Monday, March 09, 2009

obligatory Barbie 50th birthday posting!

From Barbie's 50th birthday
Oh, where to start. Monday, March 9 was the official 50th anniversary of the creation of the Barbie doll. This snuck up on me, so I didn't have time to unearth my actual Barbie collection, which is massive and consists of many vintage dolls (mostly bought back when you used to be able to go to a Barbie collectibles show or two a year in Chicagoland), collectible and vintage reproduction dolls (some bought at Cut Rate Toys, who are on my links list), and untold amounts of dolls, clothes, and accessories for actual kids to play with (hours and hours in toy and discount stores).

From Barbie's 50th birthday
Neshachan on Flickr posted a lot of new shots from her impressive Barbie collection for the birthday; here's one of a Mod-era Barbie (my favorite Barbie era). I didn't do that, but I at least could observe some media coverage and take weird shots of the TV screen.

From Barbie's 50th birthday
The top photo, from a CBS evening news piece, was when the screen changed, showing the original striped-swimsuit Barbie and her latest incarnation; then some NBC shots of the original Barbie (or a reproduction?).

From Barbie's 50th birthday
Talking about Barbie's influence, I guess; that's Andy Warhol's portrait of Superstar Barbie in back.

From Barbie's 50th birthday
So I had a few requests...or hopes...for the news and entertainment media when discussing Barbie:

1. Must you use the song "Barbie Girl" for your reports? You have to admit it's a tad grating. It's funny, though, that that band got sued by Mattel but won in the end, having their song apparently the go-to soundtrack for any piece about Barbie from now until the end of time...

2. I haven't heard this in a while and it's impossible to quantify, but I could swear, so many pop culture references to Barbie mention "Malibu Barbie." This was a doll only around for a few years in the 1970s, yet the name lived on for decades (I don't mind the doll on The Simpsons being "Malibu Stacy"). My theory was always that all the comedy writers for years were kids in the 1970s and that was their frame of reference. I actually don't know if anyone knows what the hell I'm talking about here, or is a fraction as pedantic as I am...

From Barbie's 50th birthday
3. The discussions of Barbie's influence are always "Barbie's body shape is so unnatural!" versus "Barbie's had all these careers!" Well, actually, I can't quibble with that, they're both true and you just can't expect much more in a two-minute TV news piece...

From Barbie's 50th birthday
4. Re: the Talking Barbie controversy of years ago (that inspired the amazing Lisa Lionheart/Malibu Stacy episode of The Simpsons): the doll didn't say "Math is hard," it said "Math class is tough." I don't think that's a terrible thing to say, but I'd say it was ill-advised to have a doll say it when there are still real issues with women's advancement in math and science. Make your point about Barbie and stereotypes of women, sure, just get the quote right!

From Barbie's 50th birthday
5. And...I had faint hopes that by the time Barbie turned 50, we'd no longer have the thing of talking about Barbie as if she's an actual woman turning 50, and saying how good she looks, or speculating on hot flashes (yeah, that was you, Kathie Lee), or whatever...yeah, no luck with that. Maybe if Barbie lasts to 100 that'll go away...

From Barbie's 50th birthday
The above shots were all from The Today Show on NBC; I caught some of the ABC and CBS evening news pieces Monday too. ABC showed the infamous German Lilli doll that inspired Barbie...

From Barbie's 50th birthday
That's Barbie's creator, the late Ruth Handler (she started Mattel with her husband Elliott). There's a new biography I want to read, Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her. Jeopardy had a Barbie category on Monday's show and the hardest, $1000 answer was Ruth one knew it, sadly.

From Barbie's 50th birthday
Obviously I LIKE Barbie and can admire Handler as a pioneering woman in business and all, of these pieces said that she created Barbie, and the early TV commercials reflected it, to help "tomboyish" girls learn to be feminine and get along with guys or whatever...and I almost cried at that point. Really, can't it just be a fun toy with nice outfits? No, I know it never can be...

From Barbie's 50th birthday
(I always check the Barbie aisle when I'm in a store that has one; this is the Toys R Us in Riverside, IL) Barbie has never actually gotten married; she just dresses up for it with different outfits every year. I know there was some "breakup" with Ken a few years back, but I thought they got back together. But I noticed the "groom" doll here didn't seem to have a name at all...

From Barbie's 50th birthday
I'm not attempting much of an analysis of Barbie; that's what the books I list below are for. Barbie, for me, was always kind of on a level with the ground-breaking Sex and the Single Girl--freeing (middle/upper-class white) women from certain 1950s roles and establishing others. I suppose today's version is evangelical religion versus "raunch" or "hookup" culture, both rather limiting, but I'll leave that to the blogs I've blogrolled to critique...

From Barbie's 50th birthday
That's Day-to-Night Barbie, which I never owned, but Day-to-Night Ken was my first male doll. These magazine covers, and the "Barbie Drama" stories enacted with dolls, ads for appalling 1980s clothes, and more are in my new Flickr set of Barbie magazine scans. This is the earliest issue I ever owned...

From Barbie's 50th birthday
This Seal Press anthology was put out in later editions under the name Body Outlaws, so I'm glad I got the first edition with the title Mattel forced them to change...

From Barbie's 50th birthday
See, Barbie's had all kinds of exciting jobs, even astronaut...even if this outfit does have a bit of a B-movie feel to it, perhaps...

Now a little recommended reading: So much of my Barbie obsession was piqued by M.G. Lord's Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll, a book I loved so much I have the original hardcover with color illustrations, and bought the 10th-anniversary paperback with extra material, and if there are future editions I'll buy those...

If you can read cultural studies (which I enjoy in small doses), Barbie's Queer Accessories is full of fascinating ideas.

Ten years ago, a number of women writers were anthologized in The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty; it's pretty good. For a fiction and poetry anthology, there's Mondo Barbie, from the early 1990s, where I first read A.M. Homes and David Trinidad, among others.

It included poems from Denise Duhamel's excellent book about Barbie, Kinky. Her poem "It's My Body" somehow inspired me to take and post a near-nekkid shot of myself for the first time (no, I'm not linking; it can be found, I'm not that many places on the Internet, I mean, it's not on Goodreads), which probably got a lot of views because of searches for words in the poem and the book title. I just got inspired to post something "authentic"'s also been a strange week where I might regret things I've put on the Internet. Or might not... By odd coincidence, maybe, I wrote most of the text here while blond hair dye is on my head; it's basically searing my skin off at this point so I'd better go...


Nessa said...

An enjoyable post!

I would like to recommend, if you haven't already, that you read Dream Doll, Ruth Handler's own autobiography before you read the other one. I feel that the other one is really heavy handed and a bit mean spirited, just imho.

I have an autographed copy of her book, lol, one of my prized possessions.

katherine of chicago said...

Thanks! I meant to officially mention this post to you but obviously it was linked on my Flickr...

Yes, I should have listed Dream Doll, I'm aware of that one--I'll add it to my Goodreads. Is the recent one, Barbie and Ruth, the book you're referring to? I need to see if there are any other recent Barbie books, all the others came out years ago.

Anonymous said...

ok... I have a crush on you.

Spook said...

Yea, I've seen all this Barbie Doll/Sex in the City hopla
but I wanna know what happend to Black Barbie aka Christie?

Did she do something to banish herself from the 50th B Day Bash, like going to Vietnam to get a college scholarship only to be raped by G.I. Joe and bringing shame to the Barbie Legacy by publicly speaking out?

Maybe she developled a crack addiction and had four or five kids out of wedlock to the O.J. Simpson Doll, before he took up exclusively with white barbies?

Maybe its a combination of the above and now she is over in Cuba writing a book entitled "For Colored Barbie Dolls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf", based on the play?

Emily said...

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We'd love to add you to our list of blogs to pull content from in hopes to print one of your posts in an upcoming issue. Do we have your permission? We would also like to have the option of printing the images that accompany your blog posts- do you have the rights to these images? I look forward to hearing back from you and please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions. You can follow our progress on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter!

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Assistant Editor
The Printed Blog

styleblogger said...

I love Barbie..

carey said...

i have such vivid memories of that punky brewster style article in barbie magazine...honestly, i have vivid memories of most of the barbie magazines i had in the early '80s, and that is kind of sad.