Monday, April 16, 2007

dear barbie: kill your gods

The poems in Kinky were not quite what I expected. Judging from the cover (even though one must never do that, if adages are to be believed), with its bubblegum skinned Barbie of Venus of Willendorf proportions, the book would be full of bitter, acidic jabs at Barbie's very existence, blaming her for eating disorders, general feminine malaise, irresponsible energy use, and World War III.

The opposite isn't quite true - there's a definite criticism of what Barbie means in our culture. However, I think Duhamel's tone of examining Barbie as a victim too is interesting. She's not the enemy, she too is vulnerable to the culture that has developed around her. Poor Barbie has been constructed without basic human body parts and this frustrates her; she is frustrated by her inability to join the army and her perpetually-bent feet give her trouble. She is another example of the problems women face in society, not the cause. Her status as a mirror is especially apparent with the poems about the various 'ethnic Barbies' - Hispanic Barbie is hard to find; there's only one Native American Barbie left. The overwhelming majority of white Barbies is a reflection of our own culture's ignorance of non-white members and our latent racism, expressed even in our choice of toys.

I find this refreshing. It's nice to mess around with expectations every now and again. And it's true; Barbie's not the villain. She never asked to be made out of nonbiodegradable plastic (yeah, like what the hell is that all about?); she never asked to be constructed to impossible proportions. Possibly an atheist metaphor could be drawn out of all of this, but that's not really my forte.

Seriously, though, Barbie living through nuclear holocaust? On top of being assigned the sketchy status of impossible feminine ideal (Botticelli, eat your heart out)? Curse you, Ruth Handler. Curse you.

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