Barbie and La Nouvelle Vague (part 2)
I remember my first Barbie. I received her as a Christmas present from my Aunt Diane.Â My aunt gave me other dolls (Strawberry Shortcake and Cabbage Patch Kids) over the years, but none consumed my imagination like Barbie. And even after she lost a legâ€”Iâ€™d flushed her down the toilet in an effort to gain attentionâ€”I still played with her. Â I played with her alone. I played with her alongside the kids from down the street (the â€œbad onesâ€ my parents worried would improperly influence me). We played Malibu Barbie, Wedding Barbie, and Travel Barbie.Â In an instant we were teleported with the accessories she wore.
I can appreciate Dr. Cunninghamâ€™s concerns that Barbie is overtly sexual. I can even ignore my motherâ€™s eye-roll as I tell her about the importance of Barbieâ€”she only became a symbol as my social consciousness was formed.Â To my-1986-self Barbie was static and the epitome of femaleness. As I use words like â€œstaticâ€ and â€œfemaleness,â€ Iâ€™m keenly aware that this is my-2013-self dissecting the feelings of childhood. Barbie was my girlhood friend. Â In fact, she was reminiscent of â€œYvonne,â€ played by MichÃ¨le MÃ©ritz in â€œLe Beau Sergeâ€ (â€œHandsome Sergeâ€). She, like Barbie, could bend and loseâ€”endure hardship and remain hopeful. In the end, Yvonne birthed a viable baby. In the end Barbie is the ultimate feminist and symbol of womanhood.Â And, â€œsome feminists actually believe she is the symbol of female emancipation because she works and does not have to depend on men for her wealth and possessions,â€ Kristin Riddick argues (â€œBarbie: The Image of Us Allâ€). Despite her amorphous state, my experiences with Barbie are quite tangible.
I became a writer while playing with Barbie. Â It occurred during the fall, well as much of fall that ever visits Pasadena, California. So, this means it was September, and the new school year had just begun, I was six or seven.Â While taking â€œOcean Barbieâ€ and â€œBaby Keikoâ€ the whale out of the box, I read the description about their origin and it became clear that the story lacked pertinent details. Barbieâ€™s text needed more variation and a valuable reworking of characteristics. I realized that the name â€œOcean Barbieâ€ was without history. That meant, in the moment, I could continuously edit her title and rewrite her story. Â I could make her story mine by writing about identity.Â What makes Barbie different from me? I wondered.Â And, I thought, what makes us similar? I already understood that people were fragmented, that they were driven by thoughts and feelings. Barbie did not possess this ability. But I knew that she had an identity. Â She is Kenâ€™s girlfriend, Midgeâ€™s friend, Skipperâ€™s sister. As I jotted these details down, I considered their significance. I knew that where you come from has a major part in shaping who you later become. Â I wrote an elaborate tale about Barbieâ€™s birth and childhood. Â Did you know that Barbie was adopted? The words boomed, sometimes creaking, as they filled my coloring book. This process continued for some time.
Play time with Barbie created a space for the infinite possibilities that language enables. This is, albeit a different medium, how the principles of La Nouvelle Vague operate. Within this movement there seems to be an intense need to circle-back, to recreate, and to satirize all with the intention to provide a variety of end results. It is the distance that is traveled while watching these films that should be observed. They provide a wealth of possibilities. For instance, in â€œÃ€ bout de souffleâ€ I am amused by the collage of scenes that jump back and forth like a child playing jump rope. The mismatched shots pull from a variety of American cultural references. I recount the jazz notes and sounds, Andy Warholâ€™s Campbellâ€™s soup cans, Humphrey Bogart, and countless other references. As I played with Barbie, I adapted. I coordinated a sense of wonder and culture, and this established my freedom to create.
Imagination is essential to my connection with Barbie. Amanda Kingsbury, author of â€œSocial Structure of the Playground,â€ observed children as they chose and played with the toys. She writes, â€œThere is usually a continuous story being told about what Barbieâ€™s doing, where sheâ€™s going, and what sheâ€™s thinking.â€ What would Barbie think of the identity Iâ€™ve given her? I wonder. Would she care that I defend her. Would she want to be defended? And, as I write in my journal, I wonder: Would Barbie prefer the narrative instead of the poems?
Jamie Kazay teachesÂ in the English DepartmentÂ at Columbia College. A California native, she holds a BA in English from California State University, Northridge and an MFAÂ in Creative Writing, Poetry from Columbia College. She co-curates the Revolving Door Reading Series and is currently reading of a lot of Camus, Derrida, and Dorothy Allison. Her collection,Â Small Hollering, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2011.