Barbie is breaking records this summer. After a promotional tour that will go down in history as one of the best marketing campaigns ever, it had the highest-grossing opening weekend ever for a film directed by a woman. Ten days after it reached theaters, the comedy about the Mattel doll has made $770 million worldwide, a number matched only by superhero franchises.
With Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as the stars, Gerwig’s approach to the controversial icon is a fun, ironic film, with a very smart script, the work of Gerwig and her partner, Noah Baumbach. Pop feminism combines with a pastel set that is impossible to look away from. The pink universe is a phenomenon, and it has leaped from the screens to spectators’ wardrobes.
Feminists in the 70s marked Barbie as the enemy for the sexist stereotypes she perpetuated. But Barbie has also taught girls to “be whatever you want.” Today her history makes her a complex figure. An emblem of consumerism, her appearance on the big screen has provoked a predictable turn: various figures in the far-right media have argued that Barbie is a film that hates men. The alt-right in North America and Europe has chosen the fight for women’s rights as one of the main movements to combat.
Without lifting any of the many layers of Gerwig’s story, several people have found it necessary to take to their social media to share their indignation. The explosive fury has resulted in several dolls burned in pyres by men over 40, protesting “the feminist agenda” and Ken’s conversion into a character “without testosterone.”
“There’s a lot of passion,” the film’s director herself said in an interview with The New York Times after the premiere. “Did you anticipate the degree to which right-wing pundits are bashing the movie as being ‘woke’ and burning their Barbies?” she was asked. The creator of Lady Bird replied, “My hope for the movie is that it’s an invitation for everybody to be part of the party and let go of the things that aren’t necessarily serving us as either women or men. I hope that in all of that passion, if they see it or engage with it, it can give them some of the relief that it gave other people.”
But there was little consolation for the YouTuber The Critical Drinker, who confessed to his nearly two million followers that he felt deceived by the trailer: he did not expect 114 minutes of “rage and hatred towards men.” He did not have a good time. In his video, he expresses his sincere concern about how this story will affect girls. “Watching this film was one of the most miserable and demoralizing experiences I’ve had as a film critic. It really made me wonder where we are going as a society,” he summed up.
Without going into rhetorical questions, Elon Musk proposes a drinking game, apparently annoyed by the number of times the film says ‘patriarchy’: “If you take a shot every time Barbie says the word ‘patriarchy,’ you’ll pass out before the movie ends,” tweeted the man who has done away with the Twitter birdie to replace it with a symbol that could well decorate his Mojo Dojo Casa House.
It you take a shot every time Barbie says the word "patriarchy", you will pass out before the movie ends— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 24, 2023
Ben Shapiro doesn’t like the talk of patriarchy either: “All you need to know about #BarbieTheMovie is that it un-ironically uses the word ‘patriarchy’ more than 10 times,” he wrote on Twitter. The reactionary commentator has been one of the first to take a stand with two videos in which he unleashes a tantrum. In the first one, he burns several dolls at a barbecue. In the second one, “Barbie is trash, but you’re not allowed to say it,” and despite not being allowed to say it, he unleashes an hour of complaints to the camera. The writer cannot tolerate the fact, for example, that Hari Nef, a trans actress, has a deeper voice than his. Tweeters have responded with memes of him wearing Barbie Dreamhouse outfits.
Shapiro is not the first to jump on the witch-burning bandwagon. The far right has long made a habit of setting fire to everything it considers emblematic of the woke. Before Barbie, Nike sneakers, Gillette razor blades and even beers had already succumbed to the flames.
Unlike what happens in the average screenplay of any film genre with female characters, Gerwig takes the Ken character’s journey as seriously as Barbie’s. But that’s not enough for Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz’s wife, Ginger Gaetz: after posing in pink on the red carpet at the premiere, she rushed to her Twitter account to call for a boycott of the feature film because “the 2023 Barbie movie unfortunately fails to address any notion of faith or family and tries to normalize the idea that women can’t positively collaborate with men (yuck).” In addition, Gaetz finds Ken’s “low T [testosterone] disappointing.”
Thinking about watching the Barbie movie?— Ginger Gaetz (@LuckeyGinger) July 18, 2023
I'd recommend sticking to getting outfit inspiration and skipping the theater. Here's why:
The Barbie I grew up with was a representation of limitless possibilities, embracing diverse careers and feminine empowerment.
The 2023 Barbie… pic.twitter.com/AsparSgvS4
Piers Morgan, notorious for his misogynistic and xenophobic comments, couldn’t miss this party either. He joined in with a disturbing piece in the New York Post entitled “If I made a movie that treated women the way Barbie treats men, feminists would want me executed.” He expresses his stupefaction at the concept of “patriarchy,” “hijacked and corrupted by feminazis.” He concludes that the film’s clear message is that “the only solution to this dreadful patriarchal state of affairs is for women to rule the world.”
For his part, Senator Ted Cruz, Donald Trump’s 2016 rival for control of the Republican Party, went even further before the film’s release. He only needed a few seconds of Margot Robbie in front of a map to declare that the film is “Chinese communist propaganda.” The politician has developed a theory, which others, including George W. Bush’s foundation, have also parroted, that the map showed the nine-dash line used by China to claim an area of the South China Sea as its own. Never mind that only eight dots are counted in the film or that Warner Bros. has settled the controversy: “The map in Barbie Land is a child-like crayon drawing. “The doodles depict Barbie’s make-believe journey from Barbie Land to the ‘real world,” Variety said in a statement that is difficult for anyone of legal age to read aloud without giggling.
Perhaps the best reactions are in the reviews of the film on the website Rotten Tomatoes, where, despite the hate, the movie has a score of 8.9: “A Trojan horse in heels that defends all feminist nonsense,” reads one. “Barbie is a movie about Barbie made with the political awareness, coherence and intelligence of the doll,” says another. Twitter user @TechnicallyRon has picked some of the best ones from the Letterboxd App and photoshopped them on the film’s promotional poster. Some are good arguments to keep people going to the movies: “An alienating, dangerous and perverse film,” “The feminist agenda will kill us all,” “They won’t be happy until we are all gay” and “A pink acid trip that feels like being slapped by lots of confusingly attractive people.”
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