The Anti-Barbie Work: Get Real

Something like Tarot or palm reading or astrology or the I Ching affords an opportunity to think a little more about who you are, to exercise your faculty of deciding what meaning to make of chance events. To illustrate this point, and also introduce myself and this relatively new blog a little more to you, gentle reader, let me tell you about myself, in a somewhat playful way.

Certainly, we are made who we are by the world we were born into. Yet the exact specific events that happened to happen in the year of your birth are just a coincidence – available for each of us to creatively play with and fabricate a stories of who we are. I happened to have been born in Richmond, Virginia in 1959 – a child of Yankee parents born in the capital of the confederacy, coming into the world on the very day that the last surviving civil war veteran left it. That mixture in some ways identifies me. I grew up in Dixie – in small towns in North Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia – but with the more Northern sensibility of my parents: not a northerner, but never quite at home among the pick-up trucks, the rebel flags, and the segregation either.

In 1959, Castro came to power, and the Dalai Lama went into exile: Cuba gained a dictator that many Cubans didn’t want, and Tibet lost a spiritual leader tha many Tibetans dearly loved. That mixture also points to something about me: I’m suspicious of political revolution, while yearning for spiritual revolution.

An interplanetary future was dawning. 1959 saw the first moon landing, Russia’s Lunik II. The US sent up a couple of monkeys into outer space and brought them back alive. Also that year, jazz musician Ornette Coleman introduced free improvisation – a musical style of making it up as you go along. I remember these last two bits about the year of my birth on those occasions when I find myself feeling rather like a monkey in orbit, and making it up as I go along.

Now I'm the new minister at Community Unitarian Church in White Plains. This church began in 1909 and moved into its current building in . . . 1959.

One other thing that happened that year that I was born and that Community Unitarian Church moved into its building: Mattel introduced the Barbie doll. That's a coincidence that seems to me to open up possibilities for a story about me, about CUC, and about Unitarian Universalism in general.

My existence is coexistensive with Barbie’s! Her omnipresence makes her a constant counterpoint for me.

Barbie became a cultural icon by being an exaggeration – yet she represents and reinforces cultural messages about what young women should be. Using Mattel’s official 1/6 scale, Barbie represents a height of 5 foot, 9 inches. At that height, her measurements would be 36-18-33. She would weigh about 110 pounds. Indeed, one of the ensembles of accessories you can get comes with a little pink bathroom scale permanently set at 110. That would give her a Body-Mass Index of 16.24, which fits the criteria for anorexia.

She’s not a realistic or healthy model for our girls or women to try to match. Barbie boldly proclaims the unreal, the impossibly exaggerated, the fantastically distorted. Ours is the work of becoming real, of striving to be authentic. That’s the anti-Barbie work.

Barbie’s success is, in large measure, owed to the expression into which her face is molded: her “eternal look of compliant joy” (Washington Post, 1991 August 1). This legally defines who she is. In 1991, Barbie was in a lawsuit. There was a rival doll, made by Kenner, the “Miss America Doll.” The Mattel people said that the doll was too similar to Barbie and therefore infringed on their copyright. You immediately see the irony: the Miss America doll was made to look like a typical Miss America, but the typical Miss America had spent her whole life trying to look like Barbie. What struck me about the lawsuit was the Mattel claim that one of the key distinguishing features of what made Barbie Barbie and no other doll could imitate was: her facial expression of compliant joy. And the court ruled in Mattel’s favor, declaring that Barbie did indeed, as it were, own the copyright on “eternal look of compliant joy.”

Compliant joy has never been my cup of tea.

* * *
This is part 2 of 4 of "AntiBarbies."
Next: Part 3: "Kindergarten Wisdom and Barbie Busy-ness"
Previous: Part 1: "Things Happen for a Reason?"

No comments:

Post a Comment