Review: The Authoritarianism of Barbieland

Arm the Kens?


Imagine a country that denies fundamental rights to many of its citizens. The disempowered are deprived of economic opportunities, lack adequate shelter, and may not participate in the political process. It's long past time for international human rights organizations to turn their attention to Barbieland, the setting of this summer's smash hit movie Barbie. (Spoilers follow.)

As envisioned by director/co-screenwriter Greta Gerwig, Barbieland is a paradise for the various Barbies, including the film's protagonist, Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie). The president is a Barbie, as are all the Supreme Court justices; every meaningful job is held by Barbies, who live in mansions.

In contrast, life is deeply unfulfilling for Beach Ken (Ryan Gosling) and his fellow Kens. Barbie withholds housing, realistic employment, political representation, and romantic love. Supporters of U.S. interventionism might expect the Kens to greet us as liberators. Indeed, Barbie and Ken do eventually go to the real world—Los Angeles, specifically—and hilarity ensues as they discover what it's like when men hold positions of authority. While Barbie is investigating existential dread, Ken returns to Barbieland and seizes power (the Barbies, exhausted from running things, overwhelmingly approve), forcing Stereotypical Barbie to save the day.

And where does Ken end up? Right back where he started, as the Barbies cruelly vote to return the Kens to their previous second-class status. The Kens ultimately ask if they can have a single Supreme Court seat. The Barbies say no. The authoritarian reaction to the Revolutions of 1848 was less vicious than this.

It's unclear whether the movie is actually endorsing this arrangement (Stereotypical Barbie opts instead to return to the real world); indeed, Barbie's broader message is a muddled one. Despite these problems, the film is colorful and entertaining. Now if only we could arm the moderate Kens.