DISCLAIMER: I am a toy collector and enthusiast who is not into Barbie per se, but am utterly fascinated by what the toy represents. No Waylon Smithers, me.
Barbie. An icon to little American girls since the late 1950’s, whose cornucopia of accessories allow a child’s fantasies to take her — and maybe even him — into any possible situation. Barbie’s careers have been myriad; be she judge, doctor, dolphin trainer, flight attendant, astronaut, Special Olympics athlete, surfer and even international/ethnic/cultural chameleon (in the guise of African, Japanese, Germanic, etc. versions) the lady has done it all, usually with her erstwhile boyfriend, the actually and metaphorically nutless Ken (I defy you to find a more sexless male toy). Since her entry onto the toy shelves Barbie has been a wholesome, clean cut paragon of what is supposedly the pinnacle of womanhood in the US of A, a template of possibility for young women-to-be. “You can do anything, sister!” seemed to be Barbie’s mantra.
But in recent years Barbie’s world has undergone some radical changes; the first sign of toybox “what the fuck”-ness appeared in the late 1970’s with the introduction of a disturbing take on La Barb’s little sister, namely “Growing Up Skipper.” The concept with this doll was that by turning Skipper’s arm in the correct way she would literally “fill out;” her adolescent budding twins would instantly turn into full-blown lung warts, much to amusement of pervy little brothers everywhere, while all of the little girls whom I knew at the time were rather repulsed by the doll’s insta-titties. They had enough shit to deal with in regard to the mysteries/terrors being wrought upon their own bodies without watching Barbie’s little sister take an endlessly repeatable trip to Russ Meyer territory. The doll was quickly discontinued and now remains an oddity known only to toy collectors and disturbing reprobates who lay in wait at Toys ‘R’ Us in hope of another such lurid novelty.
Then the 1990’s happened and ushered in the honest-to-God pregnant Barbie, whose swollen abdomen could be opened up to reveal a removable baby and switched for a more svelte, post-delivery stomach.
Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall Barbie ever being married to anyone, much less Ken, whom I have long suspected was actually Barbie’s stylist or something. So who’s the father? Considering Barbie’s role as a wish fulfillment figure, what does this mean? Is it aimed at getting little girls to act out mommy and newborn scenarios or is it geared toward the growing number of potential adolescent/teen unwed mothers?
If that’s the case then what’s next for future possible realistic gimmicks? “Date Rape Barbie?” “Spousal Abuse Skipper?” “Prescription Drug-Addicted P.J.?” “Menopausal Midge?” As Kelly Bundy would say, “the mind wobbles.” For more on this check out the lyrics to “Bitterness Barbie” by the Lunachicks.
But the biggest Barbie-related bombshell to rock Toyland is the long-in-coming split between Barbie and Ken. Their separation actually made nationwide news, right next to the latest casualty reports from the War on Terrorism, and it has me wondering what’s in store for Ken’s vacantly smiling ass. If Mattel had any balls at all they would officially “out” Ken and market him as the first mainstream gay doll. It’s not like there aren’t future fags out there who could use an openly gay role model in the toyscape, with just as many fabulous outfits and cool cars/houses/spacecraft — yes, Barbie had a lunar module, I swear to God — so get with it, people! Kids today still have a way to go when it comes to tolerance of various sexual preferences/orientations, but they appear to be considerably more open to diversity, especially with queer adolescents being able to publicly declare their once shameful burgeoning sexuality and schools supporting such pride with various clubs, classes and even whole educational facilities that lean away from us breeders.
Anyway, it seems to me that Barbie’s time as a quaint piece of plastic Americana may be about to pass, what with Mattel’s launching of toy franchises such as “My Scene,” a bunch of male and female teen dolls who more accurately reflect the style and tastes of today’s multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and hip-hop influenced generation. And as for me, I’m holding out for “Biker Hag Barbie,” complete with Motorhead t-shirt, chunky figure and a hairy male companion named “Spunker Andy.” Hey, it can happen.