This Barbie Is Not Disappointed
I miss the days before the internet. I know, I know, this makes me sound as old as a black-and-white movie. But it's true. Before the internet, if you wanted to form an opinion on a movie, you had to actually go watch it, think about how it made you feel and then articulate those thoughts beyond 'Meh'. Happy days. Now, we have influencers to do that for us. We have Buzzfeed. We have Instagram reelsters who can quickly summarize a movie's plot, sprinkle some cynicism and tell you Here's Why I Would Rather Watch Openheimer. And as ever, you have to absolutely love something or hate it. There is no room for a measured response, what do you think this is, Philosophy class? Boo!
But this isn't about that. This is about Barbie, the movie. I had wanted to watch it because Greta Gerwig was directing and I wanted to see what she would do with it. The deadpan humour in the trailers looked promising, not to mention the joyous, detailed, over-the-top art direction. Pookie wanted to watch it too and after checking out some parents' reviews of the movie, I decided to take her with me.
We had a blast. And I genuinely don't get all the hate the movie has attracted.
Some have called it 'anti-man' and others 'anti-feminist'. People have called it 'too woke', 'too fake', 'not impressive'. And I have to wonder - what did these people actually expect, going into the movie hall? Did they expect it to be a film about little girls playing house? You can't seriously watch the trailer and answer 'yes' to that. So what then? What did they want it to be that they are so disappointed with it?
I went in to watch a movie that would make me laugh and think. Barbie did both. I found myself chuckling at The Godfather gag, the Snyder Cut reference. And I found myself watching agape as the Barbies of Barbieland were lauded for their achievements and they acknowledged them without self-deprecation! With self-aware confidence that wasn't construed as being arrogant or bigheaded or egoistic! When Author Barbie receives the Nobel Prize, the presenter tells her "You've inspired a generation." Author Barbie's response? "Yes. I know." No, oh, who me? Or, no, no, you're too kind. Or, I really couldn't have done this without X, Y, Z.
This would never happen in the real world. And perhaps that is the problem people have with the movie. Barbieland is a place where the power dynamics have completely shifted to favour women instead of men. It's a place where Ken's only wish is to be noticed and loved by Barbie. He has no identity of his own. It's why he is jealous of other Kens. It's why he acts crazy when Barbie doesn't give him attention. It's almost as if a lifetime of believing that the entire point of your life is pairing up with someone, is messing up his head. Surprise, surprise. And you feel bad for Ken. But then again, all of this is Ken's problem, right? Why can Barbie do about it? It's too bad, but hey... that's life, right?
And this, I feel is the genius of the movie. That in subverting a patriarchial society into a woman-led one, Gerwig has not only painted us a picture of a female Utopia, but at the same time shown how even this seemingly perfect world can not be perfect for long, if one half of it is struggling. If it is somehow lesser than, for whatever reasons. That unless both men and women are allowed to discover their unique identities and given equal places in the world, where their contributions and achievements are considered equally important, unless that happens, the world can never be a truly happy place. And if Barbie doesn't care about Ken's suffering, doesn't understand or try to help him out of it in some way, then there is no hope at all. Sure, all of this is subtext and certainly not as much on the nose as America Ferrera's monologue about the cognitive dissonnance required to be a woman under patriarchy. But you get it. Under all the pink and glitter, you get the point she is trying to make.
Now, maybe I'm reading too much into it. Maybe I'm not. Either way, Shakespeare said art holds up a mirror to nature and Barbie very much does that, to my mind. Berthold Brecht, on the other hand, said art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it. Whether we choose to wield the hammer Barbie has presented us, well, that remains our choice as a society.