rand's ramblings on this and that
Barbie's Molded Plastic Undergarments
Recently, I got a visit from a friend in Raleigh. My friend, thirty-three years old, makes his living as a delivery driver in the area around our state capital and has been, for most of his life, an aspiring musician and performance artist. He came over to mix down one of his latest musical compositions, a danceable pop rumination on the sexiness of body hair, to my handy-dandy digital audio tape machine.
He showed up promptly Saturday afternoon after a two hour drive with his usual assortment of microphones, flange and echo effects boxes, and four track machine, ready to make art. Recently, he has become fascinated with a California cultural phenomena, Angeline, and also brought along his membership kit to the Angeline fan club.
This perky, breasty model was the subject of a short documentary that he screened for me -- perhaps you've heard of Angeline, who gained fame by convincing a benefactor to place her picture and name on a billboard. Angeline can't dance, can't act, nor can she sing -- she simply wishes to be famous for the magic she possesses. She makes her living in that magical land of make-believe, Los Angeles, by simply being famous and selling memberships to her fan club and pieces of her undergarments or shoes from her wardrobe.
The membership kit to the fan club included two large postcards featuring Angeline in a provocative pose, signed by the Goddess of fame and imprinted by her lips. Also in the package was a catalogue of Angeline merchandise available -- posters, postcards, photos and even bras, panties, or shoes worn by the Goddess. The video proves that the lady, indeed, has personality or well, something -- she finds a sad-looking potted plant in some public place during the documentary and exclaims in a sweet little girl sexy voice not unlike a phone sex recording, "Ooooo -- You're coming home with me!!"
My friend isn't interested in Angeline as a sex object, but as an ultimate statement on pop culture. He spends hours writing and composing, developing his image as a performance artist, and planning an elaborate home page, but Angeline has reached the one goal that is beyond his grasp -- complete, total, and unsullied fame. I suggested that he consider breast implants to match the gozongas of the Goddess of fame, but he declined.
On taking a closer look at the Angeline fan club materials, it occurred to me that the Goddess is actually the living embodiment of another American cultural icon -- Barbie. Besides being similarly proportioned, there's a strange similarity to Barbies perky, bright-eyed smiling expression. There's the same kind of molded plastic look to the features of Angeline's face, the same body language and poses one sees in ads for Barbie. After all, Barbie doesn't have to do anything, she just has to be famous for just being Barbie.
That weekend, my friend also brought along one of his new traveling companions -- you guessed it -- a Barbie doll. In the past few weeks, he has become quite an expert on Barbie, finding himself in the toy aisle looking for clothes for the little plastic lady. He never seems to find the right outfit, however, and winds up taking pieces of different outfits and piecing them together for an evenings ensemble -- a belt here, a blouse there, a pair of shoes from somewhere else. The resemblance to Angeline, with the my friend's mix and match approach to outfitting, is quite remarkable. One can almost start to see Barbie pierce her lips in a seductive way as if to say in a cute little girl phone sex voice, "Oooooo -- Buy me something!"
But, Barbie hides a deep, dark secret that only the most astute observer will notice. My performance artist friend pointed out to me that, starting this year, all Barbie dolls are being manufactured with panties painted on their sexless privates. Yes, indeed, there they were -- an white area of molded, non-removeable plastic with small raised flowers to simulate undies on America's icon of capitalistic little-girl dreams. Manufactured since 1960, this is the first time that Barbie has shown any modesty. Previously, she has been fondled on the assembly line, brutally thrown in boxes off trucks, and grabbed off toy-shop shelves by eager little waifs and thirty-something artist types sans any undergarments whatsoever.
My friend found the presence of panties on the New Barbie quite annoying -- he pointed out, through an adept demonstration -- that no matter what position one puts the little doll in, the panties still show. The only way to cover them up is with the purchase of a prom dress or wedding gown. Certainly, the Angeline slut ensemble that he wants for his little Barbie doll just isn't going to work with the Barbie for the New Millennium.
I wondered if Mattel decided to permanently clad the little plastic doll in reaction to complaints from some of those Christian types who didn't want to explain to their little ones why Barbie doesn't have to wear underwear while their children do. I also wondered if this might become a trend -- will Ken and GI Joe be next? Boxers? Briefs? Jock straps? What could be next? Is that blank slate of our societal dreams about women finally putting up limits to our imagination? Are we, as a society, seeing the death of titillating wet dreams because of a few complaining parental units out there? Is the New Barbie making a statement on the woman of the nineties who doesn't burn her bra but celebrates it in all it's feminine molded plastic frilliness?
The presence of panties on the new Barbie will no doubt present its own difficulties. Some little girls out there, I'm sure, will probably think that their undies are some permanent accessory never to be removed or changed. (But this scenario will likely only play out in the farthest reaches of West Virginia or South Carolina and will probably involve trailers in some way.) Little annoying brothers will actually get their first ideas about the existence of "privates" from a little plastic doll that will never show hers. One imagines some five year old boy peeking up Barbies dress at the very-obvious white panties that show through her outfit and then trying the same maneuver at school the next day.
Therein lies the difficulty with solving problems -- more are created in the process. We may be on the verge of a totally new generation of young people that we are alienated from even more than before. Not only will we raise broods of protected children that know nothing of a world without cable television, computers, MTV, or those annoying baggy pants and skateboards, we will have a generation of offspring that have never seen a world with a pantiless Barbie. I can imagine some thirty-something in 2040 discovering an ancient 1964 Barbie and realizing that she used to be buck naked. He looks around to see if anyone is watching this adult fondling the privates of a naked plastic doll and exclaims in a perky little girl phone sex voice, "Oooo -- You're coming home with me!!"
Barbie, like Angeline, is famous for the magic she possesses; that quality of mystery, like the immaculate conception, that lets our imagination take over. I hope, for all our sake, that she stays that way. Sometimes it is better not to know some things.
The author is a writer and filmmaker living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He doesn't own any Barbie dolls but does have a unisex Etch-A-Sketch and a Stone Cold Steve Austin action figure.