Updated: Aug 15
So I've seen the Barbie movie in the theater a couple times now, and all I can say is 100% YES.
I assumed that The Little Mermaid would be my movie of the summer--and it was a sumptuous experience. But Barbie has taken off with my heart. And well, Barbie was my #1 from way back. Long before Ariel, Barbie was my girl. She let me dream. She let me exist.
When I was little, I used to stay at my grandparents' house every weekend with my Dad because divorce. In the under the stairs closet, there was this blue leather box that closed at the top with a twisting latch, and that held all of the Barbie stuff.
It wasn't the most pristine collection. Quite a few shoes with no pair and a hodgepodge of Barbie bits from days gone by. My cousins (I was the only boy out of 14 grandchildren, so all my cousins were girls) and I didn't appreciate some of the vintage items in the box--like a straight-armed Barbie from the 50s with a thick plastic lash line that stuck out off her face. God, she was iconic.
No, we were more into the Barbies of the 80s with their convertible day-to-night outfits and color change gimmicks. My parents were at odds about most things at this point in time, but they were definitely united in their dismay over the way my Dad's mother supported my Barbie habit.
Granny saw the joy those dolls gave me and how invested I became in the play I had with them: Most of the time, they were very dramatic scenes, close ups where I would swivel their rubber heads in small, nuanced movements as they spoke. Romance moments and fights as well--ways for me to process my parents' fractured relationship. There was always some kind of action too, some moment where Barbie was about to fall off of a cliff or had been swept away in a rushing river. Ken was sometimes the savior in these situations, but I wouldn't say that was a prevailing theme.
I was big on Barbie and Ken going on dates and the Barbies going to fancy events--I mean, what the heck else are you gonna do with an entire wardrobe of evening gowns?--and as I got a little older, my Barbie storylines had supernatural or extraterrestrial overtones, but Barbie remained powerful. She knew what she was doing, and she was intent on creating her own destiny. Sure, she might have momentary indecisions on what to wear and occasional existential crises about whether to go to the Oscars with Ken or on an expedition of a haunted cave in the Conga, but bitch was in charge.
My granny bought me Barbies. There are three I remember specifically: Peaches n'Cream Barbie, who had a convertible outfit with what was basically a stoned corset bodice. Work, Barbie. There was also (probably to satisfy my Dad) a workout Ken who had rubber arm muscles that actually flexed when you bent them. Again, thank you, Granny. And finally there was Astronaut Barbie--who I was overjoyed to see multiple times in the new movie--in her knee high stiletto boots and iridescent purple space suit with silver accents and poofy shoulders. It was tacky, yes. And it was amazing. A transparent space helmet with enough room to accommodate her big hair? Are you kidding? It was transcendent.
I was glad to find that the tone of the Barbie movie was classy, smart and just a little bit naughty. Precisely how I would describe my Granny back then. And let's face it, Barbie is a little naughty. Barbie--like Dolly Parton--leads with her tits and wears her sensuality like a man wears a business suit: as an enhancement of her personal power but, more than anything, for fun.
I've seen the way this movie has been lighting women up--of all ages--and preparing us for a cultural shift, and I love it. I grew up in a happy matriarchy of a family with my Granny at the helm, and I couldn't recommend that style of society more. There would be no wars if women ran the world. I really believe that. Trust, disputes would be way more passive aggressive--and personally I'd prefer that over people being blown up.
There are some people, both men and women, who want to say the Barbie movie is simply leftist propaganda and ignore it--but I think it gives us an honest appraisal of where women are now in terms of their evolving identity...through the lens of the identity that is expected of them.
Good or bad, Barbie has been a reflection of both societal norms and feminine fantasy. We needed Barbie, and that's why she's stuck around all these years. Girls and little gay boys--we needed to play through our questions and issues and dreams to figure out what the heck was real or what we wanted to be real. Then we could bring that to the shared experience and at least have a little practice before we began.
I also taught myself to play the #BillieEilish song from the movie: