Wednesday: Popular American Culture and Politics

NB: The opinions and viewpoints of our bloggers do not necessarily represent the opinions and viewpoints of New York Moves.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Roberts

“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help mate for him.”

Man didn’t come first in every creation story.  Barbie Millicent Roberts was created in 1959, beginning a repeatedly reclaimed history of femininity and construed feminism, of girl power and grace, of plastic and social politics. 


But in 1961, the toy world decided a woman alone is not a woman apart.  And Mattel said, “It is not good that Barbie should be alone; we will make a help mate for her.”  And so Ken came to be.  We celebrated his birthday yesterday, (Ken, you’re lookin’ pretty good for 52), rejoicing in plastic pecks, flesh-colored briefs, and bleached smiles. 


It has to be noted that in the fuchsia and pink world of Barbie-mania, Ken is the +1.  Barbie rules the world.  Ken is the afterthought.  Ever since he first came on the scene, it’s been the unintended contra-conservative effect of the Barbie empire.  Yes, she commercializes femininity.  But Ken is little more than her boy toy.  Barbie took up the Beyonce cry long before Beyonce was born:  Who runs the world?  Girls.  Girls in magnificent heels and gowns, yes, but girls, nonetheless.  Granted, it’s taken a few generations for the mantra of “We girls can do anything, like Barbie” to gel into a conscious belief system, but that’s where we’ve gotten. 


Meanwhile, the more-than-slightly effeminate facial features of her help mate have provided a constant background.  So maybe there’s a second story to be told here: Despite the traditional Mormon undertones of many a girl’s collection (12 Barbies, one token Ken who dates them all), Ken may have been making strides for another under-acknowledged sector of society.  Ken has been reveling in fashion, attending galas, dressing in pink, and cultivating the perfect coiffing for decades.  Not to stereotype gays any more than making the Barbie comparison stereotypes gals, but there has to be some correlation between girls who dressed up Ken dolls and those who accept the fabulousness of a gay man with his own flair for life.  I’m just saying, there’s a reason Barbie so often ended up going to dances dressed to perfect coordination with Ken while she skipped next door to Big Brother’s room to marry G.I. Joe during his temporary leave.  Maybe it’s because, deep down, she knew Ken had other predilections?  


So happy birthday, Ken.  No matter what flag you fly, we celebrate your perfectly pinioned suit.  And we don’t hold it against you that you sometimes fall into the shadows of a schizophrenic and beautiful woman.

#Ken #Barbie #Low

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