The Malta Independent 26 February 2024, Monday
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Barbie movie fights misogyny

George M Mangion Sunday, 20 August 2023, 11:58 Last update: about 7 months ago

The silly season is with us and there is nothing more exciting than watching a good movie accompanied with popcorn, nachos and an ice cold beer.

For adult entertainment, the current choice points to Barbie... a satirical movie based on Mattel's creation of a female doll but this time animated. Barbie's movie director, Greta Gerwig, enjoys a record-breaking box-office hit, in so far as any film which creatively combines corporate branding, cellulite and endless escapism.


Join the bandwagon and let yourself go in a brief spell of a surreal voyage. The film's concept has focused on messages of women's empowerment, yet what makes it a radical story is that it also invites audiences to embrace feminism in a wholesome way, such that it fights misogyny.

First created by Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler in 1959, Barbie since then has been revered as a pop culture icon. For children Barbie has been a beloved friend. Daily she floats down her doll houses into a pink convertible (a Corvette) before shifting to a scene where she invites her male companion (Ken) to a choreographed dance party, where she mingles musically with other delectable Barbies.

She is a plastic goddess with a narrow vision of womanhood and is quintessentially every woman's role model. She has hundreds of job offers yet has never worked a day in her life. Now, more than 64 years old and eternally, vaguely looking 20-something, she, like a Greek Goddess, oozes a fountain of youth.

The movie has been given a PG13 rating due to a series of suggestive references to the dolls' bodies and how a male-dominated society expects women to be ornamental and playful. Readers may ask why Barbie is cool in times when the globe is facing dire effects of climate change, a horrendous invasion of Ukraine by Russia, an aging population spiced with a cocktail of undulating heatwaves.

The answer is that as a collectible, it inspired feminism and for many artists including Andy Warhol, eternally served true Bohemians as a muse. The movie poignantly shows us how Barbie is also capable of subverting hegemonic femininity. Barbie has been marketed as an unmarried career girl since her inception, during an era where women were severely underrepresented in the workforce.

She may have brains on her side and knows you don't get something for nothing as she fought her way into so many careers. As expected, she is constantly on the go and even 64 years later is still learning new things, making new friends and just living life to the full.

Barbie means something different to a modern era than she did to children of 1959. The irony of it all is how she continues to influence children and keeps them company. It is a beautiful, complicated pink thing, just like viewing images in a kaleidoscope full of magical sentiments displayed nostalgically in the unfettered imagination of youth.

Back to reality... critical issues abound in our path towards a "down to earth" approach as local problems surmount those revealed in this ostentatious Barbie movie. One can mention traffic mitigation, a secure energy provision both in terms of supply and distribution, proper urban planning and an adequate maintenance programme to eliminate environmental shabbiness.

Our challenges are vast and many hope against hope that Budget 2024 leads us to salvation. But discontent is growing with rumblings at Olympus, where Zeus is reportedly seen hitting the bean counter. Alas, we need a clear way forward to achieve proper waste management, better education facilities (not merely building new schools) and to address workplace mortal tragedies.

There is a general lack of transparency and accountability, widespread lethargy and weak enforcement at the top. Contrary to Barbie Land our horizon is murky, particularly for business leaders facing a dire shortage of skilled workers and acute problems of staff mobility.

With hindsight, we are observing how little upgrades were carried out to the islands' green attributes during three years of a lean Covid period. There is a sudden realization that a policy of cheap mass tourism is now at breaking point. Some seaside towns and villages are facing drainage overflows, slime at bays, spiced with repeated power cuts.

The business community wants to incentivise a shift away from labour-intensive activities to more value-added streams to augment quality of our offering and put less stress on our infrastructure caused by unsustainable population growth. Hope springs eternal that the 2024 budget can break the mould of lethargy and apathy that has cocooned our spirits.

We realize that almost nothing is planned to fight climate change; no serious de-carbonisation plans, no renewables infrastructure (except for a weird investment by Enemalta in a wind farm in Montenegro).

Weak or no enforcement leads to lack of trust and a general feeling of disappointment. Naturally, poor planning at the most elementary levels results in unnecessary crises affecting many businesses and the population at large, including a drain on resources caused by an annual rush of three million visitors. Good governance has been openly replaced by abuses in the constant issue of direct orders to state cronies while Illuminati in the finance ministry shamelessly pay an astronomical salary to a politically-appointed incumbent running a bankrupt Air Malta.

Pigging has been the buzzword for acolytes in an oblique inner circle. Vices have been camouflaged into virtues by exploiting to the hilt the slogan "make hay while the sun shines". In contrast, this saga leaves Barbie and her entourage rudderless.

Yes, this is the silly season, when an Opposition leader is ousted from his party kazin in Hamrun, when trying to enter in an effort to watch the traditional festive march. Back to the magical world of Barbie, this is a movie that acknowledges that all good things come to an end. The epic journey commences after she leaves behind the world of Barbie Land to be reborn into our own, a doll modestly wearing Birkenstock sandals.

The movie is an elixir and a panacea to us cocooned islanders, while others sail away on luxury boats for weekends. We are facing the pressure of a fast life plagued by an aging population, property inflation and rising cost of living, while enduring regular power cuts temporary restored by ad hoc patching of burnt cables in an overloaded grid.

Smile - let pink be the colour of our liberation.


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George M. Mangion is a senior partner at PKF Malta


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