Asexual Representation in The Barbie Movie
Thanks to a combination of trailers and press tours, the internet was abuzz with musings of a possible Asexual Barbie long before the 2023 movie ever premiered. Now that Barbie is available to stream, it's time to watch it in full and give our honest opinions.
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Courtney: Hi Barbie! Welcome back to the podcast. My name is Courtney. I am here with my spouse, Royce. And together, we are The Ace Couple. And now, finally, after all these months, the Barbie movie is available to stream. Now, how long ago was it, Royce, that we talked about Barbie in the more general sense? Because they were advertising for the movie. It hadn’t quite come out yet.
Royce: That was back in May.
Courtney: May. Alright. So, May was peak “Is Barbie Asexual?” discourse, if I recall. And a lot of that came out because of some quotes from Margot Robbie, who played Barbie in the movie, starting to come out in the media as they were doing pre-release interviews and whatnot. So we talked about our perspective on Barbie as an Ace icon, just in the general societal sense. But now that we’ve seen the movie, let’s talk about the movie. Is Barbie Ace in the movie?
Courtney: And if you haven’t yet, if you want to go back and listen to that episode first, you absolutely can. But I was so tickled by the fact that the opening introduction sequence in this movie said something that I am… It’s been a lot of months, but I am 99% sure that I actually mentioned in that episode: how, before Barbie, most of the dolls that would be given to little girls were baby dolls, to play being mother, and they just, like, outright had an opening monologue about that. And I was tickled. I was like, “Aha! Called it.”
Courtney: So there is a bit of a narrator. There is a little bit of exposition in the beginning. But the movie starts in Barbieland, which is a place run by the Barbies. The Kens also live there, but this is very woman-dominated, plastic, bubbly, society. And I think a majority of the moments that could relate to Aces happen in Barbieland, early on in the movie.
Courtney: And there was one scene early on that I really, really liked and I wanted to call attention to, because I sort of saw a parallel to another movie that we’ve also covered on the podcast. There is this scene where two of the Kens are just going at each other. They have a lot of jealousy. The Kens early on are a little bit pathetic.
Royce: That’s one way of putting it. I mean, I think that’s the whole joke about the existence of the Ken dolls — from a, like, Mattel branding, marketing standpoint — just being present when Barbie is the main focus.
Royce: And so the physical Kens that are in Barbieland are also very simple.
Courtney: Yes. And even the narrator — who gets less present later on in the movie, but in the first few scenes is there a lot more — like, she even says, like, “Oh, Barbie has a great day every day, but Ken only has a good day if Barbie looks at him.” [laughs] Very sad. But, you know, they keep saying that Margot Robbie plays Stereotypical Barbie. So as you’re going around Barbieland, you see all these other iterations of Barbie, or even some of Barbie’s extended cast members, like Midge or Skipper.
Courtney: But Stereotypical Barbie also has Stereotypical Ken, who’s played by Ryan Gosling. And Stereotypical Ken gets really jealous of another Ken, and it’s because he perceives that maybe Stereotypical Barbie likes him a little more or he’s a little cooler or he’s a little more masculine. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be a justified fear by any stretch. But they get into an argument [laughs] on the beach, and they just start going back and forth. They’re like, “I will beach you off right now.” “No, I’ll beach you off.” [laughs] And Barbie’s like, “Stop, no one’s beaching anyone off.”
Courtney: And it reminded me very heavily of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, because we talked about Jessica Rabbit being a secret Ace icon in that movie. And one of our biggest arguments is, like, the toons in this movie — the toons in Toontown — they don’t have a sense of innuendo. They just ooze sincerity. And part of the comedy is that the humans are looking for an underlying message. The humans don’t take them literally when they mean something literally. [laughs]
Courtney: And that scene just gave me an element of it, because obviously we, the audience, are like, “Ha ha, funny, it sounds like ‘beat off,’ and that’s sexual.” But it is so not sexual in their context. And that is part of the comedy, is because they’re delivering this line so sincerely. And that just reminded me a little bit of [laughing] Roger Rabbit. Which is funny, because we’ve also made the parallels to the fact that, like, Jessica Rabbit and Barbie and — not even a fictional character but a universally recognized sex symbol — Marilyn Monroe, have all sort of been in the same camp of people who have had sort of sex and sexuality imposed onto them by broader society. So I just thought that was a really interesting element to see, like, “Hey, that kind of reminded me of that movie.”
Courtney: But the most overt, I think, scene that a lot of Asexual people would really find funny, really find relatable, really point to and say, “Hey, that’s our Ace Barbie,” comes a little bit later where, that night, Barbie’s throwing a big house party, as she does, presumably, every single night. They have choreography. They’re doing this, like, pseudo-disco number. All the Barbies are there, all the Kens are there, but the Barbies are the focus.
Courtney: And then you start getting a little more of a spotlight on all these other Barbies. Like, there is a fat Barbie, there is a disabled Barbie — a wheelchair user Barbie, there is a Barbie played by a trans woman, but that wouldn’t have necessarily registered in any of the text or dialogue. So they definitely had a diverse cast of at least background Barbies. Not all of them had speaking lines. For the most part, none of them had a strong impact on the plot. And I’ve sort of gone back and forth, and I think it’s a little bit of both, so I don’t think I have a strong opinion either way, but I could see arguments for either this is kind of, you know, tokenism, or this is them trying to score diversity points, or it could also be an element of self-awareness that that is actually how the Barbie brand has been over time — how the Stereotypical Barbie is, you know, the slim but curvy blonde one, and that’s what you think of when you hear “Barbie.” And there’s even a line like that, where she says, like, “I’m Stereotypical Barbie. I’m who you think of when someone says, ‘Think of a Barbie.’”
Courtney: But after this big party concludes, Ken, like, comes up to Barbie, and he’s obviously — throughout even the entire dance number, he’s just, like, pining for her. He is just constantly eyes on her, hoping she notices him. And he, like, leans in to kiss her, like, very slowly, but she just stands there completely oblivious, just smiling in his face as his face gets a little bit closer. And she just says, “You can go now.” [laughs]
Royce: I think this little back-and-forth is one of the most overt Ace exchanges —
Royce: — I think in the early film.
Courtney: Should we reenact it right now? Should we give the listeners a little taste, who haven’t seen the movie?
Royce: I guess that’s one way to do this. You’re starting?
Courtney: Who do you want to be?
Royce: You pick.
Courtney: Well, shoot, I’ll be Ken. Do you have a bubbly Barbie voice you can put on? [laughs]
Royce: No, I’ll be using my regular speaking voice.
Royce: [as Barbie] Okay, you can go now.
Courtney: [as Ken] I thought I might stay over tonight.
Royce: [as Barbie] Why?
Courtney: [as Ken] Because we’re girlfriend/boyfriend.
Royce: [as Barbie] To do what?
Courtney: [as Ken] I’m not actually sure. [laughs]
Royce: [as Barbie] Oh, but I don’t want you here.
Courtney: [as Ken] Is it Ken? [laughs]
Royce: [as Barbie] Ken’s just a friend. Plus, it’s Barbie’s Dream House, not Barbie and Ken’s Dream House. Plus, it’s girls’ night.
Courtney: [as Ken] Every night is girls’ night.
Royce: [as Barbie] Uh-huh! Every night, forever and ever.
Courtney: [laughs] That might not have been perfectly verbatim, but that was the gist, that was the crux of that back-and-forth. Oh my gosh, it’s so good. And it ends with Ken, like… Barbie goes and leaves, and she’s starting girls’ night already. And Ken, like, whispers, “I love you,” and leaves after she’s already gone, not listening. And boy, I just gotta say, amatonormativity has got Ken hard. [laughs] He is deep in its clutches. There’s also a really solid argument to be made that Barbie could also be Aromantic, but she is just, like, [laughing] anything but interested in Ken.
Courtney: Now, even though that is a very Ace exchange and kind of also feeds my theory of, you know, cartoons, fictional characters, things created for a children’s medium or a children’s audience doesn’t have any innuendo, because Ken knows to say, like, “Oh, I want to stay over,” but neither of them actually sees anything even remotely sexual about staying over. I very much get the impression that if Barbie for some reason agreed for Ken to stay over, they’d just be, like, sitting, looking at each other all night. [laughs]
Royce: Yeah, that was very much a, “I think this is what we are supposed to do” sort of a moment.
Courtney: Which is very, very Ace, very Aro, very Aspec in general. I was comically old when I realized that sleeping together literally did mean sex. Like, it took me a very long time when I was like, “Oh, people are actually talking about sex when they say ‘sleeping together’? Not just they’re sleeping in the same bed? Whoops.” And then I was like, “Well, then, what are you supposed to say if you are just sleeping together in the same bed? What is the phrase for that? Why does everyone assume sex?”
Courtney: But there are a couple other moments later that could feed our Ace theorizing here. But one thing I’d like to note about the movie before getting to those moments is that it does use this very absurd, cartoonish Barbieworld to cast a very wide net on universal experiences or near-universal experiences, things that I think a lot of people will be able to relate to the feelings behind, even if the details are going to be different and individualized.
Courtney: For example, I don’t think they intended Barbie starting to sort of malfunction as a metaphor for disability. But Barbie had a moment that was, honestly, really shockingly similar to moments that I have also had, because all these things start going wrong when Barbie starts getting these, like, creeping, encroaching feelings about, like, death and dread, and just absolutely having an existential crisis all of a sudden, which you’re not supposed to have in Barbieland. The Barbies just — they’re fun and happy and supportive all the time, and it’s like that every single day. I think they even had a line where, like, “Today’s the greatest day ever, just like yesterday was the greatest day ever, and tomorrow is going to be the greatest day ever again.” But I think a lot of people, in a general sense, can relate to, like, yeah, existential dread, midlife crisis, a turning point in one’s life, going from a major, a major life change. I think a lot of people, even though they aren’t literally a Barbie who is now starting to have human thoughts — they can relate to the emotions behind it.
Courtney: And after she starts getting these thoughts creeping in, one of the first major, big things to happen is that her feet go flat. Because they make a joke and an aesthetic over the fact that Barbie’s feet are always pointed so that you could get her high heel shoes on. And so, one day, when she steps out of her shoes, her heels fall flat to the ground, but then she also, like, faceplants. Like, she completely falls over on the ground and loses her balance when this happens. And all these other Barbies come to talk to her. And when she shows them her flat feet, they’re, like, literally gagging, or they’re screaming. Their reactions are not very supportive, and all the Barbies are supposed to be very supportive of one another, but they’re just disgusted and appalled by these flat feet.
Courtney: And… I don’t know, there’s something about that. Like, me with my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, my ankles would just completely roll on me, and then I would faceplant, or my, you know, knees would give out or something and I would fall down. But the ways my joints would move and bend and contort themselves was really disgusting to a lot of people. So some people would see the way I was naturally moving my body at some point, or they’d see the angle of my ankle when I was falling in a situation like this, and they would literally start, like, dry-heaving and they would talk about how disgusting that is.
Courtney: And even though that’s a little bit too on the nose for me, I think the idea of all these Barbies being like, “Oh no, you’re malfunctioning. Like, your body isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. Your brain isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.” I think there are elements of sort of the panic that Barbie starts to get and the sort of longing for her old life back or the grief for the way things were before things started to go wrong, that — whether it’s a disability allegory for some people or anything that could cause a major, like, irreparable, change in your life — I think that’s part of the major commercial appeal of a movie like this. Because, no, it’s not a perfect metaphor, it’s not a perfect allegory, but it knows how to use absurd situations to tap into common human feelings.
Courtney: But the one thing that really then confused me — because they set up all these Barbies to be completely supportive of one another all the time, but there’s apparently still an exception to that. Even in this perfect utopia of feminism and girl power, there is still one outcast that everyone, like, makes fun of. They call her Weird Barbie. And the idea of Weird Barbie is kind of cute, because it’s, like, the Barbie that got played with a little too hard — like, her hair got completely cut, her face got drawn on.
Royce: Yeah, up to this point, all of the Barbies we had seen in Barbieland were different iterations intentionally produced by Mattel. Some of them stood out as odd creative or marketing decisions that Mattel made that maybe didn’t necessarily pan out, like the Barbie that had, like, a camera and a TV in her body, or the Barbie that, like, changed form going through puberty, or something like that. Like, all of these are represented. But Weird Barbie is actually a common thing that a lot of people saw if you grew up in a household that had Barbies.
Royce: You would occasionally just find one that was different, because someone gave this kid some scissors.
Courtney: Yeah. Like, someone was really going through an experimental phase in their playing or it was given to a child that was a little bit too young, unsupervised. And she’s, like, always in the splits, which, I was also like, “Huh, your ankles are doing something they’re not supposed to do, so go talk to the wise Barbie who is always in the splits and very flexible who knows what you’re going through.” [laughs] Not perfect, but a little weird to watch while you’re being me. [laughs]
Courtney: But with this, like, aggressive lack of sexlessness that we’ve seen in Barbieland so far, I was really confused by this line from Weird Barbie. Because she was like, “Oh, you’ve got quite the Ken there, Stereotypical Barbie,” and making, like, suggestive comments where she says, like, “Oh, I’d like to see what kind of nude blob he’s packing under those jeans.” And it’s like, I get that you’re making a joke about the fact that they don’t literally have genitals, but that sounds like there’s some element of attraction there that exclusively Weird Barbie has.
Royce: I think Weird Barbie is the only Barbie that shows any sort of inclination towards a specific Ken or towards any form of attraction.
Royce: So that may just be another reason why she’s different.
Courtney: Aha, so the alloromantic allosexual people are the weird ones for once. [laughs] Good. Good! But, yeah, Weird Barbie does this whole, like, “Well, you have to go to the real world. You have to find the kid who’s playing with you, because her thoughts are affecting yours now,” and does this whole, like, Matrix thing and does this sort of red pill/blue pill, like, “Now it’s your time to choose.” But instead of the pills from The Matrix, it’s shoes. And the, like, “remain ignorant” option is a pink high heel, and the “accept reality” one is, [laughing] like, a Birkenstock sandal. You know, the two genders.
Courtney: But even though that’s obviously a parody of another incredibly well-known movie, it does warrant pointing out that The Matrix itself is a queer film and that it actually is about transness. I’m not going to go too heavily into that because I can point you at a much better full source that’s going to go into it in a lot more detail than I could, especially considering the fact — I have now watched The Matrix, but only, like, a couple years ago for the first time. The Matrix forever has been one of those movies that people would be shocked and appalled to find out that I have never watched, but I just did not watch a lot of movies for a vast majority of my life. But The Matrix is one of those that, even if you haven’t seen it, if you live in this society, you know iconic scenes from it, because it has been parodied to death. So I knew about the red pill/blue pill before I ever saw that scene. I knew about the bullet time, like, bending over backwards. Like, I knew all those things already. [laughs] Kind of like Star Wars. Star Wars was like that too, even though I still haven’t meaningfully watched Star Wars either. But if you’re interested in learning about all the reasons why The Matrix is trans, there is a video, a YouTube video by Aranock called “The Matrix is Intrinsically Trans.” Fabulous video. Aranock is trans, Aranock is Ace, does a lot of work within the video essay community. We’ll link that in the show notes if you want to check that out.
Courtney: But given the fact that they overtly use The Matrix, they do have this concept of change, this concept of a major shift in the way you understand yourself, in a sense that you can’t go back to the way things were and you need to sort of make this difficult choice. There are parallels that, once again, goes back to that core relatability.
Courtney: But the sort of comical subversion is that Barbie doesn’t willingly choose the Birkenstock. [laughing] She wants to choose the pink high heel, but Weird Barbie’s like, “Look, I was trying to give you the illusion of choice, but no, you don’t have a choice.”
Royce: Yeah. “You have to choose this one.”
Courtney: “You have to. You have to go.” And I feel like so much of this movie I’m very much of two minds about. Because there was the diversity, and it’s like, is this self-aware because this is how the corporation functions, or is this just tokenizing the minority Barbies? Should they have done better? I’ve gone back and forth. I could probably be persuaded either way.
Courtney: But there are also some elements like… So, Barbie’s feet go flat, and she falls over, and she’s having these creeping thoughts of dread, but she also starts getting cellulite, and that’s, like, the end of the world, if she’s getting cellulite. And so there were some moments where I was like, ehh… I mean, they have one fat Barbie. She at least has some lines. We do get to hear her talk and interact with the other Barbies. And in the grander scope of Barbieland, they don’t treat her any differently than any of the other Barbies. But then Stereotypical Barbie starts to get a cellulite. And oh my gosh, this is a catastrophe. “I can’t let this happen.” It’s like, ehh, is this a little possibly fatphobic, while also being like “No, we’re not. We’re not fat phobic here in Barbieland,” but you kind of are? Or are they making a commentary on how a lot of women do actually immediately react with a knee-jerk reaction when they might be in a similar situation? Even if that stems from internalized fatphobia, that is how a lot of people do react, or would.
Royce: Or is this a part of most of the Barbies in Barbieland, embodying the sort of design thoughts of the Mattel employees that created them? And so Barbies that were manifested to look like this have their own internalized beauty standards that are very rigid.
Courtney: That would make sense, because that would be the…
Royce: At that point, they’re taking shots at Mattel.
Courtney: They’re taking shots at Mattel, or it could be read that way. And that would also be a reason that would explain why they’re so cruel to Weird Barbie. Like, she is the only Barbie that anyone mostly ignores. Her house is way farther away than all the other Barbie Dream Houses that are, for the most part, in, like, a little cul-de-sac, very close to each other. They can walk to each other’s houses. Weird Barbie’s way far away. They are horrified that Stereotypical Barbie has to go talk to Weird Barbie. There’s even a line of, like, “Oh, you have to go to the real world or else you’ll end up like me.” And Stereotypical Barbie, like, screams, and Weird Barbie’s like, “Yeah, I get it. I set myself up for that one.”
Courtney: And so if you view it under the lens of marketability, a Barbie that has been torn up by a kid playing with it too hard is not marketable. That Barbie has already been sold. You cannot resell that Barbie. You probably wouldn’t even see it at a garage sale. Like, that would be a Barbie that once you’re done with it, it goes in the trash. So that’s probably the most accurate reading that could apply to all of these different things that have given me two minds so often about in this movie.
Courtney: But Stereotypical Barbie’s instructions are clear: “You have to do this, this, this and this in this order, and then you’ll get to the real world.” And it doesn’t make any sense. It’s basically just, “Use all these Barbie products that we’ve had, like a car and a boat and…”
Courtney: “…rollerblades. And don’t think about it too hard.” They even tell us that. They’re like, “Don’t think about it too hard.” [laughs] There are some cheeky moments where either the narrator or a line of dialogue will make a nod to the fact that this is very campy and unrealistic. And most of the time, in this movie, it did actually land pretty well for me during those moments. It doesn’t always.
Courtney: But Ken, partially out of pining for Barbie, partially out of feeling excluded because she didn’t ask him to, part of wanting to show up the other Ken — like, “Oh, look, I got invited to this” — ends up sneaking into her little Barbie convertible car, like, lying down in the back seat, and reveals himself when they’re too far away to turn back. So, Barbie’s very unhappy about this. And he’s even like, “Oh, I have to…” Like, “The other Ken is just so cool.” And Barbie just snaps and is like, “Ken is not cool!” So she’s super unhappy that he’s tagging along. But the two of them end up continuing.
Courtney: And as soon as they get into the real world they’re on these, like, neon rollerblades, these very bright, eccentric outfits. Ken is immediately happier and perkier and he’s standing up a little taller. And he’s like, “Wow, I feel admired here, admired but not ogled.” And Barbie’s immediately — like, she feels something is off. And she’s getting some, like, catcalls. People are like, “Give us a smile, blondie.” And people are, you know, looking at her. And Ken’s like, “Wow, I feel empowered, but there’s no undertone of violence!” And Barbie’s like, “Oh no, the attention I’m feeling very much has an undertone of violence.” [laughs]
Courtney: And while she’s so concerned and just looking for someone to help, she sees a billboard of, like, a Miss America pageant — like, all of these pageant girls with sashes and bikinis — and she’s like, “Oh, look, the Supreme Court.” [laughs] And she goes, “Oh, a construction site, good. We need that good feminine energy right now,” but then walks up to the construction site and it is all just dudebros. And they all start saying, like, you know, really sexist things to her. One of them’s like, “I can see myself in your shorts.” And, again proving that there is no innuendo in Barbie, she says, “I don’t know what you meant by all those little quips, but I would just like to inform you that I do not have a vagina, and he does not have a penis. We don’t have genitals.” [laughs] And I liked that. I liked that a lot more than the nude blob Weird Barbie mention of earlier. But then the construction workers kind of don’t know how to respond to that. They’re just like, “...Okay, that’s cool.” They’re just sort of taken off guard. Which, can confirm: if people are harassing you in real life, if you just be aggressively weird to them, sometimes they will just not know how to respond and leave you alone. I use that one a lot.
Courtney: But then after she walks away, that isn’t the end of that scene, because Ken is just looking very shy and sheepish, and he goes up to the guys, and he’s like, “I have all the genitals.” [laughs] So good! First of all, he doesn’t. He feels like that’s something he should have. But also, we have a mutual contact on social media who is intersex, and I didn’t get permission to share so I am not going to, but they were talking about how this movie was accidentally very intersex confirming because of that Ken line, and that is a fascinating read on that. And I am sure that that is not going to be a universal opinion, even amongst intersex folks.
Courtney: But what strikes me about that reading on that line: it’s, again, one of these things where I’m sure they did not write that with that in mind. But sometimes, in a piece of media, you just want to write something — like, write a line — that is subversive. And sometimes, it becomes… Like, it’s not something you’d expect to hear. It’s not something someone would normally say out loud, and it might surprise someone to just hear it out in the wild. But sometimes those subversive quips can accidentally be affirming to someone in a minority demographic. And that kind of reminds me — Royce, what is that line of Ursula Le Guin?
Royce: Are you talking about the one from The Left Hand of Darkness?
Royce: I don’t remember verbatim, but I know that she mentioned, like, as a bonus, in writing this novel that explored genderfluidity in some unique ways, one line she really wanted to work in was, “And the King is pregnant,” or something like that.
Courtney: And she did. And that is what reminded me of that, because for that writer at that period of time, like, “I want to write, ‘The King is pregnant.’ I want to put that in words.” And most people reading that are going to be shocked by it, because that’s not a line you hear every day, and it’s directly counter to most people’s worldview. And so wanting to write this thing that is subversive could, intentionally or unintentionally, be very affirming to trans men. Men can get pregnant. A trans man might read that and be like, “Heck yeah! Alright! I see that. I actually feel something real, outside of just the shock value of the subversion.” Whereas then others may not feel as affirmed by one-off subversive lines like that, because the original intention might have been shock or comedy or contrarianism, but since it is or can be in line with their lived experience, that could just as easily swing the opposite way, like, “Oh, this person’s just using this for the silly line without giving enough further depth to those of us who do have this real experience.” So it absolutely could go either way. But that is where my brain went when I saw that reading and then actually was able to see the movie itself. Because it is just that line in that movie. It doesn’t go any further to suggest otherwise, whereas Ursula Le Guin’s book — the entire book is analyzing or recontextualizing gender. But it is a very sneaky movie because there are a lot of one-off lines that I think lots of different people are going to be able to point to one or two lines and be like, “That’s really good. That line in particular is really good.”
Courtney: But then — back to the movie — Barbie sort of sends Ken away, just off to do something. “Don’t go too far but don’t bother me,” kind of a thing. And Barbie tries to just, like, sit and meditate to try to figure out where this girl who played with her might be. And it does show this montage of a girl growing up. And it shows sort of the good and the bad, and now getting into more of the angsty preteen years. Barbie is really emotionally impacted by seeing this. And she looks around her, and she sees all these scenes of people outside and in the park and walking around. And some are happy and sharing a laugh, some look absolutely devastated, and she’s just taking it all in.
Courtney: And she looks over to this elderly woman on a bus stop bench. And she just has this, like, moment of revelation, and she says, “You’re so beautiful.” And this woman grins at her and just says, “I know it!” And then they both share this little laugh. And it is such a beautiful moment. I really like it, especially since the prospect of aging — aging and dying was one of the initial existential nuggets of dread that were getting seeded in this Barbie that led to this whole thing. So that was sort of, I think, her first step in accepting this new era of her life, was seeing a happy, beautiful, thriving older woman. Because they also don’t have any… They don’t have any old Barbies in Barbieland. Everyone is perpetually quite young.
Courtney: One thing that also isn’t relevant to the plot, but I just noticed because we’ve talked about Sex Education in two different episodes at this point on this podcast — they borrowed a lot of Sex Education actors for this. There were, like, three of them in this movie. There was a Barbie and a Ken who were from Sex Education.
Royce: And an employee at Mattel. Was that the last one?
Courtney: Yeah, the, like, nerdy employee at Mattel who doesn’t have a lot of actual corporate power. So I just kept spotting them, like, “Oh hey, they’re from Sex Education. Oh hey, they’re from sSex Education. Oh, wait a minute, I know him too.” Although I do gotta say, I had more fun watching this movie than I had watching, I want to say, any episode of Sex Education.
Royce: That’s fair.
Courtney: Do you feel that too?
Royce: Yeah, I think this was a decent movie. Sex Education had some moments, but…
Royce: I think we’ve mentioned in analyzing it that that’s not really our kind of show.
Courtney: Mhm. Mhm. So Barbie has this vision of this girl who is at school, and she’s going to go find her while Ken is out exploring the patriarchy. He’s just out on his own. He sees that people just have a baseline level of respect for him. A woman, like, asks him what time it is, and he’s like, “You’re asking me what time it is? Because you trust me? I am approachable?” He sees that men are on all of the dollar bills. He sees a lot of movies that are very masculine and male-centric. Oh, and he even sees a picture of Mount Rushmore. Which was funny, because in Barbieland, there was a Barbie Mount Rushmore of several different models of Barbie faces that they’ve had throughout the years. And so he starts saying, like, “Hey, this world rocks.” I think he sees a lot of, like, country western movies just playing passively in the background on screens and stuff, because he also decides that patriarchy is about men and horses. Like those get lumped together somehow.
Royce: Yeah, I forget exactly how all of this goes together, but he finds a bunch of books that are very male-centered and then also grabs one on horses.
Royce: But I think there was a line or two where he’s like, “I was a little confused for a second, because I thought patriarchy was about horses, but then I realized that horses are just man extenders.”
Courtney: [laughs] So, while he’s getting indoctrinated, Barbie finds this girl at school, thinking she’s going to be well-received. But oh no, this girl absolutely lays into her and gives a spiel that is basically a lot of the criticisms that society has had about Barbie that we talked about in our original episode. She talks about, like, sexualized capitalism, unrealistic physical ideals, saying things like, “Oh, you set the feminism movement back 50 years.”
Courtney: Some of those I think are questionable, like Barbie existing in this world as a toy primarily marketed to young girls: does that actually set the feminist movement back 50 years? Eh, I think that’s incredibly debatable. But some of the criticisms are definitively fair, like “You’re destroying the environment with rampant consumerism.” Like, I don’t have the numbers on hand for Mattel’s plastic waste or fuel usage, but I do know that capitalism is the enemy, [laughs] so I got a pretty good idea.
Courtney: And then she calls Barbie a fascist, which really, really upsets Barbie. She goes off, like, crying because this young teenage girl just laid into her. Meanwhile, Ken is just like, “People like me run this world!” So he’s, like, going into hospitals being like, “Can I do a surgery please?”
Royce: Yeah, Ken’s having the best day of his life, even though he keeps getting rejected.
Royce: Like, he can’t even get a job as a lifeguard.
Courtney: That’s true. Even though his job is Beach in Barbieland, his job is —
Royce: He can’t even Beach over here.
Courtney: He can’t even Beach! But he does go into, like, a corporate office, and he’s like, “Hello, I’ll have a high ranking, high paying job with authority, please.” And someone’s like, “It doesn’t work that way.” And he’s like, “Well, you are not doing patriarchy very well.” And this guy he’s talking to is like, “Oh, no, we’re doing it well. We just hide it better than we used to.” And oh, that line got me!
Courtney: But Mattel’s alerted to the fact that Barbie’s in the real world. And for some reason, this is an absolute crisis for them and they have to fix this. So they’re trying to, like, capture Barbie to get her back in her box, and they have a full life-size box to put her in. And the entire, like, board of Mattel — they’re all dudes, they’re all goofs. [laughs]
Royce: Well, Mattel is depicted as being run by Will Ferrell in a very Will Ferrell manner.
Royce: And all of the other executives just kind of follow that.
Courtney: Mhm. Yeah. Very silly. Like, the Mattel headquarters is the only other place in the real world that has an element of camp that Barbieland is, like, exclusively based on.
Royce: It is. And some of the things in Mattel make it seem like it’s sharing the magic of Barbieland to a certain degree, because they literally try to get Barbie into a life-size box with giant twist ties.
Courtney: Oh, the twist ties are so good!
Royce: And there are just some absurdist things when dealing with Mattel or the people who work at Mattel that seems like it’s… It’s sort of like a halfway point between the real world and Barbieland. Like, Will Ferrell’s character knows the magical, absurdist way to enter Barbieland, for example.
Courtney: Mhm. Mhm. The twist ties were great. I lost it when they literally had giant twist ties to try to [laughs] twist around her wrists in the box.
Courtney: But once Barbie, like, realizes what they’re trying to do, she tries to leave. So she’s escaping through the Mattel headquarters. And she finds a room that’s just, like, a serene kitchen with just a woman drinking tea and being very calm and relaxed. And we’ll later find out that this is Ruth, the creator of Barbie. Very interesting scene.
Courtney: I don’t understand why in that scene, if you watch it, there is, like, a Victorian-era decorative dome on the counter of her kitchen, very out of place, like where you’d expect a toaster to be, and you don’t get to see it super clearly. So I don’t know if it’s literally taxidermy in there or if it’s just fancy featherwork, just, you know, a decorative something. But I want to talk to that set designer and ask why and what is in that dome. I’ve got an eye for hair work. So if there is ever hair work, like, in the background scene of a movie or a show, I will see it immediately. Or if I’m in a museum and there’s a piece of hair somewhere, that’s the first thing my eyes will go to. So it’s not that, but it is something Victorian, with a giant dome, very weird, very interesting choice.
Courtney: But while in this Mattel headquarters, we see some funny moments of Barbie not knowing how things work in the real world. Like, they offer her a glass of sparkling water and she’s like, “Oh, thanks.” But then she goes and pours it on her face and she’s like, “Oh, I’m not used to that being in there.” [laughs]
Royce: Yeah, the opening sequence in Barbieland, we see a lot of Barbie going around and not using stairs, just floating out of the house, as a Barbie doll would if a child was playing with Barbie, and pouring nothing from a jug of milk into an empty bowl, or something like that, or drinking from empty glasses.
Royce: It’s showcasing playing with toys.
Courtney: Yeah. And so you have that water scene, but then when she gets into Ruth’s kitchen and she’s offered a cup of tea, she has this very funny — like, she’s so slowly trying to awkwardly drink it, because she doesn’t know how to actually drink things.
Courtney: But when she exits this Mattel headquarters, the mother of the girl who tore into Barbie shows up, because she was picking up her daughter from school. Her daughter tells her, like, “Oh yeah, this, you know weird woman thought she was Barbie.” And she herself is a Mattel employee, so she’s been working at this lower level of this company in an office job. And it turns out that she’s the one who has been drawing pictures of, like, Existential Dread Barbie and Cellulite Barbie and all these things. Because as a middle-aged mother, she’s sort of using this tool from her childhood to try to process these new feelings from this period of her life. And her daughter’s going through an angsty phase, her daughter lashes out at her all the time, so she doesn’t even have these happy, joyous moments of playing with her daughter anymore. So, like, the mother-daughter story in this I think is really beautiful. I am a sucker for a good mother-daughter story.
Courtney: But this mom is so onto Mattel. She knows what they’re up to. So she comes to try to rescue Barbie. She pulls up in her car and is like, “Get in.” And after these two scenes of Barbie not knowing how to drink, Barbie gets in the car and immediately puts on her seatbelt. And I was like, “Wait a minute, why do you know how to do that? Why wasn’t there anyone telling you to do this? Why wasn’t there a you awkwardly fumbling with it because you don’t know how it works?” Because they showed her in a Barbie car in the first leg of this adventure, and she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt in that, I don’t think. Was she?
Royce: I didn’t pay that much attention, but probably not. Ken, who popped out of the back seat, I don’t think was.
Courtney: No, she wasn’t. Because I’m picturing the car. The seats weren’t even tall enough to have a seatbelt from your shoulder. So in this sort of car chase scene, they have a conversation. There were lots of earlier lines about how, like, in Barbieland, they think they solved all of the issues of feminism. They think that, because Barbie exists, women have power and agency and they can do what they want and be whoever they want to be, and, basically, that there isn’t a patriarchal system because Barbie exists. And all those lines were really funny because, as the audience, we obviously know better.
Courtney: But in this moment Barbie admits, like, “I didn’t realize that the real world is irrevocably fucked up.” And this mom says, “Well, the real world is not perfect, but you inspired me.” And so it gives that element of, like, yeah, not every aspect of Barbie or every iteration of Barbie that’s come out has been good by any stretch, but there are still children out there who do get a lot of individual personal benefit from these toys. And I think that can kind of be a takeaway for the movie overall. Like, the movie is not perfect, but there are some very good elements about it that individual people are going to be able to relate to.
Courtney: But for some reason, you know, this mother and daughter are gonna now go back to Barbieland with Barbie. They’re able to materialize just like new pairs of skates that are all this obnoxious neon color. I don’t know where they came from. I guess we’ll do what Weird Barbie told us to and just don’t think about it too hard.
Courtney: So on this journey, it starts with the mom just absolutely just geeking out over Barbie, being so excited, so happy to be talking to a real-life Barbie, to be going on this journey with all these different, you know, Barbie props and accessories. And she even says at one point, like, “Don’t tell him, but I never got a Ken.” And Barbie’s like, [laughing] “That’s because Ken is totally superfluous.” They do this really interesting thing with Ken, where the dunking on Ken early on and throughout the movie can almost be kind of cathartic, but then they also subvert that by giving Ken a lesson to learn and having him grow later on. And that starts by Ken being a menace to society because he beat Barbie back to Barbieland and has now spread patriarchy. So now all the Barbies — even the Barbies who were, like, President Barbie or Astrophysicist Barbie, like, all of these things — are now just like wearing cheerleading uniforms and cheering for the Kens who are, you know, playing sports on the beach, or they’re serving Ken’s beers in skimpy outfits.
Courtney: And there was a line that I do think was really tasteless. Of all the lines that I had two minds about, this is the one where I was like, “Mmm, I don’t have two minds about that one. I just don’t like it.” The mother from the real world sees what’s happening and has this moment of revelation where she’s like, “Oh, this is like in the 1500s with the Indigenous people and smallpox. They had no defenses against it.” And, like, yeah, similes and metaphor, sure, they’re useful, they have their time, they have their place. But I just don’t like a flippant line about like a literal genocide [laughs] being compared to this funny, campy, like, “Barbieland is patriarchal now,” with just this ridiculous, silly, over-the-top Ken who doesn’t even have a very good grasp of what patriarchy is or any of the true nuances of it. Mmm, it did not hit correct.
Courtney: But one line that did hit correct [laughing] was when Barbie goes to confront Ken. And she’s asking, like, “What’s going on here?” First of all, he’s like, “This is not Barbie Dream House anymore. This is Ken’s Mojo-Dojo Casa House,” which is absurd and ridiculous and silly. But they end a conversation with Ken throwing back in her face the “Every night is girls’ night.” He says, “Every night is boys’ night,” and puts on a pair of sunglasses, and then he puts on a second pair of sunglasses over the first, very stoically, very seriously, as if he genuinely thinks that he is being a badass right now, and he walks away. And it slays me! [laughing] That was a very good moment.
Courtney: And Barbie sort of gives up. Barbie’s like, “This is the end.” She’s just, like, laying facedown on the ground, like, “Guess I’ll die.” And so the mom and the daughter try to go back home. Like, they take a Barbie Dream Car. They start driving home. But Allan, of all people, has followed them. Ken’s best friend. All of Ken’s clothes fit him. That Allan.
Royce: Allan was a funny addition. Because if Ken is already being set up as forgettable or superfluous, Allan, in the midst of all of these Kens, played by Michael Cera —
Royce: — was probably one of the best side characters in the show. And that “Yeah, all his clothes fit me” line is actually delivered by Allan in the show as he’s sort of squaring up to fight off a horde of Kens so the main cast can get away.
Courtney: [laughing] It’s so good.
Royce: It’s like his moment of triumph.
Courtney: “All his clothes fit me.” [laughs] Which is directly from, like, an ad campaign of Allan. [laughs] It’s so good. Also, talking about, like, “Oh, how catastrophic it was to have a Barbie in the real world,” and Allan’s like, “Yeah, that’s because it’s Barbie, but no one cares if Allan gets into the real world. It’s happened before! All of NSYNC? Allan.” [laughs] It’s so good. This movie is so campy and brilliant. I laughed, I cried, I groaned. I think it has all the makings of perfectly executed camp. But, yeah, after this Allan shows up and sort of begs and pleads for help, because we can’t let this be Ken… I don’t even remember what they called it. They renamed Barbieland to something Ken.
Royce: It was Kendomland.
Royce: Because everything Ken names is redundant in some way.
Courtney: Yes, Mojo-Dojo Casa House. Then it’s actually the daughter who tells her mom, “We have to go back.” And she’s the one who’s been so cynical this whole time. She hates Barbie. She’s, like, rolling her eyes that she’s going on this adventure with Barbie and her mom. But then on their way out, she says, “We have to go back,” and says, “Even if you can’t make it perfect, you can make it better.” And that seems to be a major thread going through this movie, which I also think parallel some of my thoughts on Barbie as a concept and a brand and the history of Barbie: that there have been really good things to come out of it.
Courtney: There have been really awful things to come out of it. Like, one thing we were not aware of specifically and therefore didn’t mention in our first episode was that in 1965, there was a Slumber Party Barbie that came with a scale set to 110 pounds and came with a diet book that said, like, “How to lose weight: Don’t eat.” Like, that’s… We can all agree that is a definitive example of Barbie as the brand directly imposing unhealthy diet behaviors and body standards. That was a no-no. I’m glad we don’t live in the ’60s anymore.
Courtney: But then there are some, you know, more… There are Barbies where more progress is being made. We have more diverse Barbies now. And with every iteration of a new diverse Barbie, that is progress and that is better. And sometimes, it can help a little girl to be seen and felt seen and felt valued and someone that she can relate to. And I don’t think we should discredit every single good thing that should come from it because there have absolutely been moments where Barbie and Mattel have just demonstrably fucked up.
Courtney: And I don’t know. I mean, like, I guess that’s something else that I’m a little bit of two minds about. Because I have my own personal attachment to, you know, the idea of, like, “Oh, nobody actually looks like a Barbie. That’s not how real bodies work,” but, as I said in our first episode, I’ve seen a current Barbie next to what they call, like, the “average Barbie,” where people would make a Barbie out of the average, you know, woman’s proportions who is shorter and doesn’t have as small of a waist or as large of a bust. My body, throughout most of my teenage and adult life, looked a lot more like the actual Barbie than the, quote, “average Barbie, so. And that has come with its own set of societal issues, some of which I talked about in that episode, some of which I talked about in our boobs episode. So, like some of the blanket criticism against Barbie hits a little weird and a little personal for me. But then there’s also the cynical anti-capitalist [laughs] in me who’s like, “Yeah, things can be good and things can get better and we should be appreciating and admiring progress.” And in this movie as a narrative, that’s a narrative that I can get behind. But if we’re also just looking at this as, like, another tool of capitalism and propaganda for Mattel and a means for them to sell more Barbies in the real world, like, yeah, I see that argument too. I’ve had those thoughts myself.
Courtney: And so then, we get back to Weird Barbie’s house, where Stereotypical Barbie is still having a time. And she hasn’t been affected by the patriarchy yet, but she’s really down seeing all of her other fellow Barbies affected by the patriarchy. And Weird Barbie also hasn’t been affected, and Allan has not been affected. And there’s one Ken who has not been affected, and that’s Earring Magic Ken — which they do not name, they do not call specific attention to, but he is just in the background hanging out at Weird Barbie’s house with all the people [laughing] who haven’t succumbed to patriarchy. And I think the subtext here… What is the subtext here? [laughs] That’s such a goofy Easter egg that a lot of the younger audience is not even going to know who he’s supposed to be, [laughing] because they don’t call attention to it in dialogue.
Royce: And with him just being in the background, we had to pause and rewind to double-check, like, “Wait, wait, who was that standing there who hasn’t been speaking for a while?”
Courtney: “Wait a second. That looks like a Ken!”
Royce: Yeah, I assumed that was just a queer ally sort of thing.
Courtney: Yeah, which basically canonizes the, I guess, fan theory that Earring Magic Ken is the gay Ken. [laughs] Which, I mean, I haven’t heard this in a very long time, so I don’t think it’s still a common enough quip that our younger audience is going to recognize it. But do some of you out there remember, like, the gay ear ear piercing? Like, that was always a thing: if a man had only one ear pierced, there was a gay ear. Because that was, like, the style, was men only get one ear pierced, they don’t get both. But it was like, if you pierce your right ear, that means you’re gay, but if you pierce your left ear, that means you’re straight and just want an ear piercing. Like, that was a narrative. That was a thing people would look for. If someone was like, “Oh, he has an earring,” they’d be like, “What ear?”
Courtney: Which, oddly enough, unless I have mixed up my left and right — because it has been a very long time since I have heard this — I don’t think Earring Magic Ken actually has his earring in the gay ear. But, I mean, if you look at him… I mean listeners if you haven’t seen Earring Magic Ken, just Google Earring Magic Ken. He does have a very certain aesthetic. [laughs] And the thing is, he ended up selling extraordinarily well because the gay community latched on to him and they were like, “This is hilarious. This is great. We have our gay Ken. We need to, like…”
Courtney: It was just kitsch. It was like — he wasn’t marketed as a gay Ken, but Dan Savage, like, wrote an article called “Ken Comes Out” talking about the aesthetic, how he was wearing a necklace that looked like a cock ring. And I think the fact that there’s plausible deniability that it could have been an accident — like, they weren’t trying to make Ken gay, but they accidentally made him very gay — I think was part of the appeal. Because it was that irony, right? Because if they marketed this as, like, “This is the gay Ken, we have our first gay Ken,” I don’t think it would have been as big of a consumer hit amongst gay men. Do you? It’s that sort of like rainbow capitalism thing where, like, if a traditionally not-queer-friendly company tries to market to a specifically queer demographic, they don’t do it particularly well, but if they accidentally make something very gay, we’re gonna be all over it.
Royce: Well, given that Earring Magic Ken was introduced in ’93, and it wasn’t too long after that that the term “metrosexual” was first coined…
Courtney: Oh no. [laughs]
Royce: I think this was just an attempt to show a fashionable man, and they just happened to produce a Ken doll that seemed, at least to many communities, to be an overt gay stereotype.
Courtney: Yeah, I mean, in ’93, I mean, percentage-wise, who made up a bulk of the fashionable man demographic? Let’s be honest here. [laughs] But it’s sort of a humor in the sincerity right? Like, that kind of parallels this movie too. It parallels this movie. It parallels the sort of unintentional, like, Barbie becoming an Ace icon and Jessica Rabbit becoming an Ace icon.
Courtney: Because when a company tries to say, like, “Oh, we’re going to do a very sincere Ace character,” sometimes it falls really flat. Like, Florence was, like, “This is unequivocally an Ace character in Sex Education. We’re going to try to give this big emotional scene.” And it did work. It did hit for some Ace people. But I’d say a majority of the Ace community are not going to be looking 10 years from now being like, “Florence from Sex Education is an Ace icon.” Because it was such a very obvious little like pander and moment that didn’t have a lot of its own power outside of that one scene either. Like, Florence as a character didn’t have her own power.
Courtney: But the fact that Mattel was like, “Here’s Ken. He’s still Barbie’s girlfriend. He looks exactly the way he does.” [laughing] Then yeah, I would… I don’t know if the marketers at Mattel are brilliant enough to know and play the 4-D chess and know that “If we market him not as a gay Ken, the gay community will love him more than if we do market him as gay.” I doubt they had that amount of foresight, but I’m confident that the fact that people looked at this doll and thought that Mattel made a sincere attempt at making a straight man [laughs] and failed miserably, that’s what makes him a gay icon. [laughs]
Courtney: But yeah, so, I mean, he’s in the background here. We aren’t given an explanation why. But, yeah, I guess the subtext is… [laughing] gay men don’t fall for patriarchy, which works in this campy silly movie that is not realistic; isn’t always the case in the real world. But yeah, while they’re trying to figure out their plan, Barbie makes this line of like, “Either you’re brainwashed or you’re weird and ugly. There’s no in between.” And Weird Barbie’s like, “Sing it sister,” which is funny enough that I’ll give it a pass.
Royce: Okay, so before we move on, I just found something. Apparently, in 1977, what was billed as the world’s first openly gay doll came out. The doll was called Gay Bob.
Courtney: Gay Bob!
Royce: The packaging actually said, “Come out of the closet with Gay Bob.”
Royce: The box was made to appear like a closet.
Courtney: Oh, why didn’t I know about Gay Bob? [laughs]
Royce: And Gay Bob’s left ear was pierced —
Royce: — just like Earring Magic Ken.
Courtney: Okay, okay, so hold up a minute. Is the gay ear actually — is it the left one? Is that the gay — is that supposed to be the gay ear? Because more often than not, I felt like I heard that the right ear is the left one, and maybe that got distorted over time, or maybe it is a carefully crafted narrative for gay men who are not out: “Just tell the straight people it’s actually the other ear, [laughing] the other way around.”
Royce: Now, I didn’t pay much attention to stuff like this when I was a kid, but I think when I was really young, the only one that I heard was, like, one ear versus two ears.
Courtney: Oh, really? No, I recall, like, there is a gay ear and it is the right one, but now all signs point to the left ear being the gay one. If Gay Bob had his left ear pierced and then Earring Magic Ken had his left ear pierced, what more evidence do we need? This is irrefutable. But see, now I want to know sales numbers. Did Gay Bob do the same numbers with gay men that Earring Magic Ken did? [laughs] To prove my theory or debunk it. I mean, consumerism was just not quite the same in the ’70s as it was the ‘90s.
Royce: Well, Gay Bob seems to have been a person’s sort of personal creation. An individual put some of their own money into getting this doll manufactured through their company. And it seems like it was sold through mail order and through, like, a small number of boutique stores.
Royce: But I think that they only did a run of, say, 12,000 dolls or something like that before it was over. I’m not completely confident on those numbers, but I have seen indications that Gay Bob was designed to be anatomically correct instead of having just the…
Courtney: Oh no.
Royce: What was it called in the Barbie movie? Just the —
Courtney: Nude blob.
Royce: Nude blob.
Courtney: Oh no.
Royce: So this wasn’t something that was getting mass market appeal.
Courtney: Gotcha. Noted. Well, you know, Gay Bob walked [laughing] so that Earring Magic Ken could run. [laughs] So then, the mother and daughter duo get back. They come find everybody at Weird Barbie’s house. And I keep saying “the mom.” Did we actually get a name for her that I just missed? The mom is played by America Ferrera.
Courtney: Gloria! So Gloria, being a woman from the real world, who has been subjected to rigid patriarchal society and gender norms and inequality, gives this big monologue where she says how difficult it is to be a woman because of the cognitive dissonance, and how you have to sort of be everything all at once. Like, you have to be thin, but not too thin, and you can never say that you want to be thin, you have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. And, you know, all these things that a lot of people can relate to. Like, people want you to be this but you can’t be that — all, like, back-and-forth, back-and-forth. And even talks about the complicated standards of motherhood. You have to want to be a mom and you have to love being a mom, but you can’t constantly be talking about your kids.
Courtney: And I think, overall, it’s pretty good. I mean, I have especially lately been seeing a lot of news articles talking about how there’s a lot of backlash and a lot of pushback about how this speech sort of oversimplifies feminism. And I don’t know if that’s the criticism I would give it. I think, for the context of the movie, for what it’s trying to accomplish, I think it does a good job. There are so many lines in there that a lot of women are going to be able to relate to at least some of them. And in giving this monologue, she sort of wakes up one of these brainwashed Barbies, who remembers who she is and sort of, you know… patriarchy doesn’t have the hold on her it does because now she’s been able to see — she understands what’s going on now, and so it’s given her sort of the language to explain this new dynamic that they’re living in.
Courtney: And, in fact, I think the monologue itself worked for me well enough. But what really did not work for me was a line very shortly after, because it is undoubtedly Gloria who gives the speech, who figures out what they have to do now. Barbie kind of understands, like, “Oh, this is what’s going on,” has this revelation, says, “Now we know what we need to do.” And Gloria’s daughter, after this very short line from Barbie — like, Barbie doesn’t go on a big monologue — Gloria’s daughter says, like, “Hell yeah, white savior Barbie!” And then Barbie’s like, “No, that was all your mom!”
Courtney: And I don’t… Do they know what the meaning of white saviorism is? Did they just not have a way to actually illustrate white saviorism but still wanted to get the line in there? It did not work for me. Because the daughter seems genuinely excited about this and praising the Barbie, which also seems very out of character for the daughter because, even though now she wants to help make Barbieland better, she was very cynical about Barbie in the first place. She was very cynical about her mom in the first place, but now she’s starting to bond with her mom more. So why is she now heaping praise on this Barbie who didn’t do anything, and Barbie herself, in this situation, was deferring all credit to Gloria?
Courtney: And the daughter even, later on, after all this is said and done, demonstrates some amount of knowledge of, you know, racial discrimination. Like, her dad is white, and she’ll even say things to her dad like, “That’s cultural appropriation,” or, like, “You can’t say that.” So, like, it was just weird. It was a weird line to write in the first place. It was a weird delivery of the line. So, if anything, it’s not so much an oversimplification of feminism so much as it is a very white feminism that is incredibly out of touch with intersectional concerns. And I think that’s really heavily underlined by the very weird, inaccurate use of “white savior Barbie.” Because if you’re critiquing white saviorism, show me white saviorism. I don’t think they did that.
Courtney: So, and I mean, there is an argument to be made that white feminism in itself, as it manifests in the real world, is itself an oversimplification or is itself out of touch with racial complexities, and will sort of just take for granted that, you know, women’s struggles are all the same, we all have exactly the same standards, we’re all in this together — without actually meaningfully engaging with the fact that women of color, trans women, even, to a certain extent, other marginalized identities that could also be paired with whiteness, like queer women or fat women — there isn’t a broader understanding that those women do engage with this world differently and they have their own unique set of discriminations, and that, as a white woman, while, yes, you will feel the effects of patriarchy, you do still have an amount of privilege from your whiteness that is often left unacknowledged, and that lack of acknowledgement is the issue.
Courtney: And so they kind of do say, like, all the Barbies, except for Weird Barbie, are treated exactly the same. We have a Black President Barbie, you know. We do have a fat Barbie. We have a Barbie in a wheelchair. And all of these Barbies are exactly the same. Either we all have all of our rights and we’re all having a wonderful life, or patriarchy comes and we’re all subjected to exactly the same pressures. And, like, that is how a lot of white feminists be. It is.
Courtney: So I would honestly say, though, that that is, for me, from my perspective, that’s more of a critique on actual society than the movie itself, because the movie can only do so much. It was trying to cast a very wide net. There were moments that were bad and did not work, but I would say that there are a lot more moments that did work and were brilliant. So, from a narrative standpoint, I’ll give the monologue a pass, but not the “white savior” line. Use that line better if you’re going to use it.
Courtney: So the Kens have this whole campy montage. The Barbies hatch their plan. They’re going to try to, like, kidnap all the other Barbies to give them their, you know, feminist speech, to break them out of it. And once they’re all themselves again, they’re like, “How do we use the Kens’ own, like, perceived sense of inadequacy against them?” So they want to make all the other Kens jealous by going and talking to each other’s Kens in an implied but not overtly flirtatious way. And there’s absolutely hilarious, brilliant moment where all the Kens are playing guitar at the Barbies — not to them, at them — and they’re all singing… What is that song? I know the words in the melody, but I can’t for the life of me think of the title.
Royce: “Push” by Matchbox 20.
Courtney: Matchbox 20! They are all playing Matchbox 20. Oh, it’s so good. [laughs] Just playing the guitar at the Barbies. This is an absolutely brilliant soundtrack, by the way. I think it was a really good choice to have a “Barbie Girl” remix that was done by Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice. I mean, obviously you’ve got to have the “Barbie Girl” song.
Courtney: And I think it was a gorgeous, gorgeous choice to have Billie Eilish sing this original song, “What I Was Made For.” Because, first of all, she’s just got a great voice that… This song made me cry so hard, because before they actually showed the scene where that singing happened, you’d hear the melodies, you’d hear a refrain from it during really emotional moments, and so when they finally played it and the voice came in, I was sobbing. So they used that song so very well. But also, Billie Eilish as the person to do this. She has famously talked about the reason why she wears baggy clothes. One quote from her — in a Calvin Klein ad, she says, “That’s why I wear baggy clothes. Nobody can have an opinion because they haven’t seen what’s underneath. Nobody can be like, ‘She’s slim thick. She’s not slim thick. She’s got a flat ass. She’s got a fat ass.’ No one can say any of that because they don’t know.” That just, like, epitomizes the unfair body and beauty standards that are so unequally applied against women in our society. And so, I just — I like having Billie Eilish be the one to sing this song. I think it’s brilliant. Bery good for every reason.
Courtney: But the sort of I guess climax of this movie is after the Kens get all jealous of all the other Kens, they, like, prepare to go to Ken War. They’re like… [laughs] And they’re all named Ken, so it’s all very confusing. They’re like, “Alright, we’ve got to go after the Kens,” says the Kens. But it starts with, like, a fight scene. They’re throwing shit at each other on the beach. It turns into a musical number. They have this whole, like, “Grease Lightning moment. And in the song “I’m just Ken,” one of the lines that stood out to me was, “Where I see love, she sees a friend.” And this is my question to you: Did Ken actually love Barbie or did he just love the idea of Barbie?
Royce: I think it’s more likely a third option that Ken’s existence was dreamed up as Barbie’s boyfriend, and so Ken, in this Barbieworld, saw that as, like, his only reality, his only state of being. And it wasn’t until he achieved some form of self-awareness or self-actualization that he could even begin to question that.
Royce: Because it’s like the “‘Well, I want to stay over.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because we’re boyfriend and girlfriend.’” Like, so what? There wasn’t any reason or understanding, it was just —
Courtney: “We’re supposed to.”
Royce: “This is where I’m supposed to be. This is my role in this world.” So, yeah, I think that Ken uses “love” there because that’s the story that was written for him. That’s what he’s supposed to do.
Courtney: Very Aspec experience. How many of us decided to have a crush because that’s what society told us we had to do?
Courtney: But while the Kens are having their fight, their war, their dance number with infuriatingly unstraight angles when they make a triangle. Oh, as a former dance coach who could teach much younger children how to make straighter diagonals, oh, that infuriated me. [laughs] But otherwise, the song itself was just kind of fun and silly. But the Barbies, throughout all this, being unbrainwashed now, they’re like, “Alright, let’s do some work. Let’s pass a law. Let’s get Barbieland back to where it’s supposed to be.” And so the Kens are, like, pretending to ride horses back to the houses they stole from the Barbies. And they’re like, “Oh, is it just me or are these Mojo-Dojo Casa Houses getting dreamier?” The President Barbie is coming down a set of stairs and is like, “That’s because they’re Dream Houses, motherfucker!” but they bleep the swear with a Mattel logo over her mouth, which I just thought was funny.
Courtney: And Ken ends up having just, like — especially stereotypical Ken, like, he’s the one who has this big, horrible meltdown, existential, like, “Who am I without patriarchy? Who am I not as Barbie’s boyfriend?” And he has this moment where he looks at Barbie, who now has her Dream House back, and he says, “I always thought this would be our house.” And then she has this moment of realization, like, “Ohhh. Uh-oh.” And she’s like, “I didn’t realize that that’s what was in your head.” But she apologizes to him for taking him for granted, and then says, like, “And I guess not every night needed to be girls’ night. Maybe I could have spent a little extra time with you.”
Courtney: And he goes to kiss her after that, and she just goes, “Oh, I didn’t mean to suggest —” And she’s, like, actively pulling away from him, which I think is interesting from the first time that he tried to lean in and kiss her, because before going to the real world, she was just like, “What are you doing? What’s going on? Why is your face getting closer to my face?” But after being in the real world, he goes in to kiss her and she’s like, “Oh, nope. Nope.”
Courtney: And he straight up says, “I don’t know who I am without you.” And Barbie says, “Well, you’re Ken.” And he says, “Yeah, but it’s Barbie and Ken. There is no just Ken. That’s why I was created. I only exist within the warmth of your gaze. Without it, I’m just another blonde guy who can’t do flips.”
Royce: Which, the way that that line reads goes back to the very early line of, “Barbie has fun every day. Ken only has fun when Barbie looks at him.”
Courtney: Mhm. And so Barbie says, “Well, yeah, maybe it’s time to discover who Ken is.” And he goes to hug her and then forces her into a dip, and she’s like, “No, no, no! This isn’t the answer.” And she basically gives him some tough love, says, “Figure out who you are without me, because you are not your girlfriend, you’re not even Beach.” And then she says, “Maybe all the things that you thought made you you aren’t really you.” And as she says that, you see the moment of realization grow on her own face. Yes, she’s saying it to Ken, but she’s also starting to internalize that for herself.
Courtney: And I also think that is a very relatable experience for a lot of people who could probably apply whatever unique lived experience they wanted to it. I know — back to the sort of disability metaphor that I mentioned — I’ve often contemplated the pitfalls of labeling yourself by what you do. Like, I — my entire life, growing up and into teenage years, into adulthood, I was a dancer. I wanted to be a professional dancer. I did some professional dancing. I did choreography. And I taught dance lessons for a very long time. And although I was never truly able-bodied, my body did get increasingly more disabled with age, to the point where I knew I couldn’t realistically pursue a career in dance. And I was like, “Well, but I’m a dancer. That’s what I do. I am a dancer. I have built some aspect of my identity around dancing, so what does that mean if I can’t do it anymore?”
Courtney: And so I think a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons, have had a moment of, like, “This thing I always thought I was, maybe I’m not.” And that could also apply to so many corners of queerness. Like, “Maybe this isn’t who I am.” Even going back to the trans Matrix, like, “I now realize who I am. My entire worldview is forever changed.”
Courtney: And so she kind of concludes, like, “Ken is Ken, and I’m Barbie,” and gives a smile. But then… I mean, at some point all the goofs from Mattel corporate show up. I don’t think they add too much to the ending scenes. I think they just had to sort of tie up their plot line because they were involved.
Royce: Yeah, they’re not all that prominent throughout the entire movie.
Courtney: Mm-mm. But they have Ruth Handler come in and introduce herself as the creator of Barbie. And they portray her as, you know, a little funny, a little charming, a sweet old lady, a little bit badass, because she’s like, “I am Mattel, or at least I was until the IRS got ahold of me.” So they made an illusion to that without going into it, and even said, like, “But that’s for another movie.”
Courtney: And so Barbie goes on a walk with Ruth and sort of says, “Maybe I’m not Barbie anymore.” And Ruth more or less tells her, “You can be whoever you want, but you have to understand what this means and what this comes with.” She says, “Barbie is a concept. Barbie is a doll, a brand, an icon, and so I can’t control her any better than I can control my own kids.” But she says, “If you’re Barbie, you’ll essentially — people will remember you. You will stand the test of time. But if you agree to become human, you know what it means to become human: you will age, you will die.” And Barbie wants it. She agrees. And it’s in this scene that they start playing that Billie Eilish song and actually playing the lyrics from it and not just the melody. And it got me! I cried, I cried, damn it.
Courtney: But here’s the ending scene, and here’s where the Barbie being Asexual in this movie gets a little bit complicated for the first time for me. So, the narrator has come back after really only giving maybe a smartalec comment here or there for most of the movie since the beginning. But it said that [laughing] “Barbie turned in the plastic and pastels of Barbieland for the plastic and pastels of Los Angeles.” So I like that they acknowledge that Los Angeles isn’t really real. [laughs] Los Angeles isn’t the real world. But Barbie’s being driven somewhere by Gloria and her whole family. And when she gets out of the car, there is a distinct zoom-in of her feet, and she’s walking on flat feet wearing Birkenstocks, but they’re pink Birkenstocks. So there weren’t only two genders! But I like the subtlety of that “I picked a middle of the road” and refusal of the binary. But I also like that they called attention to the fact that she’s in the real world now. She is gladly walking on her flat feet. She intentionally got a pair of shoes that are not heels. And they zoom in on it, because there’s a major storyline of self-acceptance here. And that can be really meaningful in the disability reading of it. It can be really meaningful in the queer reading of it, or any “You are just a human and at some point you have had to come to terms with your own identity in some way or another.” So I loved that.
Courtney: She decides to take on the name Barbara Handler, since now you do need a surname in the real world, in Los Angeles. And the final moment: she says with a huge smile, “I’m here to see my gynecologist.” For a movie, that is a funny and cute way to end. That’s a funny line. You’re going off on a high note. There have been repeated mentions of Barbies not having genitalia. So now, “Oh, you are a real human now. Now, you have genitals.” So I get that as the resolution on that note.
Courtney: However, let’s refer back to the specific quote by Margot Robbie that had everyone saying “Barbie is an Ace icon, confirmed.” According to Vogue: “To sort out the sexiness question, Robbie had to break it down. Quote, ‘I’m like, okay, she’s a doll, she’s a plastic doll, she doesn’t have organs. If she doesn’t have organs, she doesn’t have reproductive organs. If she doesn’t have reproductive organs, would she even feel sexual desire? No, I don’t think she could. Therefore, she is sexualized, but she should never be sexy. People can project sex onto her. Thus, yes, she can wear a short skirt, but because it’s fun and pink, not because she wanted you to see her butt.’”
Courtney: The framing of that makes the ending of this movie more complicated. I’m still gladly going to say that Barbie as a whole concept, as an icon, is Asexual. I’m happy enough with that reading for all the reasons we have already shared. And so many of the elements in this movie are very, very good. Those — you know, the back-and-forth with Ken, the complete lack of romantic and sexual interest. But if we have this very well-known interview that was promoting the movie saying the reason why she doesn’t feel sexual desire is because she doesn’t have reproductive organs, and then you end the movie by saying she now has reproductive organs…
Courtney: I know there are Aces out here who are going to watch this movie, feel seen, feel, “Yes, absolutely she’s Ace, probably Aro too,” because everything we’ve seen points in that direction, and still be happy with it. But the average viewer, the non-Aspec watcher of this movie, I think, is by default now going to think, “Oh, now she does have sexual interest. Oh, now she does have romantic interest, [mocking] you know, just like a normal human.” That is allonormativity. That is amatonormativity. That is the problem, and that’s what we try to fight against. But I think that’s going to be the average viewer’s assumption. And since that’s just the hard cut, that’s the end of the movie. We don’t see Barbie interacting in the real world. I guess you can kind of say that from this point on, like, what happens in the real world, that’s up to your interpretation, you know. You can, you can fantasize, you can make your own narrative, much like you do with your own Barbie dolls, from this point forward.
Royce: You could also make the argument that Barbie and Barbara Handler are two different entities, because there are still a lot of Barbies back in Barbieland.
Courtney: I don’t know if I would like that, though, because that sort of weakens the self-discovery and self-acceptance and transition in life connotations to sort of the entire plot. And that’s sort of why, so often when we talk about Asexual representation in the media, why I have a concern about making sure you say the word “Asexual,” and if there’s a situation where you can’t say the word “Asexual” — like, if you’re writing historical fiction or even incredibly futuristic fiction, if you’re in a completely different world, apart from our own, where the language is not the same — then you at least need to have an abundance of evidence that this sort of attraction, this sort of desire, is not present. Because we have learned, time and time, again that any time there is a widely recognized Asexual headcanon, there will be an uptick in acephobia and just this sort of aggressive discourse of people getting sometimes incredibly legitimately angry just because we say, like, “Hey, we relate to this character, so maybe this character is Ace.” Because so many allo people will use anything they can to attack our community, and they would rather see more stories that parallel their own than ours.
Courtney: And so this one’s a little weird for me, because I see and recognize the scenes that are very good and very, very Ace, incredibly relatable. And I think if they did not have that very last scene, I would say that there is enough evidence. I would say, yes, I would consider this an Asexual character. But that last line, funny as it is, standing on its own, gives a level of plausible deniability that I think allo folks would use against us. And I’ve intentionally not tried to look for any Barbie movie discourse, so I don’t know if it’s already begun or if people have made that argument, but that’s something we’ve seen time and time again, so I’ve got to be sensitive to that.
Courtney: And in a movie like this, quite honestly, they try to be relatable to so many people that I don’t think they would ever want to confirm something outright like that. Like, Margot Robbie even saying, like, “Could she even feel sexual desire? No, I don’t think so” — she doesn’t use the word “Asexual” there. It’s close enough that I would perhaps allow it. But would even the actor Margot Robbie think that? Does she, in her head, think that now Barbie is a, you know, quote, “normal sexual being” now? Because the only reason why she said to the otherwise was because she didn’t have genitals, and now she canonically does have genitals, so.
Courtney: So, I will say my official ruling: Barbie the character in the Barbie movie is good Ace rep, but I have my reservations about how allos are going to read it and use it to attack us.
Courtney: That sound about right to you? It doesn’t matter, because I already swung the gavel, but.
Royce: Yeah, the verdict’s already been reached.
Courtney: Then I guess there’s nothing more to say. Thank you all, as always, so much for being here, and we’ll talk to you all next time. Goodbye.