I’m a Barbie Girl in a Barbie World


As a child of the 80s and teen of the 90s, the Barbie doll not only has become a symbol of my youth,  but also(but not limited to) Legos, MTV(when top 20 video shows aired), and the now defunct Geocities website where I had my first badly designed site at 14 years old.  My sister and I had 10 Barbies between us and our bedroom floors were always covered in doll dresses, shoes, and other Barbie accessories that made clean up time a hassle. We coordinated outfits to go with Ken on imaginary dates or mimicked the latest Disney princess by dressing Barbie as that character. That’s what we were “supposed” to do as little girls-filling a role thanks to what the media stated through commercials, TV shows, and movies. Barbie is a cultural phenomenon, and means more than just a doll to many girls around the world-it’s a brand, it’s a money maker, and has shaped standards of the female body.

I only share this anecdote due to the book “OurSpace” by Christine Harold , who gave us helpful and guiding examples to explain dense theories by herself, other writers, thinkers, pranksters, and political movers and shakers. Her chapter regarding pranking was a highlight for me as I was also taught that playing tricks on someone was possibly hurtful, mean, and demanded an apology right now!  I have my own childish prank opinion now, but from reading Harold’s six case studies of pranking in the “commercial cultural landscape”(p 74) that “hijack popular media forms”(p 74) the idea of pranking has shifted into an introduction of a new form of changing opinion, thought, ideas, and maybe even beliefs.  Harold’s first example “And Now, Back to Our Program. Hacking Gender: The Barbie Liberation Organization” reflects on a 1989 prank on Mattel which resulted in the switching of voice boxes from ditzy Barbie to macho G.I.Joe and vice versa. The goal? “…to reveal and correct the problem of gender-based stereotyping in children’s toys.” While playing with Barbies(and She-Ra and Cabbage Patch Kids and other dolls) as a child, it was apparent(as best as I could comprehend) that I was to play with “female” type toys or play “softer” type sports(like swimming) than learn how to throw a perfect football spiral. It was not until college that I began to examine and learn through modern art history and anthropology classes gender roles in the American media/literature/music. We have to question it.

Harold’s writings about the Barbie Liberation Order and Barbie Disinformation Order prove that rebellion against previous generation societal norms of what boys and girls should grow up and “be” needs to be discussed and ask is this appropriate for my son? my daughter? To realize it’s ok for boys to dance and girls to want to play football? The pranks these two groups pulled(the BLO with the voice box switching and the BDO putting fakes stickers on the outside packaging) were forward thinking and(dare I say it) emergent.

I may live in a Barbie world, but definitely don’t want to be a Barbie girl. I don’t want to live in a plastic, pink box in a plastic body. How do we take the rebellious nature of these two culture jammer groups and spread the word to our own communities about toys,  role models, and looking at the our dominating culture with some serious fun?

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