Every summer has an obsession. The best ones are inconsequential.
Way back in 2013, we were “arguing” over Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines,” also featuring Pharrell Williams. The song came under attack for allegedly reinforcing rape myths. The suspect line — “I know you want it” — was oft repeated. Frankly, that sounded to me like an observation, accurate or not, but hardly forced sex.
Rolling Stone laughed it off. “Thanks to its lascivious, Pharrell-spun hook,” the magazine smirked, “it held the whole world in its slightly skeevy grasp all summer long.”
This summer the talk is of Barbie. Finding any controversy over the renewed fascination with the 64-year-old Mattel doll will be quite a stretch. The inspiration is Greta Gerwig’s upcoming movie “Barbie,” about what happens when the doll enters the human world. Due perhaps to the lack of anything else that’s fun, bubblegum Barbie pink is now everywhere, even on the cover of Businessweek.
Now I haven’t seen the movie. (It has yet to open at this time of writing.) But it should be a happy trip in Gerwig’s imaginative hands. And Ken is with her.
Though I don’t know much about “Barbie” the movie, I know a whole lot about Barbie the doll, having been handed an early version some years back. I recall being intimidated by the “mature” figure, particularly her generous bazoom and freakishly tiny waist. Up until then, our dolls took the form of babies or young children. Suddenly we went from roller skates to pink Corvettes. Mattel reproportioned Barbie a few years later to reflect the human female a bit more realistically.
The Barbie wardrobe was always flashy. There’s Barbie in slinky cocktail dresses. There’s Barbie the foxy stewardess from the Pan Am days. Even Barbie Rodeo Cowgirl! had a come-on look, with her low-slung bell bottoms and cropped red sparkly vest.
I recall an 8-year-old who came to visit carrying her “box of Barbies.” It was a shoebox containing heads, legs, naked torsos and tiny hip boots made of gold Mylar. The young visitor saw nothing macabre about the contents. I think she planned to assemble a whole Barbie — or most of a Barbie — as the afternoon went on.
An aunt in Houston, fearful of leaving her house, would sit all day at her sewing machine and make spectacular sun dresses for my cousin’s Barbie. Nowadays, home sewers and foreign sweatshops alike churn out Barbie outfits.
The French took to the doll but not to the American brash styling. And so, some years ago, a French fashion designer created tailored tweed suits for Barbie.
As an international phenomenon, Barbie was not free of controversy. In 1994, Kuwait’s College of Sharia and Islamic Studies supported a fatwa against the she-devil doll, joining Iran’s ayatollahs, who had long banned her.
In 1998, sensitive souls in Puerto Rico objected to the Puerto Rican Barbie as too Anglo. This took Mattel by surprise. The toymaker had proudly presented one of the dolls, in a traditional white ruffled dress, to the wife of the Puerto Rican governor. Whatever. Come Christmas, Puerto Rican Barbies flew off the store shelves in San Juan and environs.
This summer’s Barbiecore craze has spawned parties for which grownup women dress in the pink spandex and platform shoes covered in glitter. Has anyone found a pink Corvette?
In a 1977 interview, Barbie’s creator Ruth Handler explained why she felt girls should have a sexy doll with puckered lips and thick eyeliner: “Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future.” If she says so.
Anyhow, it’s nice to color our world pink, if just for a few summer weeks.
Froma Harrop is a syndicated columnist. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.