Barbie – three plastic essays

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By ARI MARCELO SOLON, ALEXANDRE DE LIMA CASTRO TRANJAN & EBERVAL GADELHA FIGUEIREDO JR.*

Barbie is a bad movie. The only good movies are the Soviet ones. But in Barbie there is more legal theory than in a college class

Recently premiered the film that marked the movement of the film industry this year. As in neoliberal capitalism, the essence of things is the rapid fading, we believe that soon the color pink and discussions about the film will become absolutely unbearable. Before that happens, we leave our reflection, divided into three essays, on this historical time (July/August 2023).

 

I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world

Barbie is a bad movie. The only good movies are the Soviet ones. But in Barbie there is more legal theory than in a college class. The work brings the opposition between matriarchy and patriarchy, according to the Historical School. There is in her the opposition between the archetype of the mother (animus) and that of the father (p.person) that Jung took from Savigny.

Surprisingly, it discusses the ultimate end of history according to Hegel. Is he Soviet, American or Japanese? Sadly, and perhaps the film is right about this, it would be the American way of life rather than Sovietization. In chapter IV of phenomenology of the spirit, the end of the story consists in the shift of consciousness from animals to human beings. At barbieland, they became human, but not citizens. They are stereotyped people. This is not Hegel, this is a misinterpretation. It is true that Hegel said that Jews were incapable of tragedy. But are they capable of comedy?

Now, a spoiler: Barbie's mother, Ruth Handler, appears at the end of the movie. Laughing, she says something along the lines of “I'm her mother, the tax evader. Now she will fulfill her dream ”. In the last scene of the film, Barbie goes to an office in Los Angeles. We don't know why, but she says "I'm Barbara Handler". They show the sign for the office, a gynecology clinic. Like I said, a bad movie and a bad comedy.

(Ari Marcelo Solon)

 

Life is plastic, it's fantastic!

I am writing from a hotel in Faria Lima. Frighteningly large, overly well-powered cars rumble past. I read in blog that engine noise is especially appreciated among enthusiasts, who love powerful cars but prefer a louder one to a more powerful one, perhaps because the impression of power is more important than the power itself. Around here, it seems that everything is more accelerated.

Architecture offers me enough comfort to rest, but somehow makes me feel an urgency to work. Everything is fast, and I'm not just talking about the cars, or the additives that some of the collectors appreciate, from what I've heard around. They must have been talking about car additives, of course. Here, the engine of the post-Fordist accumulation of the Tropic of Capricorn turns.

In the lobby, an eye discomfort hits me. Everything is pink. From room numbers to neon signs with motivational phrases. There's a fuzzy elevator, all pink too. Campaign for the Barbie movie mixed with the hotel's visual identity. It takes me a while to think about whether the property pays the distributor for the image rights or whether the company pays the hotel for the marketing campaign. God in heaven, who would pay to advertise a product? I look in the mirror, the only non-furry part of the elevator, and see the Adidas logo on my sweatshirt.

One way or another, the global outreach campaign worked. My twenty reais added to what, at the time of publication of this text, must have already exceeded one billion dollars. The world saw the doll incarnate in Margot Robbie, and was dazzled by Greta Gerwig's brilliant direction. There is a touch of self-deprecation in the work's script, with regard to the productive machine that conceived it. Of course, nothing close to speaking out against capitalism.

But saying that freedom of expression should not be extended to economic groups, under penalty of transforming (bourgeois) democracy into plutocracy (it already is), that they can. Evidently, the film's most radical criticism is aimed at patriarchy. How can a social machine that conceived the sexual division of labor as we know it today, at the same time produce feminist art, which makes fun of its CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, COOs or god knows what other acronyms in English they will invent for their positions?

I think that the most commercial film of the year can only be critical of some of the facets of capitalism insofar as ideology limits itself as a dialectical mechanism for the maximum establishment of its power. If libido paradoxically maximizes jouissance by limiting it – as Tom Cruise would say in Vanilla Sky, “I'm a pleasure delayer” – it seems that this is the phenomenon of ideology. By including specific criticisms within the system, what is operated is the foreclosure of the possibility of radical criticism of the system. “Don't hate capitalism, we also know that there are some things that are kind of bad and that the pink castle doesn't exist. But our reality is better than your communist fantasy.”

I stop daydreaming, leave the room and take the fuzzy elevator to get a black coffee at the bakery. On the way, dozens of men wearing light blue shirts walk in a block. In addition to the costumes, their hair, mannerisms and, most importantly, their subjects are standardized. In the middle of this pasteurized mass, I'm sure that each one thinks he's special, unique, endowed with an independent thought. We are ideological, of course.

At the first sip of coffee, bitter as the truth, discontent vanishes. I start laughing at them, at me, at the world. What a time to be alive.

(Alexandre de Lima Castro Tranjan)

 

You can brush my hair and take me everywhere

Barbie (2023) is a film with strong shamanic subtexts. At first, this statement may seem rather strange, but a careful analysis of the film reveals that the ontology presupposed by its plot can very well be described as “shamanic-Platonic”. There are two metaphysically distinct worlds, the Real World, in which humans live, and Barbieland, inhabited by fanciful representations of dolls, perfect and immortal ideas (the aesthetic principle of “authentic artificiality” invoked by director Greta Gerwig herself strengthens, thematically, the playful and ethereal nature of Barbieland).

These two worlds influence each other, and the barrier between them is not insurmountable. Some individuals are more susceptible to the effects of otherworldly events, and therefore are able to act as intermediaries, as is the case with the character Barbie Estranha. Having her body and soul disfigured by the wild games of children in the Real World, Strange Barbie becomes particularly susceptible to forces outside Barbieland, thus creating a special affinity with the human world.

She becomes a stranger in her own world, living on the margins of it. The rest barbies they do not completely consider her one of their own, but at the same time, she is the one they turn to whenever they face problems related to the Real World. In other words, Barbie Estranha is a shaman, emissary and interpreter between two radically different worlds. It can be said that it is affected by what Plato calls theia mania (θεία μανία), “divine madness.” It resembles, in a way, the heyókȟa of the Native American cultures of the Great Plains, "clowns" who, after having glimpsed the Wakíŋyaŋ (“Thundering Beings”), acquire a crazy wisdom that allows them to violate social conventions and provoke deep reflections (WIN, 2011).

Similarly, despite being relegated to the margins, or perhaps precisely because of it, Barbie Estranha enjoys exclusive prerogatives in the plastic and fantastic world of Barbieland, where everyone else must always be perfect and sublime. Thus, the first appearance of the character is a prelude to the line of flight in relation to this status quo at the end of the film, when America Ferrera's character suggests to Mattel executives the creation of a Barbie that is not intended to represent unrealistic performance expectations.

Em Oppenheimer (2023), the other major winter (in the southern hemisphere) blockbuster of 2023, famously opening on the same day as Barbie, there is more than one mention of The Bhagavad Gita, an important sacred text of Hinduism, a religion for which J. Robert Oppenheimer had a great fascination. Already in Barbie, obviously, there is no mention of the The Bhagavad Gita, but there could well be another, even older, work in the Indian literary canon: the rigveda. Dating back to a time when the epicenter of Indian civilization was still the banks of the Indus River rather than the Ganges, Rigvedic literature dates back to Indo-Aryan migrations to the Subcontinent.

Archaeological and textual evidence indicates that the horse occupied a central role in the life of the Indoarians of the Vedic period, as well as in other archaic Nindo-European societies, with an equestrian character (REDDY, 2006: 93). In addition to being equestrian, there are those who say that such societies were also markedly patriarchal, having supplanted pre-Indo-European Neolithic matriarchies in their expansion driven by a ethos relentless martial (ANTHONY, 1995). Perhaps it is not by pure chance that the male deuteragonist of Barbie, played by Ryan Gosling, comically misunderstands patriarchy as a government of men and horses.

Indeed, Ken's character arc can be placed in the category of etiological narratives about the rise of patriarchal society at the expense of primitive matriarchy. One of the most explicit instances of this trope is found in the culture of the selk'nam, inhabitants of the islands of Tierra del Fuego. At the initiation ceremony of Hain, the selk'nam boys became men, aware of the true mythological origin of the ceremony: in a mythical past, women ruled men without mercy, forcing them to do all the work, from hunting to household chores.

While their husbands took care of everything, the women gathered in a ceremonial hut where male presence was strictly forbidden. There, the Moon, most formidable among women, determined that each of them should personify a spirit, making use of body paint and masks, in order to amaze and terrify men, deepening their subjugation. One day, however, the Sun, husband of the Moon, heard the women's joking and incriminating comments, exposing the female conspiracy. Revolted, the men invaded the ceremonial hut of the Hain and they exterminated all initiated women, knowledgeable of the secret.

Since then, the Sun has chased the Moon across the heavens, and men have appropriated the ceremony of Hain, establishing a regime of patriarchal domination analogous to that of women in mythical times (CHAPMAN, 1972: 198-200). The Selk'nam etiological myth about the origins of Hain and male hegemony exhibits undeniable parallels with the plot of Barbie, in which Ken, after discovering the patriarchy of the Real World, decides to establish the same regime in Barbieland, inverting the social roles of men and women, or, to be more accurate, kens e barbies (which, as they are noumenal images of children's toys, cannot be considered male or female stricto sensu).

Anyone who thinks that this type of narrative is restricted to archaeological literature, obscure indigenous mythologies and movies about dolls is very wrong. The theme is also present among members of certain political-ideological factions, especially the masculinist right. The best example of this is the work Bronze Age Mindset (2018), whose author, under the pseudonym of Bronze Age Pervert, or BAP, tries to deconstruct the egalitarian ideals of post-Enlightenment society, with its rereading of Nietzsche in the light of Homeric values.

For Bronze Age Pervert, the egalitarian ideals of our days would actually consist of an atavism, a remnant of pre-Indo-European matriarchal societies, whose main institution he calls longhouse (communal house or, more literally, long house). In communities guided by longhouse, the heroic virile potential would be forever destined to latency, as the strong and healthy would be ruled by the weak and sclerotic, and the men, by the matriarchs (PERVERT, 2018: 48).

The notion that egalitarian communal life is averse to ideals of heroic virility is evidently untenable. The very concept of longhouse appropriated by the author has its origin in the culture of the Iroquois, whose name for themselves, Haudenosaunee, can be translated as “People of the Long House”. The communal house can be considered the main institution of the Iroquois peoples, and in fact, Iroquois women had quite remarkable political power, even being able to appoint and depose heads (RANDLE, 1951: 171), but virile warrior heroism was also part of life of the Iroquois.

Women themselves valued courage in battle as a masculine virtue, taking this into account when choosing their partners (RICHTER, 1983: 530). It is clear that BAP tries to establish a conceptual dichotomy between “Iroquois”, matriarchal and collectivist societies, and “Indo-European”, patriarchal and individualistic societies, stating that it is only in the second type of society that “masculine virtues” can fully develop. This is, however, an anthropologically unfounded interpretation.

(Eberval Gadelha Figueiredo Jr.)

*Ari Marcelo Solon He is a professor at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author, among others, of books, Paths of philosophy and science of law: German connection in the development of justice (Prisms).

*Alexandre de Lima Castro Tranjan is a doctoral candidate in Philosophy and General Theory of Law at USP.

*Eberval Gadelha Figueiredo Jr. Bachelor's Degree in Law from USP.

References


WIN, Wambli Sina. Heyoka: a man taller than his shadow. Native Times, 2011. Available at: https://nativetimes.com/index.php/life/commentary/5149-heyoka-a-man-taller-than-his-shadow.

REDDY, Krishna. Indian History. Tata McGraw-Hill Education, 2006.

Anthony, David. Nazi and eco-feminist prehistories: ideology and empiricism in Indo-European archeology. Nationalism, politics, and the practice of archaeology. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversityPress, 1995.

CHAPMAN, Anne. End of a World: the Selknam of Tierra del Fuego. Ushuaia: Zaguer & Urruty Publications, 1972.

PERVERT, Bronze Age. Bronze Age Mindset. Online: Amazon Publishing, 2018.

RANDLE, Martha C. Iroquois Women, Then and Now. In Symposium on Local Diversity

in Iroquois Culture. William N. Fenton, editor. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin #149. washington, 167-80. 1951.

RICHTER, Daniel. “War and Culture: The Iroquois Experience”. The William and Mary Quarterly. 40(4): 528–559. 1983. two:10.2307/1921807.JSTOR1921807.


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