The new anti-natalist Barbie

I recently watched the 2023 Barbie film and I didn’t like it nor did I expect to. I didn’t pay money to see it but I did waste time watching it. My purpose for watching it wasn’t to “hate-watch” or anything like that. My interest was really only that I had heard Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Ken was amusing. He was rather hilariously nominated for an Oscar for his role in this while both the lead actress and female director were snubbed. Gosling’s Ken was certainly the best thing about the movie but wasn’t enough to elevate what was otherwise awful. Overall, it was even worse than I expected.

This won’t be a long review but I particularly want to address the overt anti-natalism of the film.

It might be best to start with some general criticism. The costume design was excellent and the lead actor and actress probably could not have been better chosen. It has plenty of nods to the history of the doll though I was only vaguely familiar with any of this as I don’t have any sisters. The film doesn’t think much of its audience though and actually helps people like me by making these little nods and call-backs as obvious as possible without pausing to explain them.

The film shows the “Barbieland” as one existing parallel with the real one through which the Mattel Corporation is able to benefit. This is not really explained or something the audience is supposed to think too much about and I certainly didn’t devote much thought to it. What I found silly was the half-steps they went to with how the various “Barbies” live. They have plastic houses and pretend to eat, drink and shower but don’t actually have to. They also don’t have anything to do but live in the giant playset town and change clothes. Yet, all of the “dolls” are played by real actors and other limitations such as limb movement and inability to talk — or even change facial expressions are done away with. If you’re going to allow them to walk and communicate like regular humans, then the rest may as well be done away with too. I would have simply portrayed them as living a carefree, unchanging life in a plastic paradise. That would have been enough to get the message across. 

The male characters are universally portrayed as weaklings. All the Mattel executives (led fittingly by Will Ferrell), as well as the diverse cast of Ken dolls. The only father figure in the film is an unimposing figure who takes all orders without question from his wife and daughter. A literal nu-male stereotype. There is also Allan played by Michael Cera who is based on a short-lived male doll that was Ken’s friend. He is just another cuck that goes along with everything the Barbies want though and even betrays the Kens towards the end. Some friend. These are the only male characters in the film but the implication that a dominant patriarchy exists is still absurdly assumed with some characters even regurgitating textbook feminist nonsense. The only other male character I haven’t mentioned is one of the Barbies who is a tranny and a very obvious one from the first line they speak.

The other odd thing about the film was all the different Barbie types. Margot Robbie plays “Stereotypical Barbie” and all the others look nothing like the actual doll or any variations I’ve even seen. It isn’t unexpected that they would force diversity into this but I’ve honestly never seen a Barbie that looked different in a toy store before. The only difference is what clothing or accessories are included with the doll. Of course, I don’t go out looking for them but this is something else that really stood out. The other Kens are also confusingly diverse.

Hollywood films of the past were generally more subtle with their inverted themes but this one is open with its anti-natalism. One of the first scenes is a parody of the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the apes being replaced by little girls smashing porcelain baby dolls before a giant monolith of Barbie. When Barbieland is introduced, a pregnant Barbie doll (which was a real product), is made fun of and there are no children at all. Further, even if their could be, this Barbie doesn’t even like Ken and leaves him at the end of the film. It would see odd for a product that relies on a steady stream of little girls being born into the world to have this sort of thematic element but it does. An actress also plays Ruth Handler, the creator of the Barbie doll and yes, she is Jewish. The actor playing Dr Barbie Tranny Barbie is Jewish too. It is getting harder and harder not to notice these things nowadays. 

The film is supposed to be a comedy but only Ryan Gosling is ever funny. There are multiple storylines running in the film and the only somewhat amusing one is the Kens learning about men in the real world and using that knowledge to take over Barbieland. The Barbie dolls absurdly overcome this by tricking the Ken dolls into missing a vote in Barbie Congress as if male power can be limited or overcome by the legislative process. Barbie then decides she wants to be a real woman and can do this merely by desiring it. The film literally ends with her seeing a gynecologist.

Ken is the only interesting character. Ken is the only sympathetic character. Ken is the only funny character. And the idea of Ken as someone existing to please someone that doesn’t reciprocate it is the only interesting narrative element in the film. I consider the Oscars worthless but if they really were what they were supposed to be then Gosling deserved the nod for this.

The main narrative for Barbie was actually better done by The Simpsons just under thirty years earlier. This episode is called “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacey” and actually shares a number of themes present in the film. It is more famous for the line “But she’s got a new Hat” but the episode was a much better look at Barbie in the guise of “Malibu Stacey”. Even I could appreciate the message despite being firmly anti-Feminist. 

So I don’t recommend this film at all but I do recommend watching some clips of Ryan Gosling as Ken.

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