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5 Aug 2023

Weird Barbie

Weird Barbie

Credit: Mattel

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie is a smash success by just about every metric.

It’s certainly a big hit for toy-maker Mattel, and one of the cleverer marketing campaigns I’ve seen in a long time. Barbie has been thoroughly and successfully rebranded for the modern era. And why not? Adapting with the times has always been one of Barbie’s best qualities.

Given the movie is all about toys, it’s no surprise that Mattel is banking on that success with merchandise. The latest in the new doll line is Weird Barbie, based off of Kate McKinnon’s character from the film. You can see them side-by-side in the image at the top of this post. I’m a little sad that the doll doesn’t have bags under her eyes, or that classic McKinnon “what’s my face about to do?” expression.

In any case, I can’t help but point out that releasing a brand new “Weird” Barbie completely misses the point of the character. In the film, Weird Barbie is the way she is because she’s been played to pieces. She’s been Velveteen Rabbited. Whoever owned her loved her but liked to play rough. She’s been twisted and bent all out of shape. She’s been given the Sweeney Todd haircut. Ink and crayon tattoo her face and likely other bits. Stains dot her dress.

She’s been used and abused (in a good way) and that has taught her wisdom of a sort; she is immune to the patriarchy precisely because she has seen so much. When she meets Barbie, she says:

I've seen things, you people wouldn't believe, hmm ... Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion ... I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate ... All those moments, will be lost in time like tears in rain.

Okay, no, she doesn’t actually repeat Rutger Hauer’s speech from Blade Runner, though that would have been on-brand for the film, which includes lots of similar Easter Eggs including an opening right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The point is, she’s world-weary, war-torn, bedraggled and broken down, and this is why she’s Weird Barbie, the wise woman, the shaman priestess of Barblieland.

You can’t get that out of a box. That comes from years of practice.

It reminds me of blue jeans. Specifically the kind labeled “distressed” that come with faded parts and rips and holes and tears fresh off the rack. Everybody knows that blue jeans get more and more comfortable as you break them in. The thinner the denim, the comfier the pants. As they fray, as they scuff, as they rip and tear, blue jeans become more and more what they were always meant to be, until finally they’re perfect.

That’s Weird Barbie.

Distressed blue jeans are just an illusion. They look worn in, but they’re not. They give the impression that maybe you go out and work with your hands, down on your knees in the dirt, or up on a roof hammering nails into shingles, and drink longnecks at the local dive bar. But really, they’re all artifice. Illusion.

The only way to make a perfect pair of blue jeans is to wear them, and the only way you can get a Weird Barbie is to play with it. I have spoken.

Read my review of Barbie right here. Watch my video review below:

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