In the 1950s, a Jewish woman born in Denver, Colo., to parents who fled persecution in Eastern Europe, decided that the toy market needed adult-themed dolls for children.
Ruth Handler (1916-2002) came up with the idea for “Barbie,” named after her daughter Barbara and reportedly inspired by “Bild Lilli,” a German sex doll modeled after a comic for the German tabloid, Bild. A few years later, Handler played matchmaker and gave Barbie a boyfriend, “Ken,” named after her son, Kenneth. With her husband, she co-founded Mattel, the toy empire that released Barbie to instant success.
The ironies in this story are many: A Jewess attuned to anti-Semitism can credit a billion-dollar idea to a post-war German doll. Having started out strawberry blonde, she evolved into the most well-known “stereotypical” Barbie: that “all-American” whose platinum-blond hair and blue eyes might also classify her as an “Aryan” (only with American good cheer and free spirit: Heidi Klum comes to mind). Some analysts argue that Handler’s “graven image” was a sublimation of a desire to assimilate into America.
Or maybe it was just a good business decision that led to many more, like starting a line of more “ethnic” Barbies in the 1980s, to the delight of “brown girls” like me.
Columnists are desperate to read philosophical, political or social commentary into the box-office smash film Barbie. You would think it’s the Torah from the sheer number of contradictory interpretations it elicits. Take, for example, Ben Shapiro’s 40-minute tirade (and essentially, commercial) against the film as “woke garbage.” A Twitter civil war then erupted when his Daily Wire colleague, Michael Knowles, tweeted: “It’s terrific. [Director] Greta Gerwig is a genius. Ben is completely wrong.” Knowles defended the movie for its affirmation of motherhood, of femininity, and of the need for interconnectedness of the two sexes.
They all seem to underplay one major fact: Barbie was co-produced by Mattel.
Read the rest in JNS.org.