Barbie & Consumerism

I synthesized an article and a video for a blog post for my Mass Media & Popular Culture class. Below, are the  links and under that is my post.

http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/idealabs/ap/essays/barbie.htm

http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/cvd_consumption_vanity_disorder/

In reading “What Barbie Dolls Have to Say about Postwar American Culture,” I couldn’t help but recall the Jean Kilbourne documentary, “Killing Us Softly.” As a child, Barbies were probably one of my favorite toys to play with…I had tons of them. Barbie was pretty and fashionable and my friends and I would mix and match her in various outfits for hours. Barbie could be a doctor, a mother, a race car driver, or my favorite: a dolphin trainer. Little did I know of the impact Barbie has made as a cultural artifact.

She represents various professions and ideals that many women aspire to be but the most concerning is her body type. As mentioned in the article, at the time of her creation, the “ideal” body for women was changing from a more masculine type to a curvy, feminine type. Barbie takes this body type to an extreme, with legs that go for miles, wide (but not too wide) hips, and her chest and bottom pouched out and accentuated by her high heeled shoes. Not to mention the fact that other articles have sited that if she were a real person with those body proportions, she would not be able to stand unassisted. And this is what girls began to aspire to become. This brings me to “Killing Us Softly.” While I think Kilbourne can be extreme in some of her opinions, I have no doubt that it is wrong to give young girls an impossible model to live up to. As a cultural artifact, not only does Barbie represent “changes in teen culture, gender roles, sexuality, and consumer culture,” (Forman-Brunell) as stated in the article, but she also represents underlying effects of American Culture such as debt and eating disorders.

The Films for Action video, “CVD – Consumer Vanity Disorder,” ties all of this together. Peter Joseph begins with a bit of satire on our culture’s vanity. He discusses how we are not defined by social contributions and intelligence but by consumption, beauty, and wealth. Barbie reinforces this, as the article discusses how she represents a white, suburban, wealthy woman, as she drives a pink sports car and wears designer clothing. Joseph discusses how the weight we put on these negative ideals leads to a cultural decline, as opposed to success. He relates consumerism and vanity to a physical disease by calling it a disorder. If what he says is true, then Barbie is the poster child for CVD and HGS (Hot Girl Syndrome).

These issues are caused by changes in technology, leading to less work for more money. Especially in the post-war era, Americans were urged by advertisements to increase consumerism. Even after the somewhat recent stock market collapse, Americans still feel the urge to buy more, increasing personal debt. Just as Barbie can be known as a sexual representation of how a woman should be, advertisements often use Freudian ideals to sell the products. Products have also become less relevant by how “good” they are, but by the status or individuality that they bring to the consumer. Advertisements are socially constructed to represent what our culture aspires to be, which is what makes them so effective.

All in all, the negative representations of culture brought out by these two forms of media are quite disturbing to say the least. Barbies are meant to be toys for young girls, which exposes them to all of this negativity at such a young age that they are not even aware of it. It’s a shame that something meant to be fun for a child is also known as a sex symbol. As these girls grow older, they become examples that Joseph’s video exemplified. Instead of dissecting advertisements, they accept them. Thus, there is a cultural decline.

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