Barbie, the Movie:  Puer Aeternus? 

I watched Barbie as a captive audience on a long flight across the Atlantic.

My attention fought hard to wander away so I had to push myself to see it through and I did so all the way to the end. I was curious about what this billion-dollar box office hit had in it.

Barbie is the apotheosis of the relentless feminization of American culture that’s been going on for the last 40 years. Men in sitcoms and commercials have been playing over and over again the role of dumb simpletons who are inarticulate, have no self awareness, and need women to educate them about everything. But the formula has made fortunes and Barbie follows this proven mother lode of gold.

This movie is the current musical anti-venom for today’s potent meme of toxic masculinity, which in itself is a rather unfortunate social construction of our times.

The men appearing in Barbie seem to have been neutered even before the audition took place, and they were then directed to act and to sound like girlie divas.

These men are so camp they wear fur at the beach and fight with tennis racquets and volleyballs. Their personal crises are more puerile than the crises of high school girls, and their color of choice seems to be pink.

But in my view, the more intriguing chief feature of Barbie is its provenance. It comes straight out of the social platforms now running our digitized world where the dominant mode of social experience is the smart phone, as opposed to person-to-person full conversation. Actual human conversation gave previous generations more familiarity with the process of emotional maturation and its risks.

So I found Barbie’s “insights” irritatingly infantile because when delivered by adult actors the written material turned rancid and clichéd for me.

Many people today have been swallowed by digital technology which has atrophied their maturity as women and men, also inflicting a generalized loss of self-awareness and relational skills.  Digitized culture enslaves people to use only favored speech which is now mandatory. How else to explain the oxymoron of preaching diversity by means of cancel culture?

Notice I said favored speech and not free speech: there no actual free speech in cancel culture. But with all its bells and whistles Barbie negotiates rather well the field of what’s acceptable and correct and what isn’t. Problem is it uses a truncheon to do it.

The Mattel-toy men and toy-women in Barbie marvel at thoughts along the lines of “Ken, you are more than the furs you wear”, and upon hearing this our depressed Ken suddenly discovers that, Yes, I am more than my furs, I am ME, YAAY!

Such exchanges are the watermark of Barbie’s ontological profundity.

In this water-tight world of strained fantasy, Ken and his other Ken friends checked their masculinity and their IQ at the door, and only after this male diminution happens again and again is Barbie then willing to apologize for her sin of always insisting that every night had to be girls’ nights, a selfishness that ended up excluding the torpid world of Ken and his other Ken friends.

In short, I found it uninteresting to watch Barbie’s digital-age and glacially-slow groping towards the rudiments of agency. It was like watching the grass grow.

The biggest thing about Barbie, though, is its commercially-brilliant assumption that we as an audience have regressed a whole lot, and it has a billion dollars’ worth of tickets confirming it.

Still, Barbie’s last words, which I won’t reveal here in case you want to go see the movie, hit me as a spectacularly failed punch line that couldn’t begin to make her human. It rang as empty and cutesy as the rest of the movie.

As far as production values being seen on the screen, the elaborate choreography and visuals are well done even if this was not the type of filmed musical theater I would pay to see. The whole spectacle didn’t move me because it endlessly dances around a stubbornly childish set of concerns. Having all adults act like grade school kids snapped the last strand of my credulity. Puer aeternus really gets old.

The characters’ thinking could have been quicker, more truthful and certainly more fun. But again, the weight of a billion dollars’ worth of box office sales affirms exactly the opposite of what I’m saying here, so kudos to the producers who understood their audience so very well.

Drawing from the given material she had to work with, I thought Margot Robbie’s performance as Barbie was spot on, and she’s beautiful, too.

I think the great success of Barbie has cast human maturity as the canary that dies in the mine.