By now you’ve probably heard that Barbie and Ken have gotten back together. What? You didn’t know they’d broken up? Hello! Barbie dumped Ken a couple years ago in favour of Blaine, a fun-loving surfer dude. Ken was too organized, too predictable. Carefree Blaine offered excitement, something Barbie really needed after all those decades cooped up in the Dream House. Plus he looked really good in his swim trunks. (Barbie was disappointed, though, to find out that like Ken, Blaine didn’t have any genitalia.)
Blaine, it turns out, was Barbie’s lost weekend. “Ken, I still love you,” said the headlines. He took her back. He’s trying to be more spontaneous. He has a new hairdo, which involves actual hair, not just a plastic hair-shaped helmet.
Of course the correct response to all this is cynicism. Just think of all the Blaines we went out and bought. Think of all the new and improved Kens we shall have to go out and buy now. It’s shameless. But what I want to know is how does a girl get a job at Mattel writing fictional press releases and not have to be bound with something so oppressive as reality?
Seriously, why is Barbie so enduringly fascinating with her permanent smile and permanent high-heel ready feet? Did you know that a recent study at the University of Bath showed that most young girls mutilate their Barbies? This confirms what I have suspected all along, that Barbie is pretty much a blank slate for all kinds of creativity and mischief among the under-10 set.
My sister and I weren’t allowed Barbies but the ones brought over by our babysitter were grandfathered in. We built a Buckingham palace out of cardboard boxes with the tops torn off to create a kind of aerial view and furnished it beds made out of Velveeta boxes and hand-coloured wallpaper. Our babysitter, riding the end of the punk years, explained to us the difference between royalty and commoners. The commoners we differentiated by dying their hair with Kool-Aid and giving them Mohawks.
A friend in school melted a Barbie as a visual aid in a presentation on medieval torture methods. He boiled her in oil in a fondue pot.
Another person I know cut erasers off the ends of pencils and pasted them on the Ken dolls’ crotches.
The list goes on. Start asking people about Barbie and you’ll uncover all kinds of childhood torture stories. The impulse seems to be universal; it’s the details of Barbie’s degradation that are so compelling. I guess it’s kind of an universal kid impulse to destroy things, but I wonder if we can’t also interpret it as a tiny little backlash against what Barbie stands for. Or maybe it’s just the juxtaposition that’s so satisfying: such a stereotypically pretty and proper lady being subject to such gross humiliations is just so damn funny.
My dream is a lush coffee table book on the topic. Huge, glossy photos of Barbie and Ken in compromising positions accompanied by essays and profiles of the tormenters.