Posted by: Hil | October 30, 2009

Barbie: the Saga Continues

There will be more food posts today (roasted cauliflower curry soup and apple tart on the menu for lunch), but when I stumbled on a bit of news that includes law, parody, pop culture, and Barbie, I really couldn’t resist writing about it.  I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.  This is apparently old news, but I just learned about it today.  Does anyone remember a dance pop song called “Barbie Girl” that was all the rage in 1997?  Let me refresh your memory:

When I first heard the song in the 90’s, I assumed it was a pro-Barbie song, but I was wrong.  The song is actually a scathing critique of Barbie as a symbol of the sexual objectification of women.  Here are some highlights from the lyrics:

Barbie:  I’m a blond bimbo girl, in the fantasy world
Dress me up, make it tight, I’m your dolly

Ken:  You’re my doll, rock’n’roll, feel the glamour in pink,
kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky…

Barbie:  You can touch, you can play, if you say: “I’m always yours”….

Barbie:  Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please
I can act like a star, I can beg on my knees

Ken:  Come jump in, bimbo friend, let us do it again,
hit the town, fool around, let’s go party

Needless to say, Aqua isn’t Barbie’s biggest fan.  Mattel noticed and sued Aqua for trademark infringement for using Barbie in their song.  The result is one of the most hilarious court decisions ever written.   Any court opinion that opens with the words “If this were a sci-fi melodrama, it might be called Speech-Zilla meets Trademark Kong”  and ends with the immortal words “the parties are advised to chill” is worthy of a special place in my heart.  If you want a good laugh, read the whole thing.  Substantively, the court concluded that “Barbie Girl” did not infringe on Mattel’s trademark.

So imagine my shock when I learned that Mattel has now managed to acquire the rights to do a pro-Barbie version of the song for Barbie commercials.  No, this isn’t a joke.  A song that blasted Barbie is now being used to to market her to children who are too young to remember the critical original.

The song has been cleaned up a bit, with lyrics like “you can brush my hair/undress me everywhere,” replaced with the faux-inspirational “you can be a star/no matter who you are.”  In the words of Barbie’s Senior Vice President of Marketing:  “We’ve re-written the lyrics ever so slightly. There’s a bit of girl empowerment that gets infused in there.”  Girl power, eh?  If this is girl power, then I’m not sure that girl power has very much to do with feminism.  What are girls being empowered to do exactly?  Love fashion?  Dance like they are made out of plastic?  Criticize Ken’s dancing skills?  Be “doll’icious”?

What is perhaps most interesting to me about this turn of events is that Mattel thinks that a handful of “be a star!” references are enough to transform a negative message into an empowering one.  I think there are probably a lot more subtle messages in the media that are primarily negative, but dressed up with just enough “love yourself!” jargon to make women buy into them.  An interesting trend to keep an eye on.



  1. I would just like to say for the record…aaaaaaaaah! Ow my brain!

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