Drop Barbies, Not Bombs, on Iran

Winning the culture wars over there-and at home too


Despite Hillary Clinton's penchant for magnificently monochromatic pantsuits that are just a couple epaulets short of colonel status in Michael Jackson's toddler army, the bellicose Democratic senator from New York is apparently incapable of intimidating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a recent appearance on Good Morning America, Clinton told ABC News' Chris Cuomo that she will definitely attack Iran if it launches a nuclear strike against Israel, and even added a dash of swaggering trash-talk to her promise. "Whatever stage of development they might be in their nuclear weapons program in the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel," she exclaimed, "we would be able to totally obliterate them."

But while Clinton's saber-rattling may have unnerved lesser Iranian officials such as Amb. Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi, who lodged a formal complaint to the United Nations, Ahmadinejad appeared unmoved by Clinton's morning-chat bravado. "Presidency of a woman in a country that boasts its gunmanship is unlikely," he quipped.

Meanwhile, Iran is terrified of Barbie, the tiny polyvinyl sex bomb who loves shopping, pizza, and brushing her hair, but has few satellite-guided missiles at her disposal. According to Iran's Prosecutor General, Ghorban Ali Dori Najfabadi, a loosely organized coalition, led by the world's most impeccably accessorized mercenary but also including additional combatants like Harry Potter and Spider-man, is doing "irreparable damage" to Iranian children. "The irregular importation of such toys, which unfortunately arrive through unofficial sources and smuggling, is destructive culturally and a social danger," Najafabadi cautioned (doubtless worried about the effect on sales of Iran's "official doll," Sara).

In the long run, of course, a Barbie revolution would be more devastating—and humiliating—to Iran's theocracy than a nuclear strike. Fundamentalists of all stripes inevitably fear homegrown dissidents more than foreign aggression: The prospect of annihilation is more palatable than the specter of choice. In Iran, the prosecutor general is battling plastic dolls. In the U.S., the American Family Association (AFA), armed to the teeth with adjectives, is decrying the "explicit, open-mouth homosexual kissing" that recently occurred on As the World Turns, the long-running soap opera underwritten by consumer-products giant Procter & Gamble.

In August 2007, As the World Turns made history when it showed a kiss between two gay male characters, Noah and Luke, or as their fans refer to them, "Nuke." In the months that followed, their romance continued, albeit with only one additional instance of same-sex first base action. Suddenly, in fact, even modest, closed-mouth homosexual air-kissing seemed off-limits—whenever the characters seemed on the verge of smooching, the camera panned away. Viewers took note of this uncharacteristic discretion and began campaigning for another kiss; a couple weeks ago, the show delivered. (And now the American Family Association would like you to see it too.)

According to the AFA, Procter & Gamble wants to "desensitize viewers to the homosexual lifestyle and help make the unhealthy and immoral lifestyle more acceptable to society, especially to children and youth." No doubt this is because Procter & Gamble's main business is selling Tide, Crest, and Pampers, and the unhealthy and immoral gay lifestyle inevitably leads to a pathological obsession with clean laundry, cavity prevention, and baby care.

In the case of Barbie, there in no multinational conglomerate driving the agenda. Mattel doesn't officially deploy its unlikely freedom fighter to Iran; the Barbies who show up in Tehran shop windows are smuggled into the country, the victims of international doll trafficking. Once there, however, they make the best of it, embodying the traditional American values of self-determination and haircare—and potentially exposing impressionable Iranian minds to phenomena as diverse as Frank Sinatra, the occult, investment opportunities involving miniature dog poop, and who knows what else.

Contemplating such matters, an obvious question arises: If Barbie's marginal and haphazard presence in Iran is so disruptive, what kind of impact might she have there if a more orchestrated effort to put additional sexy white boots on the ground was implemented? Luckily, the relative economy of a Barbie surge—an army of 200,000 cheerleaders for Western decadence can be mustered for the price of a dozen Tomahawk missiles—means our government isn't likely to get involved any time soon. If anything could dampen Barbie's revolutionary power, official U.S. sanction just might; the people of Iran already have one government too many trying to manage their doll-play.

Best just keep filling up your SUV, gas prices be damned. According to the Associated Press, the increasing presence of smuggled Barbies in Iran is "partly due to a dramatic rise in purchasing power as a result of increased oil revenues." As long as America's expressways remain bumper-to-bumper every weekday afternoon, hope for democracy in Iran exists.

And if we could aim a few gay soap opera Nukes their way, so much the better. After all, hardcore mullahs and old-school feminists aren't the only ones who despise Barbie's vacant but empowering gaze. In 2002, an AFA spokesman decried a pregnant version of Barbie's married sidekick Midge that featured a trap-door stomach with an adorable unborn baby inside it, exclaiming that "Mattel should stay out of the 'birds and bees' business and leave adult themes alone." (Yes, you read that right; the American Family Association is officially against childbirth.)

In 2006, Robert Knight, the confusingly virile president of Concerned Women of America, accused of trying to promote "bisexuality gender confusion" among visitors to its site, based on a poorly worded question in a survey that the site quickly amended. These days, however, such groups apparently don't have the troop strength to maintain a presence in every zone of the Culture Wars—they're too busy waging war on imaginary homosexuals to do battle with Barbie too.

Contributing Editor Greg Beato is a writer living in San Francisco. Read his reason archive here.