August 24, 2023


Barbie's Quiet Rebuke of Transhumanism (Elayne Allen, 8/06/23, Public Discourse)

This freedom from biological limitations is part of what makes Barbieland a successful matriarchy. Women aren't constrained by messy relationships with men or busy with childrearing. Socrates' imaginary city only approximated this post-biological ideal through political intervention: the city selectively breeds and raises children away from their parents to fulfill their preassigned functions. Biology is minimized because it interferes with a perfectly just society. But in Barbieland, biology is eliminated altogether because it would interfere with female omnipotence.

Amusingly, the one thing that constrains Barbies is their rigorous displays of femininity. Without biology to anchor their femaleness, feminine social conventions are the sole ground of womanhood. The result is that Barbies are the most cartoonish version of women: pumps, pink, and politeness in extreme.

There's also no death in Barbieland. Barbie lives a happy, carefree existence until suddenly, during a dance party, she asks her fellow Barbies and Kens whether they ever think of dying, which halts the entire dance floor. Soon after, her feet become flat, losing the distinctive Barbie arch. Death and flat feet are the traits of mere mortals, and Barbie must enter the real world to recover her original plastic selfhood.

Amusing Satire

What is Barbie supposed to teach us?

The movie certainly doesn't present Barbieland as a model regime. Those who think the city is a refreshing lesson about the trials of womanhood and the inadequacies of men miss the movie's deeper layers. So does anyone convinced the movie is anti-man (as Jack Butler pointed out in National Review). Nor is the movie anti-motherhood, despite jests about pregnant dolls being weird.

All of these interpretations take Barbieland too literally. Near the end of the movie, Barbie helps restore Barbieland to feminine justice after a brief coup of the Kens. But once the Barbie army retakes the motherland, Barbie wants to leave: her former home lost its magic. After spending time in the real world, she wants to be human. She wonders hopefully whether Ruth Handler, the inventor of the Barbie doll, is her mother. Visions of mothers, children, and family end up pulling her away from the land of plastic. Barbie wants to be part of a family, have human relationships, and take on a human body, but Barbieland cannot fulfill any of these desires.

At best, Barbieland offers a satire of and escape from the difficulties women face in real life. Gloria and Sasha, a mother and daughter duo in the movie, leave the real world for Barbieland as a temporary haven from the frustrations and pressures of being women. Barbieland has a certain appeal to them and especially captivates Gloria, a mom with an active imagination and thirst for adventure. Gloria, who works a clerical job at Mattel, the producer of Barbies, had a certain nostalgia for the doll's overwrought girliness. Barbie's world captures the sheer fun of being woman and isn't bogged down by the complexities of relationships and sex. A land of girls' nights, omnipresent pink, and witless men is an amusing getaway. But women ultimately want human men, not dull shells of masculinity; and the citizenship in Barbieland requires abandoning one's own humanity, and losing one's womanhood along the way. This is why Gloria, Sasha, and Barbie eventually all return home to the real, human world.

Posted by at August 24, 2023 7:35 AM


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