Commentary by Bill Buchanan
Last week, Jodie Miller in our office asked me if I had heard the news about the new “Tattooed Barbie.” At first I thought it might be a joke, but sure enough, it turned out to be true. In fact, this is not the first time Barbie has sported tattoos. A few years ago, a collaboration between Mattel and Harley-Davidson produced a “biker chick Barbie” with pink leather chaps and a giant Phoenix tattoo covering her back.
Barbie has undergone many transformations since her introduction in the ‘’50s. There is a Bob Mackie “Cher” doll with an American Indian-inspired headdress and outfit; a “Beverly Hillbillies Elly May Clampett” doll, complete with rope belt and slingshot. There is a Jason Wu avant-garde “Androgyny” and “Aphrodisiac” Barbie pair, which look like rejects from an old Andy Warhol film. Priced for sale at $439, they are for those with a lot of disposable income.
A few years ago, Ava bought a Barbie on a whim. The doll looked very retro, with a skintight sequined dress that flared at the hem in a mass of tulle as she clutched a sliver microphone. This Barbie was a throwback to the nightclub singers of the ‘’50s and ‘60s. She reminded me of Mary Louise Parker’s character in the film “Sugartime,” based on the allegedly true-life love affair between mafia boss Sam Giancana and chanteuse Phyllis McGuire. So we nicknamed the doll accordingly. When my niece came for a visit, she always begged us to let her play with “Mob Girlfriend Barbie.” My sister was not amused.
Obviously this stuff sells. But I can’t help but think of what a far cry it is from the simple Barbie my sister owned as a young girl. No bells and whistles, just a simple girl in a striped swimsuit with an impossible figure and hair that looked like a football helmet. My sister also collected Ken, and Barbie’s friend, Midge. I was never very interested in Midge, but Ken served a useful purpose as he made a great punching bag for my G.I. Joe action figure when my sister was not around. I say “action figure” because in my day no self-respecting boy would ever be caught dead playing with a doll. But my friends and I sure had a lot of fun with our action figures.
Maybe I just need to get on board with the new wave. At least if kids are playing with dolls, they aren’t immersed in the inert world of computer games and are exercising their creativity. I think it is safe to say that even though the dolls have changed to reflect the times, little girls still play with them much as they always did.
I just hope they draw the line at rehab Barbie.