The Evolution of Barbie: From Feminist Icon to Woke Cash Cow

The best hunters often appear in the image of prey.

During the gap period of the Dragon Boat Festival that just passed, “She Who Disappeared”, produced by Chen Sicheng, sparked heated discussions. He made a “platter” of popular elements such as wife killing, anti-love brain, phoenix man, and Thai urban legends, and presented a feminist movie that claims to be “girls help girl”.

Even if no one believes that Chen Sicheng’s version of “feminism” contains much real material. But since its release, this film, which was estimated to have a box office of less than 1 billion, has already raked in 3.5 billion.

In recent years, feminism has emerged with unprecedented strength and richness in the field of society and popular culture. Under it, many issues such as gender injustice, workplace discrimination, and sexual oppression have been taken seriously and corrected. Cultural products surrounding feminist trends are also in high demand; the patriarchal contradictions implicit in many classic works and the stereotyped images of women have been rethought.

But at the same time, a large number of works represented by “The Disappearing She” only aimed at the consumption possibility behind feminism, crudely disassembled the female symbols, and successfully reaped a wave of dividends – the more dangerous Yes, they allow more people to see the sharpness of the sickle of “stirring women’s emotions”, and also create noise for feminism, which is in the development and swing period, to penetrate deeper.

What kind of feminist works are women and even men looking forward to?

The just-released “Barbie” gave a resounding response to “The Missing Girls”. Many women expressed on social media: Feminism has finally found its right way to open.

Surprising attendance
“Question Barbie, understand Barbie, and become Barbie.” This Internet slang term represents the impact and inspiration that “Barbie” has given to girls all over the world. During the week that “Barbie” was released, it sparked a pink wave that swept the world.

Wearing pink short-sleeved sleeves and pink hairpin pins, Xiao Mo and her best friend spent a pink weekend accompanied by “Barbie” in a theater in Beijing.

This theater is not located in the city center, and the facilities are relatively old, but Xiao Mo saw that the attendance rate of the movie was very high, and the first row was full of audiences wearing “pink”.

Before walking into the theater, Xiao Mo thought it was just a simple toy IP adaptation movie, in order to “fulfill Barbie girl’s dream”. But the unexpected plot design and profound core surprised her-“the atmosphere is super good”, and knowing laughter and applause will sound from time to time in the theater.

The theater managers also feel the same way. The most direct expression is that they give “Barbie” a fraction of less than 5%.

This year, the domestic summer holidays are extremely popular. According to the “Lighthouse Professional Edition” data, as of July 29, the single-day box office of the national market has exceeded 100 million for 39 consecutive days, breaking the record of Chinese film history.

Under the siege of many powerful domestic blockbusters, the recent “Mission Impossible 7” was introduced as a classic Hollywood IP, but the box office unexpectedly “slammed the street”. After that, many theater managers did not dare to have more expectations for “Barbie”.

Judging from the fact that only 3.2% of the films were scheduled on the first day of its release, “Barbie” appeared more as an adjustment film to balance the diversification of genre films.

But starting from July 24 (Monday), after a weekend of word-of-mouth fermentation, “Barbie” has gradually won some prime time slots, and has won nearly 10% of the film schedule for several consecutive days.

“The pre-sales of “Barbie” can basically exceed 50%, which means that the show will be full or nearly full.” A theater manager explained to “Shijie”. He believes that the popularity of “Barbie” is due to attendance and word of mouth. Double credit.

A theater manager from Hunan told Shijie that “Barbie” brought her a pleasant surprise. “I’m a small county town on the 18th line. On Monday, I lined up for a “Barbie” show, and sold 11 tickets. It was unexpected and touching!”

In North America and even in the world, “Barbie” swept the box office with overwhelming momentum, and unexpectedly surpassed the famous director Christopher Nolan’s new film “Oppenheimer”.

According to official information, on the first day of its release in North America, “Barbie” earned US$70.5 million and drove the North American market to soar 211% year-on-year. In the next two days, “Barbie” maintained its high-speed Nuggets, sweeping $162 million in the first weekend, winning the championship with a momentum of more than double that of “Oppenheimer” ($82.46 million at the weekend box office).

The core of “Barbie”‘s box office miracle comes from word of mouth. On “Fresh Tomatoes”, Barbie scored 89%, and film critics praised it as “a visually dazzling comedy, where humor and subversive story skillfully complement each other”. At the same time, the “Popcorn Index” of “Barbie” also rushed to 86%, showing that the audience’s satisfaction is comparable to the media’s evaluation.

The bigger winner is Mattel, the toy company behind Barbie. Mattel’s shares have risen about 17% in the past month on the back of the global hit, bucking the trend and making a fortune.

The streets of New York, London, and Sydney have recently been covered with “Barbie fans” billboards; many brands have launched joint marketing campaigns with “Barbie”.

Recently, if you search for “Barbie” on Google, pink fireworks will pop up; Burger King also launched a burger with pink sauce in due course. FMCG brands such as ZARA and Forever21 have designed joint pink suits, and even placed a “Barbie wardrobe” of equal height in offline stores for consumers to take pictures and check in. Barbie even teamed up with Airbnb to create a beachside Barbie dreamhouse that would bring “toys to life.”

This is not the first time that Mattel hopes to rely on movie IP to “continue its life”-in the past 23 years, there have been nearly 40 series of movies developed with Barbie as the protagonist alone. But none, like the live-action version of “Barbie”, won such a high return. According to statistics, from Crocs to Pinkberry, from Burger King to Xbox, “Barbie” has cooperated with more than 100 brands.

According to media reports, Mattel’s cooperation fee standard is to charge a fixed fee or 5%-15% of sales each time. Based on this calculation, according to the estimation of the investment bank Stifel, the movie will eventually bring in about US$100 million in revenue for Mattel, including: US$75 million in toy sales, US$12.5 million in brand licensing income, and US$11 million in film revenue. .

Those feminist “scythes”
Although Xiaofan is a woman, she cannot be regarded as a solid supporter of the feminist trend. She also went to see “Barbie” recently, but was deeply touched. “The most valuable thing is that almost every woman and even man can find resonance in “Barbie.”

From the perspective of a relatively “broad-spectrum” feminist audience who thinks they are deeply oppressed by patriarchy, “Barbie” can be regarded as a “female cool film” that can perfectly meet their “mouth replacement” needs.

For example, recently, a picture of a straightforward and intensive “golden sentence” from “Barbie” has been widely circulated on social platforms. Its artillery fires directly at the patriarchy, fully showing the plight of women’s survival, childbirth, and life.

Sitting in the movie theater, Xiaofan clearly felt the shock of this layer upon layer of progressive golden sentence output to the female audience.

This line lasted for nearly 3 minutes. When the character Gloria “sprayed” it with strong anger, Xiao Fan felt that there was a moment of silence in the theater where laughter had been bursting out just now. Two members of the audience applauded involuntarily, though they seemed disturbed then quickly stopped.

“Barbie” couldn’t have done a more thorough satire on patriarchy.

The film tells the story of the blond and white-skinned Barbie. In the utopian matriarchal “Barbie Paradise”, due to the sudden thought of death, the illusory bubble of happiness is punctured, and the problem of “flat feet” landing appears. When she walked into the real world of human beings to find answers, the oppression of patriarchy also hit her face.

In the film, because of her sexy and hot body, Barbie was quickly harassed by construction workers. To this she can only say innocently and sweetly: “I don’t have reproductive organs.”

Barbie saw that Mattel’s executives selling female dolls were all men. Ken, who accompanied Barbie, was quickly overwhelmed by the reality of “male supremacy”, and turned to Barbie Paradise to spread the patriarchal “smallpox virus”.

Afterwards, Barbie and her two female partners from the human world helped them “awaken” and regain Barbie Paradise by exporting the above-mentioned views to Barbie who was “tamed” by the Kens.

But if the depth of the narrative of “Barbie” only stops here, maybe it is just the same as the works that have focused on the counterattack of the strong “big heroine” in recent years.

During the viewing process, many female audiences, including Xiao Mo and Xiao Fan, were moved by a scene – when Barbie just set foot in the human world, she saw an elderly woman with gray hair, and Barbie sincerely praised: “You are so beautiful.” The old man responded with a slight smile, “I know.”

Ironically, this scene was once asked to be deleted due to “boring” when the distributor Warner reviewed the film. In the end, director Greta insisted that it be kept. “That’s the core value of this movie, if it was cut out, I don’t know why I made this movie.”

And when the film came to the end, Barbie was confused about whether she should return to the paradise and continue her life, or enter human society. Rose, the founder of Barbie, suggested to her that she only needs to start from “knowing herself”, and experience the wind blowing leaves, the sun shining, family affection and joy, these are only Barbie’s personal experience.

Xiao Fan told “City Boundary” that this kind of reconciliation, rather than deliberately creating confrontation and emotions between men and women, is the comforting point of “Barbie”.

Chizuko Ueno, a writer who sparked heated discussions this year, gave a speech at the 2019 University of Tokyo Freshman Ceremony: Don’t put women and men on opposite sides, but advocate that women have more free choices on the road to self-growth .

In fact, “Barbie” has made rich presentations and satires in the film about what kind of rights feminism should fight for.

For example, in the opening scene of the movie, Barbies of different skin colors and races share the same name. They all have respectable careers and strong self-confidence: there are presidents, Nobel laureates, justices, astronauts, doctors, and luxury cars. And their boyfriends, the “Kens,” are shadowy characters driven by the Barbies.

The recipe looks so familiar, it’s almost a carbon copy of the real world of patriarchy.

Similar works of literature and art that reverse the role of the “big heroine” and the image of patriarchy, allowing the heroine to experience counterattacks from the bottom, and finally achieve a good career have become popular in recent years.

For example, the popular “Story of Yanxi Palace”, “Do you know whether it should be green, fat, red and thin”, “Thirty Only” and “My First Half of Life”, etc., although they are all in the limelight, they have frequently encountered vain plots on the Internet. , Emotional experience empty questioning.

In this regard, Peking University professor Dai Jinhua once commented: In many “big heroine” works, “the heroine’s logic of life, logic of domination, and logic of victory are basically a copy of male logic. A leader is no different from a male emperor or a male supervisor.” Such works are also far from the real female reality.

In more so-called “feminist” works, women often appear as stereotyped victims. For example, Jiang Xin in “Ode to Joy” was sucked blood by her native family, the full-time wife in “The First Half of My Life” was betrayed by her husband, and the heroine in “My Sister” was kidnapped by her younger brother’s morality.

Women’s private emotional experience is often judged as a “love brain” and regarded as an irrational existence. Instead, there are phoenix men climbing rich wives, married women beating mistresses, or the “female competition” plots of women competing for high-quality men. They point to women should be vigilant enough to men and the outside world.

In the recent popular “She Who Disappeared”, Chen Sicheng used the emotion and provocation of feminism to the extreme. On the other hand, the female characters themselves are basically tool people used to create conflicts and “cool” plots.

American independent media personality Andi Zeisler (Andi Zeisler), in the book “We Were Feminists Once” (We Were Feminists Once), once discussed how “feminism” became a good business , and how to dispel the doubts expressed on those really important issues.

“Most of the issues that motivated feminism still stand; at the same time, mainstream culture, celebrities, and consumers have embraced feminism as a new, interesting and relatable cultural identity. I call this phenomenon the ‘Market Feminism’. It’s decontextualized, depoliticized, and yet the most popular iteration of feminism ever.”

American cultural critic Roxane Gay (Roxane Gay) was blunt in “Bad Feminist” (Bad Feminist): “We don’t talk about the thorny issue of the pay gap, ignore women’s reproductive freedom is so limited, do not face The sexual harassment, the sexual violence that so many women face. We’re all avoiding talking about what it takes to change that culture.”

And “Barbie” also unabashedly revealed this kind of cruelty-when the film ended, a certain “Ken” asked if he could get a seat in the House of Representatives, and the Barbies only gave him a basic post and treated him Says: “We’re going to elevate Ken’s influence in the Barbie world as much as women do in the real world.”

How does Mattel consume itself “correctly”?
However, as the producer of Barbie dolls and “Barbie”, Mattel Toys, with the help of precise insight and spare no effort in irony, managed to consume itself “correctly” through self-deprecating.

In “Barbie,” Mattel seems to fully understand the value gap between Barbie dolls and today’s feminism.

In the film, Barbie believes that in “Barbie Paradise”, she has built a beautiful utopia for girls in the real world. But today’s girls’ playmates have long hated Barbie’s “perfection” and the anxiety she brought to women about her appearance and body.

And when the “mother of Barbie” designed her daughter an adult doll with tall breasts, it should be difficult to predict that decades later, there will be so many voices accusing Barbie of being too perfect.

In 1958, Ruth Handler created the first generation of Barbie after her daughter Barala, in order to break the stereotyped baby dolls on the market that resembled the famous child star Shirley Temple.

In Ruth’s setting, girls can “dress up” the dolls according to their expectations. The dolls are no longer babies being taken care of, but represent themselves. For example, when Barbie first appeared at the “New York Toy Fair”, its entry title was – “Girls’ Role Model”.

The popularity of any product or culture resonates with the development of the times.

Barbie was born in the era of economic prosperity in the United States after World War II. But at that time women’s jobs were said to have only five choices: nurse, teacher, secretary, clerk, mother and wife. In the Barbie world, women can break through infinite possibilities. American economist Meyer McComby summed it up bluntly: “Barbie is the embodiment of the girl in the late capitalism era.”

In 1960, orders flew into Mattel like a snowflake. According to statistics, in the 10 years since Barbie was born, people have spent 500 million dollars on it.

Over the past few decades, the roles of “Barbie Universe” have continued to expand, and gradually have various roles such as girlfriend Christie, boyfriend Ken, twin siblings Tutti and Todd, aunt, cousin, and grandparents. Barbie’s race and image were also improved, and red-haired Barbies other than blondes and brown hairs, black-skinned Barbies, and so on began to appear.

However, as the trend of feminism has gradually expanded from the “perfect girl” to breaking the “male gaze” in recent years, the gap between Barbie and girls has also continued to widen.

Nowadays, the popular female icons are more smart, cunning, and adventurous “knight” girls like Linna Belle. While Mattel is still trying to promote Barbie as a female role model, who would believe that such an ever-beautiful, wealthy, heavily made-up doll could represent what the average woman really is?

In 2009, Mattel opened the world’s largest flagship store for Barbie dolls in Shanghai. Three years later, the 3,500-square-meter, six-story pink palace announced its closure.

Since 2012, the sales of Barbie dolls have experienced negative growth year after year. Mattel’s countermeasure is to make Barbie more “politically correct”.

In an effort to innovate, Mattel has reduced Barbie’s bust size and added seven skin tones, 18 eye colors and 24 new hairstyles for Barbie. In 2016, Barbie appeared on the cover of “Time” with an “imperfect image” with a small belly and a closer to real human beings.

Since then, within a few years, Barbie has 9 body shapes, 35 skin colors, 13 pupil colors, 94 hairstyles, and various professional images such as chef, astronaut, doctor, teacher, athlete, movie star…

In order to show “diversity”, Mattel has also launched a cancer Barbie who lost her hair due to chemotherapy, a Barbie in a wheelchair and a prosthetic limb. In April, Mattel even released a Barbie with Down syndrome.

But the truth is, no one wants a real self as a toy comparison. People love an IP image, and what they buy is the spirit and mirror projection it represents. However, Mattel’s “correct” expression is becoming less and less popular.

From 2012 to 2014, Barbie’s sales plummeted by 20%, and Lego took the top spot. Subsequently, after the release of “Frozen”, the princess “Aisha”, who symbolizes bravery and freedom, replaced Barbie and took more than 16% of Mattel’s sales.

In recent years, Mattel has gradually come to a dead end in the development of Barbie’s IP. Especially when the “blind box” has entered the mainstream view, driven by the power of “unknown addiction”, in North America, the “LOL Surprise Doll” released by MGA Entertainment is gaining more and more people’s love.

However, Barbie’s sales continued to decline until 2020, and it was only under the background of the overall increase in entertainment products during the epidemic that it regained some weak upward curves.

From Mattel’s point of view, the grievances expressed by “Barbie” are like Mattel’s own heartfelt voice: at the beginning of Mingming’s birth, Barbie was to encourage girls to have more imagination possibilities for the future. But in fact, it is a little ironic that in the past few years, Mattel, which advertises “female possibilities”, and Barbie’s creators have not paid enough attention to women’s equal rights.

In “Barbie–the secret of a doll that is popular in the world”, the author wrote: Although Ruth Handler is willing to give female employees some opportunities to compete, she will treat them as ruthlessly as men.

“Gender discrimination also exists in Mattel. Once, Danyi found out that she was paid much less than other male employees, so she protested. After that, her salary was increased by 25%.” %-30%.”

By the 1960s, the proportion of women in Mattel’s management had far exceeded that of any other toy company-and this was finally achieved through the continuous struggle of female employees.

With the help of Barbie, the producers also expressed a greater social reality: compared with the cultural concerns of equal rights, economic interests are the fundamental direction of all changes.

In an interview, director Greta Gerwig and producer and star Robbie talked about how to convince Mattel executives: “Fortunately, our script is very deviant, with sensitive points everywhere. If they Just don’t like three of them, then we can’t convince them at all. But if you’re afraid of a hundred things at the same time, we can move forward.”

In the film, Mattel boldly ridiculed itself as a critic, but the logic of its behavior has also been cleverly displayed in the film: When the interns pointed out that this can make money, the hesitant Mattel executives He readily agreed.

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