Queer Perfection, Twitter’s Homophobia, and Barbie’s Actual Flaws
It’s officially Barbenhiemer weekend, one of the most anticipated movie clashes Hollywood has ever seen. Barbie has already won the critics and the audience alike and while it is definitely a feminist take on the movie which works for most part, it can also be read as an ode to queer perfection with its queer campy aesthetics.
I remember playing with Barbie dolls, and asking for it specifically as a birthday present way back in class 6th. It was sort of a desire or an aspiration to be like her, which actually hurt a lot because being like that wouldn’t make sense. The movie deals with this fantastically, the idea that if people were actually like this, it would be totally bonkers. That is where the idea of queer perfection comes from, that queer people have to be way more than enough. Even though the film is aimed at everyone, it has quite a surprise regarding how Barbie isn’t just about the kids. It’s a lot more than that.
Unsurprisingly, Twitter is full of conservatives canceling Barbie for being too woke, featuring a trans Barbie, and for being anti-men in general. In India, the picture is gloomy as well, as mostly men have taken to Twitter to cite that gay men and cucks watch Barbie while real men watch Oppenhiemer. While there is no element of surprise here, it just goes on at length to show how people in general feel about these movies. Barbie still represents the feminine as something deviant for men, and as being powerless for women. Ironically, the movie is exactly about busting these stereotypes and yet this discourse shows the real world is going to be messed up.
Having taken these into account, Barbie still represents it’s feminism as “white feminism” and it’s goal of Barbie becoming a real world woman has transphobic (or trans exclusionary) undertones unfortunately where it does becomes about the genitals. So, while it it’s a timely jab at patriarchy and gender roles, it doesn’t really adds more to the picture and that should be the critique of the movie rather than it being too woke.
A Meta Commentary On (Almost) Everything
The history of Barbie has been turbulent with Mattel receiving a lot of flak for putting a Barbie who’s pregnant or who has a television attached to her. The movie also features the character of Allan (Ken’s buddy), Sugar Daddy Ken, and Earrings Ken, all of whom are the outcasts along with Weird Barbie. While the movie is not an attempt to correct these mistakes, it does take a jibe at them, whenever it can. At the outset, it’s a fun commentary on power, feminism, and womanhood. The film tackles Barbie’s realization that while she aimed to make every woman in the world be powerful and awesome, the real world is very far from that goal.
Some of the particular scenes where the movie nails it involve Barbie’s first venture into the real world where she gets uncomfortable with men staring at her. Led amazingly by Margot Robbie, it’s a devastating realization of how the world sees you, where she says that she’s not conscious but it’s herself she’s conscious of. Even the little things like Barbie saying that if she had flat feet, she would never wear heels is a sign of what all women have to go through to fit in this world. It is here the movie gets interesting as on one hand, Robbie’s Barbie realizes the real world is a messed up place for women and on the other hand, Ryan Gosling’s Ken realizes that it’s a man’s world after all.
Ken’s story is also weaved carefully and sometimes, takes over as the larger narrative. Although I am not sure what to make of it in its entirety, it does deliver the right message aimed towards men – about identity, power and what it feels like to be a woman in a man’s world. Both of them have queer undertones as they struggle to find their place in a world which largely restricts them or allows them to be there only in a certain way. The comedy scenes center around cellulite, genitals, or the Kens having as much power as women in the real world are again reflections upon the everyday pressure of the gender binaries.
Viral Marketing And A Very Gay Soundtrack
While the movie criticizes consumerism, its marketing has been all about consuming more and more of whatever is coming out of the Barbie pipeline and also out of the Barbenhiemer pipeline. Starting with putting up selfies with the filter of “This Barbie is XYZ” to buying t-shirts, shoes, iconic barbie outfits, to wearing pink or being dressed like Barbie or Ken when going to the theater for the movie is epic fun, but also a very capitalist ideal. It’s a win for Mattel, for the marketing team, and for the audience as well since the movie has generated hype and is delivering on its massive cultural moment.
It’s unusual for so many artists to come together and work on such a stellar soundtrack. But since this is Barbie’s soundtrack, the soundtrack absolutely slaps with appearances from pop stars like Billie Eillish to queer icons like Sam Smith. The soundtrack has been curated keeping in mind the themes of the film and works absolutely amazing. Lizzo’s Pink is literally the vibe for the movie, Dua Lipa’s Dance the Night is a certified bop, then there’s Ice Spice and Nicki Minaj’s spin on Barbie World (already a top 10 hit on the billboard Hot 100), Charlie XCX’s inescapable Speed Drive, and Sam Smith’s Man I Am.
While these are amazing songs on their own, the spotlight stealers are Ryan Gosling’s I am Just Ken, a power ballad about identity crisis which fits very well into the overall narrative of the movie. The Barbie equivalent for this is Billie Eillish’s What Was I Made For? The song also forms the part of the movie’s most heartbreaking moment where Barbie discusses how she’s not enough. This is also the movie’s strongest point, where it brings the narrative of how even dolls, which are representations of womanhood, are drowning under the weight of the ideas of perfection. One can only imagine what it means for women out there in the real world.
Barbie is a fun adventure that delves right into patriarchy, ideals of beauty, queer perfection, and consumerism amongst a host of other themes, which for the most part, is satisfying thanks to its sharp humor. It’s a tribute to the bittersweet cultural legacy one of the most iconic femme-gay icons of our times, and leaves us with a strong desire for rethinking the way we approach many aspects of our identity. And it’s flawed especially with an end that’s biological essentialism, actually putting Barbie as transphobic to an extent. It’s a win-win situation for the audience and particularly for consumers which are predominantly girls, women, and queer people who share a strange connection with this iconic doll.