Gloria, her mother, played by the 39-year-old America Ferrera, is beginning to feel the same anxiety as “stereotypical Barbie.” Is her life going anywhere? Is she getting old? Is she going to die some day?

Where Barbie sees Los Angeles in all of its imperfection, for Ken the real world looks like utopia. He no longer has to hide his belief that he’s “entitled” to an important job simply by virtue of being a man. He looks like all of the white men on the dollar, five dollar, and ten dollar bills. For Barbie, getting cat called is ugly and strange. For Ken, it’s flattery. A strange woman even asks him for the time of day, which, of course, he doesn’t have, but is still pleased by the idea she thought he had something to teach her. Eventually Ken realizes he’s no more qualified for an important position in the real world than he was in Barbie Land. Male privilege in the real world is a cruel illusion. Far for being discouraged, however, he simply decides the men in the real world are “doing patriarchy wrong.” So he heads back to Barbie Land, and in Barbie’s absence, stages a rebellion that overthrows the matriarchy, and replaces the pink, female dominated hell world with the perfect fraternity, the ideal man cave, his Mojo Dojo Casa House.

Initially, brainwashed by Ken, the Barbies all seem to enjoy the new male dominated world. Stereotypical Barbie, however, disabuses them of their false consciousness, and decolonizes their minds. She organizes a counterrevolution that exploits the innate weakness of the male sex, pitting Ken against Ken, and provoking a civil war that gives the Barbies a supermajority in the Barbie Land capital that allows them to enshrine the matriarchy in power for eternity.

But having freed her sister Barbies from Ken’s reign of patriarchal terror, stereotypical Barbie is no longer happy with perfection, and escapes to the real world. She explains to Ken that he no long needs her, that he should live for himself instead. She rejoins Sasha and Gloria in Los Angeles. In the last scene, as a visit to a gynecologist confirms, she has become fully human, ready to begin her life as a doctor, lawyer, filmmaker, or even wife and mother, should that be what she eventually chooses. Like the Angel in Wim Wenders Wings of Desire, who chose love over immortality, Barbie has chosen reality over perfection, cellulite, aging and eventual death over her plastic utopia.

The problem is that by this point Barbie Land is more appealing than reality, the hilarious Ken more likeable than the glum Sasha and Gloria. Perhaps the pink matriarchal hell world isn’t so bad after all. Indeed, the ending of Barbie feels like Greta Gerwig has left the big budget fantasy of a never ending Busby Berkeley musicals of her greatest hit for the mumblecore of her youth.

Pretty Princess

(This is a story I wrote for my spoken word album. Check out the full album here.)


This is a story. The story of the continuing adventures of Pretty Princess, her many tragic loves, meals she ate, and her preferences in consumer cosmetics.

In the morning she, scoffing at the cowardly preferences of the plebs, preferences like orange juice, oatmeal, steak, and eggs, insisted on a tuna salad sandwich on two toasted pieces of rye bread, and she would follow each bite with a small sip from an eight ounce paper cup of Sanka. For digestion, she said. Many in the kingdom experienced self-doubt in the customs they’d long held, their pale mockery of the potentials held in the breakfast meal, and started eating tuna sandwiches every morning. Those young maidens who didn’t were stigmatized from ever finding suitable suitors.

In the afternoon she took three Fruit By the Foot rolls and, after removing them from the paper, would, for a good deal of time, knead them in her hands until they were perfectly round like the pearl earrings she wore to bed. On their roundness reaching a quality acceptable to her understandable perfectionism, she would dip them in slightly moistened Sanka powder and wash down each bite with a small sip from an eight ounce paper cup of Sanka. They were small bites, almost nibbles. You might imagine her bobbing her head quickly and nervously at them like a squirrel. But this is because your crude regrettable mind was never meant to comprehend the true daintiness possessed by her majesty, Pretty Princess.

Some wondered if Sanka was the secret of her curious and sanctified luminosity. Many sad lost souls, hoping hopelessly they might derive the path to her beauty, who thought wrongly her beauty was the result of a rational process susceptible to reverse-engineering, experimented with Sanka in a variety of delivery systems. Systems that bordered at times on the alchemical. None discovered the secret. There were accidents. Horrific accidents.

Some wondered if in fact there was no possible way to match her daintiness; if God had simply smiled only once, on her and her alone, that God left her here to float among us out of the understandable spite he held for all who were not Pretty Princess, spite understandable. Because they were not Pretty Princess.

Reports came of large rocks inexplicably falling from the sky on the humble shacks of the peasants, and in each story, on each rock, were purportedly scrawled the words “Tough Shit” or “God Don’t Like Ugly”. The town mystics could do little but speculate whether the hand-writing matched that found on the earlier rocks handed down at Sinai.

We couldn’t bring ourselves to hate her, we couldn’t even bring ourselves not to admire her; when we were told taxes were raised her image sat atop the letterhead; we couldn’t revolt. Not against that face. We could muster little beyond “daw” and hopeful glances at our daughters, knowing such a phenomena as Pretty Princess was verifiable, she was real despite the playful titles we threw in her direction, titles that she hardly needed to deflect; she was protected in a sort of force field that filtered without fail such aspersions. So we glanced at our daughters, eyes cast in slight optimism. We thought, somehow, they might someday, though chances were slim, be like her. That they might seem when they walked to be forever in mid-skip, that they could make the most trivial of trinkets seem the most precious of jewels by the force of their presence, that they mightn’t age but ripen perpetually without the attendant signs of spoilage, that their metabolism might render the special alchemy when fed the Sanka.

When she attracted men, the most fair and eligible, they would be reduced not by her haughtiness or disdain, for she was incapable of either, but rather the magnificence of her totality, to the most pitiful groveling wretches. And in the ways these men were diminished we did not empathize or feel pity with them, but felt more thankful and warm for the enchantment she exerted on us all. Her magnanimity in not casting them aside like insects touched us deeply.

She had a soul of untold beauty. But of course she did. She was Pretty Princess. Our memories of lost relations, fond acquaintances, over time they all came to sour, but our recollections of Pretty Princess would never curdle; they never could. They didn’t work in the way living memories did; they sat with calm confidence waiting to be admired or coveted the way gold bars do in vaults.

And like gold, many were maimed, several killed, for seemingly no better cause than that they had the audacity to look at Pretty Princess. No greater cause was necessary. She was Pretty Princess. She was the momentum and inertia and beauty in all things. She was cause. She was effect. She was her own justification and the justification for that that happened round her. Many had been blinded on having seen some crude approximation of her visage in a dream. We cast them out; we regarded them as we did lepers; rightly so, for it was clear in their blindness they’d failed the crucial test. They were summarily unworthy. A pestilence on our civilization, weeds in the garden. Christ might’ve asked us to cast our lot with them. But Christ knew not of Pretty Princess. And this, finally, was why he had to die.

And some might ask me, the humble narrator, how I know such things. On what authority I might claim them. And to them I reveal without fear, devoid of interest, beyond the crudity of “intent”, that I, yes I, am Pretty Princess. And hope fervently that I, in my prettiness, find it in myself, in my embodiment of all that men, in their weakness, call “adorable”, to take pity on your souls.