James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Barbie’s birthday bash

Posted by James McPherson on March 9, 2009

Barbie, the iconic American toy sex symbol, turns 50 today. CNN tells us that 8 million people collect Barbie items, that the doll is “owned by 90 percent of American girls ages 3 to 10 and sold in 150 countries” and that “Barbie attracts 50 million visitors to her Web site each month.” Barbie has inspired generations of girls, becoming one of the first “career girls.” She apparently has held 108 different jobs, including “a police officer, a doctor, a veterinarian, an astronaut and a presidential candidate.”

In that last case, John Edwards apparently was modeled after the Ken doll. … Ah, there I’ve done it, illustrating one of the reasons that Barbie is criticized: because of our too-common tendency to unfairly judge the intelligence of people (especially women) on their appearance. That’s why good looks (and geography) quickly led to perceived vice presidential lightweight candidate Sarah Palin as “Caribou Barbie.” One key difference was that Barbie originally was a dumbed-down version of a toy German sex object, while Caribou Barbie was a seemingly dumbed-down version of a female Democratic presidential candidate.

Back to Barbie the icon: Of course it’s not just toddlers and pre-teens who have gone ga-ga over the doll, as evidenced by the fact that three of the five main sections of the Barbie site are titled, “Press Site,” “Barbie Grownups” and “Barbie Collector.” Barbie’s popularity and her anatomically impossible proportions have brought the doll widespread attention, and, not surprisingly, inspired copycats.

Most famous among them are now-53-year-old Cindy Jackson (whose body now contains more plastic than does a real Barbie), and perhaps the Bratz dolls (who, naturally, also have a website) that may soon become unavailable because of the designer’s Mattel/Barbie connection. Barbie also provided the media with a name for two bank robbers.

As part of Barbie’s birthday celebration, Mattel paid a designer to create a real-life Barbie Dream House overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The house includes “an original Andy Warhol portrait of Barbie valued at over $200,000 and a chandelier–designed by ‘Project Runway’ contestant Chris March–that’s made up of over 30 blond wigs and took more than 60 hours to craft.”

It’s good to see that Barbie, at least, can still afford housing.

Below you can see the first Barbie TV commercial, followed by a funny Sarah Palin spoof:

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7 Responses to “Barbie’s birthday bash”

  1. Gabrielle said

    “One key difference was that Barbie originally was a dumbed-down version of a toy German sex object, while Caribou Barbie was a seemingly dumbed-down version of a female Democratic presidential candidate.”

    i don’t know about everyone else, but that made my day. thanks xD

  2. James McPherson said

    Happy to help–especially on a day on which it appears that winter has returned!

  3. Joy said

    For the record, I blogged about barbie today before you did. I’m not an idea stealer. http://theshakenbakekind.blogspot.com/2009/03/happy-birthday-barbie.html#links

  4. James McPherson said

    Yeah, I saw your post after I wrote mine, so I promise I wasn’t stealing your idea, either. Great minds just think alike, apparently. Thanks.

  5. […] Barbie’s birthday bash […]

  6. […] then, of course, came Rubio’s awkward eyes-forward stretch for what appeared to be Barbie’s water bottle (which did create a new marketing opportunity for his PAC), the moment destined to […]

  7. […] here, here and here. Examples relevant to gender here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and […]

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