Barbie must die
IT’S TIME to kill off Barbie.
She’s 46 years old, and she’s turned into the Norma Desmond of the doll world, mesmerized by her own glam past, running out of everything but delusion and attitude.
Legions of Mattelistas have gone through Barbie boot camp, brainstorming, straining to put some freshness back into the Barb. The results? She’s gone through Mattel staff like Donald Trump. Now it’s Neil Friedman’s turn in the Barbie box. He’s the third head of Mattel brands in five years, and he is on a quest to, as he puts it, put the “wow” back in Barbie.
Me, I think there’s no “wow” to revive. Only “ow.” I come to bury Barbie, not to praise her. Barbie’s flat-lining. She’s been through reinventions and reincarnations and re-imaginings. Now it’s time for decommissioning America’s doll.
I’ll give Barbie the advice that I would have given Willie Mays before he went to the Mets, trying to stay in the game past his prime. Resist the temptation. Quit while you’re ahead.
Barbie is one of only 34 toys in the National Toy Hall of Fame, right between alphabet blocks and the bicycle. She’s had one hell of a run. Her shape is as recognizable as the Coke bottle. She could symbolize anything you want her to -- couture culture, slavering consumerism, a fetishistic youth-and-boobs society. She has become a publicly traded commodity, like gold and pork bellies. Collectors don’t regard her as a toy but as a plastic T-bill, to be locked away and cashed in at the right moment.
Just like Norma Desmond, Barbie has descended into self-parody. She’s been too many things to stand for anything anymore. That model-astronaut-teacher career trajectory doesn’t suggest success so much as ADD.
Barbie has been beyond big, an instantly recognizable icon -- Mickey Mouse with a D cup. But Mattel was loath to acknowledge that “big” cuts both ways. It kept filing lawsuits to stop people from playing off the symbolic Barbie with artworks and parodies -- until the courts told Mattel to put a sock in it. Barbie is as much fair game as the president of the United States. So a Danish band could go ahead and sing, “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world/Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!/You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere.” And artist Tom Forsythe could go ahead with his “Food Chain Barbie” photo series -- Barbie whirring in a blender, Barbie as enchilada filling, Barbie fondued.
The nail in Barbie’s grotesquely proportioned coffin is last winter’s study by a British university about how ferociously little girls mutilate their Barbies, just for fun. They scalp them and dismember them and burn them and microwave them. Frankly, Barbie had it coming. She’s just too unreal. How do you bond with something that looks like a taffy pull with a face? Stuffed animals are more flesh and blood than Barbie.
The study flooded me with endorphins. Around my house, Barbie was fair game. We used her as swords, for duels. But the best was Marie Antoinette Barbie. On a scaffold built of encyclopedias, we whacked off her head but good, tiara and all, over and over again. The last couple of times, after the game got old, we got out the ketchup for a good, gory, splashy finish.
So let’s all have a go at Barbie. Give up on the re-re-re-invention. Take out Barbie at the top of her game. With a big, dramatic exit, Mattel could actually make a killing out of killing Barbie.
Set up a Bye-Bye Barbie lottery -- 10 bucks a ticket, the randomly selected winner gets to execute Barbie any way he or she likes. Or sponsor an essay contest, in 50 words or fewer: “Why Barbie must die, and how.”
Then hire the best people in the ad world to craft a series of commercials leading up to the gallows moment, to be aired during the Super Bowl. Send her to her death. Stage a state funeral worthy of the super-toy she is.
Give her a lethal injection, put Barbie on the barbie, put out a hit on her -- just do it. Let the nation move on. We can survive a post-Barbie world, if we try hard enough.
Just don’t ever let your brother touch her.