Playing with dolls

Posted 9/14/23

It was bound to happen. When a movie grosses more than a billion dollars at the box office it makes headlines. When that movie is co-written and solely directed by a woman, stars scores of women and …

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Playing with dolls


It was bound to happen. When a movie grosses more than a billion dollars at the box office it makes headlines. When that movie is co-written and solely directed by a woman, stars scores of women and addresses issues and obstacles faced by women since the dawn of mankind (is it women-kind now?), it’s bigger news.

That’s right. It’s “Barbie.”

The film just hit the big screen about six weeks ago, but almost immediately the buzz reached fever-pitch over Barbie, Ken and their alternate-reality lives in “Barbieland,” so I decided I had better see what all the fuss was all about, lest I sound out of touch when asked.

Given that she’s just under 12 inches tall, no one could have predicted the global impact Barbie would have on the world when Mattel unleashed businesswoman Ruth Handler’s creation upon an unsuspecting public in 1959. But she made history then, and (IMHO) is doing it again.

According to Wikipedia, in the years since her debut, Barbie “has expanded into a multimedia billion-dollar franchise, including records, video games, computer-animated movies, more than 150 types of Barbie dolls and now—a live-action film.”

Not only that, but I have some personal history when it comes to dolls. I was five years old when my sister was presented with her first Barbie. Even though she was less than thrilled with the expectations my mother had placed upon the doll’s alleged influence, I was green with envy.

I wanted to play with the blonde bombshell, who sported a striped bathing suit and cool sunglasses, but while my sister could not have cared less, one of my parents was horrified.

“Boys don’t play with dolls,” I heard my father say sternly to Mom. “You had better put an end to it, or I will.”

Thus began a veritable tug of war. I’d furtively grab the unused plaything off my sister’s bed, take it to my room, close the door and (oh, the horror!) play with it. Oh, sure, I’d occasionally toss Barbie out the window, or run over her with my dad-approved dump truck, but I wasn’t always so rough with her. I’d let her sit on my turntable while the records played, or dress and undress her repeatedly, fascinated with Mattel’s idea of the female form.

Those outings with Barbie never ended well for either of us, so I was relieved when I turned 10 and Hasbro released the world’s very first “action figure” for boys, aptly named G.I. Joe.

Since Joe was marketed as a “lifelike action soldier,” I assumed dear old misogynistic dad would cave, but no. I begged and cajoled. I asked nicely. I probably cried, which certainly wouldn’t have helped my case, but my father stood firm. “I don’t care what you call ‘em,” he bellowed at my mother down the hall. “They’re dolls. No son of mine will ever play with dolls.”

Flash forward 50 years. That’s right. My name is Jonathan and I play with dolls. Um… I mean action figures. I’m a man. My dolls are strewn about the grounds at Camp Fox, hanging from trees, stacking miniature piles of kindling, getting “too close” to the fire and being 12-inch-tall heroes in my father-free, you’re-not-the-boss-of-me world of imagination.

Where was I? Oh right, the movie.

Starring Margot Robbie (she’s not just stunning, she’s fantastic) and Ryan (who woulda thunk it) Gosling as the perfectly gorgeous young lady who could literally be anything she liked, and her love-struck dimwitted wanna-be boyfriend, “Barbie” is once again becoming a global phenomenon.

I haven’t seen an event movie pop up like this in a long time—think “Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “Star Wars”—but people are dressing like the movie’s characters and showing up with scores of friends. Movie theaters are hosting pre-show parties with specialty snacks, photo booths and prizes for those who arrive in Barbie-approved attire.
So of course, I did that.

Look, I’m no Ken doll, but when I read that hilarious character actor Michael Cera was portraying the sexually ambiguous Allan, I figured I could (thanks, Dad) show up dressed like him. You know… for the free popcorn.

I ran into a couple of pals and snapped pics of the endless parade of filmgoers who had heard the news: Barbie isn’t just a frothy, fluffy send-up of a pop culture icon, but an important film, hitting the silver screen at just the right moment, perfectly poised to become forever ingrained in the zeitgeist.

There, I said it.

With an amazing supporting cast featuring star turns from Helen Mirren, Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon, America Ferrera, John Cena, Simu Liu and Issa Rae, the film sports a not-so-subtle, easily digestible message for the masses. Tied up with a glittery, sparkly, impossibly pink bow, “Barbie” is at its heart, a serious film with a serious message about the real world and our place in it—man, woman and child.

Helping to drive the story home is Ariana Greenblatt as the confrontational, angry, teenaged Sasha, who speaks for millions of real live girls as she gives Barbie a piece of her feminist mind.

As an audience, we laughed, we cried and fell silently thoughtful together, reveling in director Greta Gerwig’s hilariously funny, touchingly poignant vision of the real world.

Above all, the film has humor, heart and hope for a better tomorrow.

Too bad my father didn’t live to see it. If only we would all just listen to Barbie; what a wonderful world it would be.

Ask the Google: Q—What the heck is a zeitgeist?

A—“The defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.”

Barbie, movies, zeitgeist


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