The Barbie Movie is Silly Fun

Posted on August 1, 2023 by Richard Goulter

I went to go see the Barbie movie when I was visiting Malaysia with my wife.

We wouldn’t have been able to see the movie in cinemas in Vietnam.

Nine Dash Line

It’s banned in Vietnam because, in one scene where a childlike depicition of a world map is shown, China’s nine dash line is represented. maritime-executive has an article with a screencap of the map.

In that Wikipedia article, Warner Bros’ defense is that the lines have no intended meaning.

I’m not sure why the dashes would need to be on the map. If they really are meaningless, and come across as offensive to some market, then surely it’s worth more money to quickly edit out the lines. (The maritime-executive link also provides a couple of examples: movies have been banned from Vietnam before for showing the nine-dash line; and Top Gun: Maverick was going to remove the Taiwanese and Japanese flags from Maverick’s jacket until the US military frowned upon that. With these examples in mind, it really looks like the Barbie movie map is pushing it). – I find it hard to read Warner Bros’ response as sincere.

The Movie and Its Plot

That aside, I did generally enjoy the movie.

I wouldn’t say it’s a great movie. The plot is passable. The sincere-moral-messaging of the movie is pretty ‘eh’. I enjoyed many of the films jokes. – I’d say what brought many to the theatre was the idea of getting to have fun by wearing something pink.

The story involves Barbie visiting the real world to find out why she’s been having negative thoughts. Ken goes with her, sees that men hold important positions in the real world, and imports this idea of Partriarchy (tm) back to Barbieland. Barbie then has to rescue Barbieland & restore the status quo. – There’s also a subplot where Ken has unrequited feelings for Barbie.

Ryan Gosling as this silly, air-headed, juvenile villain Ken is delightful to watch.

A point I thought was quite astute pointed out that the film is quite like Pinocchio: an animated doll wants to become a real human, starts off in innocence, and needs to learn the moral lessons as to what that means.

The Movie and the Discussion Around its Gender Politics

Much of the discussion online that I saw about the Barbie movie was focused on the gender-politics commentary of the movie. I saw opinions from “eww, gross, feminism” to “of course a Barbie movie would talk about gender politics, you dweebs”.

I do agree with “it’s a silly movie; you ought to be able to just ignore the dumb parts and enjoy the fun parts”.

But it also does make sense to me that there are people who are upset at the film’s gender-politics stuff, see the movie’s messaging as less than ideal, and try to discuss all sorts of “gotchas” about the film.

It makes sense to me that people have strong feelings on gender politics; and I think I’d rather people had a good foundation or set of tools with which to discuss their views. – Indeed, that’s one of the things I love about Liana Kerzner’s Lady Bits series. Kerzner is intelligent and articulate, and does a fantastic job at communicating feminist concepts and how they apply to videogames.

In any case, considering “the Barbie movie’s gender politics is silly”, I’m reminded of a joke in Yes, Minister about the six diplomatic options. (“We could do nothing, which implies we agree; we could protest, but they’ll ignore us; we can’t withdraw support, because we’re not providing any; if we went to war with them, it might look like we’re overreacting”). – So even though you can say the Barbie movie is silly and dumb, it is annoying if in every insignificant case things go against you.

I think a lot of the upset is around how Barbieland isn’t what anyone would think of as an egalitarian utopia. Barbieland has women all holding high status jobs, and all the men standing around doing nothing. I’d guess a thesis/antithesis/sythesis going from “girls rule”/“boyz rule”/“50-50” would be more conventional. – Or I think many are upset that the film seems to take more jabs (with more sincerity) at men than it does at women.

Okay, But About…

I will say it does seem like Ken gets to have a lot more fun in the Barbie movie than Barbie does. – In the movie, Barbie’s motivation is having experienced imperfect thoughts; and the movie discusses that of course it’s tough to live up to a standard of perfection and that it’s fine for people to be ordinary. Whereas Ken visits the real world, feels very proud someone respected him enough to ask him for the time, and believes in a utopic vision which involves men and horses ruling the world. Barbie spends the climax of the movie enacting strategic espionage, whereas Ken spends the climax of the movie in a Grease-themed dance off.

I was surprised by the lines of dialogue from the young college student. She’s not a fan of Barbie, and says abrasive things like “but Barbie’s main purpose is to make money” (which sounds like a coherent thing to argue), or “Barbie is fascist” (…which does not). No one in the film ever really disagrees with her, which just feels weird to me. – Although, I’ve also heard this character is a director’s insert for someone speaking truth to power…?

There’s a line early on in the movie where, when Barbie’s feet transform to human-shaped feet rather than angled-for-high-heels, Barbie says “I’d never wear high heels if my feet were shaped like this”. – I guess it’s a throwaway joke, sure, but it does feel like “girls stuff is dumb”.

And in a similar vein to “girls stuff is dumb”… in Gerwig’s “Little Women” film, the film seems to mock the idea of giving a story a happy ending, or that for a ending to be ‘happy’ the woman has to find a romantic partner.
Surely it is fine for a story about a woman to end without her finding a partner; and surely it is also fine if the story ends with her finding a partner.
I get the impression that there’s animosity towards the latter from the sense that there’s an overwhelming default expectation for the former? (And vice versa!). I don’t generally get the sense that society would only respect a female character if she ends up married.
The Barbie movie ends without Barbie and Ken having a romantic relationship. For Barbie, there’s no romance in the film; for Ken, it’s unrequited attention, and he doesn’t end up with a partner.
Romantic plotlines which don’t end up with a happy ending are kindof a bummer.

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