Religion

Drop Barbies, Not Bombs, on Iran

Winning the culture wars over there-and at home too

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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 Barbie.com 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.

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  1. Iran isn’t “terrified” of Barbie. And the fact that “Talking Barbie” was known to say things like “Math is hard – lets go shopping” then frankly I don’t blame them of not wanting to import the dolls.

  2. And the fact that “Talking Barbie” was known to say things like “Math is hard – lets go shopping” then frankly I don’t blame them of not wanting to import the dolls.

    And Allah forbid Iranian parents decide for themselves whether or not to buy the dolls for their daughters. No, the Iranian government needs to outlaw the dolls, to save Persian women from this insidious Western plot to make them think math is hard.

    Maybe one reason math is so hard over there is, it’s really freaking difficult to properly recite multiplication tables when the government is bouncing rocks off your head until you die.

  3. “Math is hard – Let’s go shopping!”
    I thought that was Malibu Stacy, who was not only a toy, but fictional.

  4. Actually, most Iranian women would not consider math to be hard. In fact literacy rates in Iran have dramatically improved since the revolution — especially for women, who comprise more than 60% of the Iranian university population and are engineers, doctors, etc.

    So go stuff your Barbies.

  5. That sounds like something Chabahar Stacy might say when you pull her string.

  6. I think the real Barbie once said “math class is tough.” Since I am the only girl in all of history who ever thought this, and furthermore I never bothered playing with dolls, the only conclusion to draw from this is that the Mattel corporation is trying to brainwash young females into having thoughts like “if not for math class, I would effortlessly get straight ‘A’s.”

    I have heard rumors of similar propaganda trying to persuade young boys that taking baths is boring. This is an insidious attempt to lower Western birth rates even more, by making young males (who ordinarily love bathing) all stink so badly that no self-respecting woman would consider mating with them. Except possibly me, because I have no sense of smell, and might be willing to fuck a real stinkpot in exchange for his handling that hard mathy business on my behalf.

  7. In fact literacy rates in Iran have dramatically improved since the revolution — especially for women, who comprise more than 60% of the Iranian university population and are engineers, doctors, etc.

    Excellent. If I’m going to be executed by the state, I’d like to at least be able to read what my death warrant says.

  8. In Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, I learned that is it (or was) illegal to execute a virgin in Iran, so when a virgin girl was sentenced to death, she was first “married” to a government official, who would take her virginity before executing her. Then, to make sure her family knew what had happened, the government would send the family a few dollars as a “dowry.” But I have been unable to determine the exact calculations used by the government to determine the proper dowry for a teenager executed for opposing the Ayatollah. That’s because math is hard.

  9. 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…

    Er, that’s some turgid prose, Beato. WTF are you trying to say?

  10. So go stuff your Barbies.
    Ali from Iran –

    You, or anyone for that matter, are certainly welcome to market Sara? dolls here in the US. Given the considerable Islamic presence in this great nation, you might even find a market. So the real question remains, “What is so threatening about an eleven inch plastic fashion doll to the Iranian government”? Are they worried that devout Persian parents will be unable to resist their offspring’s requests for the insisious Barbie??

  11. Sweet Jeebus Jennifer!!

    You, my dear, are on a roll today!!!

  12. insisious = insidious. Friggin’ fingers.

  13. “What is so threatening about an eleven inch plastic fashion doll to the Iranian government”?

    Barbie goes out in public while dressing immodestly.

    She freely associates with a male she is not related to nor married to (Ken).

    I’m sure those who are more devout than I can come up with more reasons Barbie is such a threat.

  14. Barbies are made in China, a country whose residents love beer, pork products and atheism.

  15. After reading the article, it’s clear that Iran and the USA share at least one thing–cultural conservatives with an almost charming level of cornpone naivete.

    Would it be possible to the put the Concerned Women for America and the mullah fanciers in a little country together, and let the rest of us live in peace?

  16. Jen-
    How you doin’?

  17. The Nuke story is a milestone. Having relationships just happen within a mainstream show is a halmark of acceptance. I remember when I was a teenager at a summer school. An urban resident went on a racial slant because I was dating a “mixed race” Hispanic classmate. It was shortly after the LA riots and Crown Height riots, so I chalked it up to being an urban thing. Today, HGTV has lots of interracial couples on shows. When a nationally broadcasted show about tiling floors can feature an interacial family without blinking, you know the taboo is gone.

  18. ChrisO, I don’t think the situation in Iran is a strictly conservative creation. An alliance of athiest socialist and religious fundamentalists created the Iranian revolution to get rid of “decadent Western” influences. Once they ran out of Western people to kill, the religious fundamentalist started going after the irreligious. I suppose there were 50/50 odds of the backstabbing going the other way. Governments built on hate tend to just switch enemies when the exicution rate goes down.

  19. ChrisO, I don’t think the situation in Iran is a strictly conservative creation.

    True, but that’s irrelevant to present-day Iran, since Khomeini managed to deal with his socialist “allies” in a thorough fashion.

    The people doing the evil in Iran nowadays don’t tend to be secular socialists.

  20. Waiting for Mattel to seize the market niche that Burqah Barbie is begging to fill.

  21. “Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell” GI Joseph, Clitorilly-Mutilated Sara, a whole world of posibilities to undermine ’em.

    And making them out of plastic helps out oil prices.

  22. “Iran’s ‘official doll,’ Sara”

    The CIA should start a rumor that Sara [Sarah?] is Jewish.

  23. The myth of the executed virgins was long ago exploded, and frankly the rest of the bigotry and ignorance on display by “Jennifer” here makes the Iranians look good in comparison.

    And hate to break the news to you, but lots of people around the world consider American corporate culture to be destructive.

  24. Oh and incidentally, no one in Iran would mind if Sara was Jewish. The name comes from the Old Testament, which any muslim believes in and there is a long history of Persian culture influencing Judaism. Your assumption that everyone in iran would freak out at the mere thought that Sara is a Jewish name shows you know zilch about Iran or Iranians. Other “Jewish” names that are common in Iran include Shoshana (which means girl from Susa, a historic Persian capital city) and Esther. Susan and Lily are also common too.

  25. “Your assumption that everyone in iran would freak out at the mere thought that Sara is a Jewish name shows you know zilch about Iran or Iranians . . .”

    The Iranians I know would be perfectly OK with Jewish people and Jewish dolls. It’s the clerical establishment that has a bug up its butt on the issue. Persian culture as a whole is quite civilized, and living under the thumb of the mullahs may well have made them abnormally sympathetic to anything said mullahs denounce.

  26. I am thinking, among other things, of the Holocaust-denial conference Ahmedthenutjob sponsored. Come to think of it, he was elected by the people, but then, the system is skewed to exclude certain less-nutty candidates from the ballot, so how the voters would have responded to a fuller range of choices is unclear.

  27. Speaking as one that’s been to Iran, Iranian people as a whole are really apolitical and could care less about what the Mullahs say and decree.

    It always seemed to be apathy to me, a feeling of, yeah, we have nutjobs in government, but we just ignore them because there are so many checks and balances in the system that none of them can do anything.

    Iranian culture is some of the most liberal in all of the mideast countries that I want to, it’s a shame about their leaders. Lift the sanctions, let them deal with the world, and you’ll get good results in time I think.

  28. The myth of the executed virgins was long ago exploded, and frankly the rest of the bigotry and ignorance on display by “Jennifer” here makes the Iranians look good in comparison.

    Then tell Iranian expat Marjane Satrapi that her story of life under the Ayatollahs was a lie. Funny thing is, she never once complained about “the Iranians” — she’s one herself and proud of her heritage — but she surely does complain against “the theocrats in power in Iran.”

    That said, I’m an American, and almost all of my friends are Americans too, and among our entire group you won’t find even ONE person who’s ever waterboarded anyone, nor defended the practice. This proves those stories you hear about the American government waterboarding people is bullshit, I gather.

  29. Jennifer,

    That said, I’m an American, and almost all of my friends are Americans too, and among our entire group you won’t find even ONE person who’s ever waterboarded anyone, nor defended the practice.

    And yet, somehow I think those actual waterboarders would absolutely LOVE to recite your “Cautionary Fable of the 72 Virgins” poem as they proceed to torture other Muslims… you know, those people you are so obviously fond of. Yeah, you’re not a bigot – but thanks for giving actual bigots something to bond over.

    I know, I know, its freedom of speech, yes yes. Well, what can I say – I like to exercise my freedom of speech but posting links to “The official site of Theodore Herzl, founder of Zionism”, in which we jest about what an oven would look like if Intel expanded into Germany, what with the “Jew Inside” logo and all.

    But its freedom of speech you see! Of course, you ‘civilized westerners’ could talk about it instead of repeatedly insulting us – all of us – with pictures of Mohammad with a turban-bomb.

    The West draws such pictures, and some of us go ape-shit and throw a couple molotov cocktails at an embassy or two.

    But if we draw a map without Israel on it, you lob tomahawks and a couple infantry divisions at us.

    Yet we are the violent ones. haha! Oh man, this beats Comedy Central.

    But thats ok. In a world where you have your boots on our necks, that is a world where you can expect us to have a bomb in our turbans.

    And umm… Im forgetting something…gosh darn it… Oh yeah! Death to Israel.

    Good day to you madam. 🙂

  30. “But if we draw a map without Israel on it, you lob tomahawks and a couple infantry divisions at us.”

    I do not think that any of the military conflicts in the Middle East was ever caused by or justified with printing of some maps.

  31. And yet, somehow I think those actual waterboarders would absolutely LOVE to recite your “Cautionary Fable of the 72 Virgins” poem as they proceed to torture other Muslims… you know, those people you are so obviously fond of. Yeah, you’re not a bigot – but thanks for giving actual bigots something to bond over.

    If the waterboarders’ reading comprehension is as abysmal as yours apparently is, I suppose it would. I write a piece in which Muslim terrorists are denounced as doing the work of Satan rather than God, and you view this as an anti-Muslim piece? Uh-huh. . . and when I write a similar piece saying Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps is inspired by Satan rather than Jesus, equally dense Christians can complain that I’ve insulted their religion as well.

    The way to respect a religion, I take it, is to point to the most heinous atrocities done in its name and say “Hell, YES! That’s EXACTLY what they stand for!” As on this thread, where we learn that proper Muslim governments go bugshit with terror at the thought of their oppressed citizens getting access to a plastic doll.

  32. Through the cunning use of anagrams, I have determined that A Random Muslim’s user name can be rearranged to spell “Troll”.
    Trust me. It works.
    Oh, and I agree that cartography is rarely the reason for Western aggression.
    Western saber-rattling, sure. But our governments don’t go to war just because some country’s president says something that could be construed as “Israel shouldn’t exist”.
    We don’t go to war just because people living in contested territory would just as soon redraw the border lines to suit themselves better than their neighbors.
    Also: who in the hell cares if someone makes an anti-Semitic pun involving the Intel Co. company slogan? Sure, it’d make for an offensive bumper sticker, but there’s a difference between saying things on the internet and actually trying to hurt anybody.
    Here in the West, we usually understand that difference, and are far less likely to use force when we feel insulted.

    I gotta hand it to you, ARM: you are one fine troll.

  33. I cannot believe some of the completely ignorant comments people like Jennifer and Zac are making. Hey, why don’t you stop believing every freaking thing the media feeds to you, and actually go read about Persian culture. That would be too hard thought right, actually taking the time to exit the shallow, narcissistic confines of your existence, and look at some of the other 6 billion humans inhabiting the planet.

    Seriously, you people probably vote too–that’s what is wrong with society.

  34. Jennifer,

    If the waterboarders’ reading comprehension is as abysmal as yours apparently is, I suppose it would. I write a piece in which Muslim terrorists are denounced as doing the work of Satan rather than God, and you view this as an anti-Muslim piece?

    I know, right? How annoying it is to misconstrue someone eh? I know exactly how you feel – We keep saying Israel has no right to exist on our lands, and you keep accusing us to being virulent anti-semites. I guess we’re in good company with this whole you-cant-understand-simple-statements thing! 😉

    hahaha!

    As on this thread, where we learn that proper Muslim governments go bugshit with terror at the thought of their oppressed citizens getting access to a plastic doll.

    Yeah, children all across the Muslim world have dolls, but since this one particular Iranian government bans them it must mean its a ‘proper’ Muslim government as you say. Nevermind that maybe they take this position as more of an anti-western stance based on Western aggression of the past, oh, what, 100 years to be conservative.

    Does 100 years mean anything to you? I mean, look – I believe the universe was created in a Big Bang 13 billion years ago somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy. You also believe the universe was created with a big bang I am sure, only in your version it happened in New York City on Sep 10th 2001.

    Here in the West, we usually understand that difference, and are far less likely to use force when we feel insulted.

    Yeah, only we Muslims havent bombed the shit out of you, imported a boat load of European Jews, pissed in a circle around California and said ‘This is Jewish land now’, and tried to topple your governments just because they tried to nationalize a national resource under your feet.

    When that happens, and a Muslim comes up to you and draws a picture of barbaric Americans with a bomb in their hearts, then lets see what your propensities to violence are then.

    Heh. Man, this is too easy.

  35. Tonio | May 6, 2008, 12:45pm | #

    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…

    Er, that’s some turgid prose, Beato. WTF are you trying to say?

    Agreed: I have no idea WTF the article was supposed to be about. Comparing some goobers in Tulepo, Mississippi to the official policy of a large middle eastern country? Look, yes, fundamentalisms all function similarly, but what point is being made? Is he REALLY saying that Barbie is going to topple the Iranian government?

  36. Just to complete the threadjack started by “A Random Muslim”:

    Look — When Palestine became a British protectorate after WWI, it had not been an independent territory for quite some time. It had been part of the Ottoman Empire and I reject the bullshit argument that since that empire was ostensibly Muslim that it was more just for it to have control of Palestine than for Britain to have it.

    And anyway, Jews had started to migrate peacefully to Palestine well before this time. So the situation is a little more complicated than your propagandistic history would lead you to believe.

  37. After reading some more of “A Random Muslim”‘s whining, it makes me laugh to hear about Western “oppression.” Look, I would LOVE for the USA to be forever out of the Middle East, but only because it is in our national interest to do so. If it was in the interests of the USA to be there for 100 years, I would keep the boot on the throat of some of those regimes without a second thought.

    I do believe that there are moderate Muslims, but most of them, coincidentally, seem to reside in the West. There isn’t one FUNDAMENTALIST Muslim that has the right to complain about “oppression” when that person supports fundamentalist regimes that oppress their own citizens and swear allegiance to a so-called “prophet” that committed every human rights atrocity in the book. The only reason most fundamentalists are whining about oppression is because they are on the losing end of the stick. Just sit back, read a history book, and enjoy that 1000 years when the caliphate was kicking European ass.

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