Barbie and La Nouvelle Vague (part 1)
It is myÂ interest inÂ what Jean Luc Godard thought about Barbie, if he ever thought about Barbie, which leads me here. Pick out any one of his films as a point of reference and watch for the female protagonist. She has the essenceâ€”the je ne sais quoi. And, her hair is elegant, neatly coiffed, falling in place like the snow on all of Chicago and sliding against my window.Â Itâ€™s 2p.m., but it looks more like 7p.m. outside. I love her. I hate her. Barbie shaped my social consciousness. This afternoon â€œBarbie, Barbie, Barbieâ€ is my constant mantra. She represents the essential feminist thatÂ I want to be and the sexual icon so many love to hate. Perhaps this is why Godard used Barbieâ€™s essence as a point of reference when casting his female characters. Consider Patricia Franchini, played by Jean Seberg, in â€œÃ€ bout de souffleâ€ (â€œBreathlessâ€) and Camille Javal, played by Brigitte Bardot in â€œLe MÃ©prisâ€ (â€œContemptâ€), these protagonists are much like Barbie as they appear ambivalently sexy, intelligent, stylishly dressed, and all the while aloof.
Itâ€™s also at this point that I must note that Barbie helped to close the â€œracial divideâ€ of my childhood. A year after I was born (1980), Mattel embraced the â€œchanging times.â€ The company began to produce â€œmulticulturalâ€ Barbie(s). So, when I played with Barbie I never had to worry about being â€œblackâ€ or â€œwhite.â€ She was â€œpolitically correct,â€ especially since Midge (Barbie) was introduced to represent â€œmixedâ€ girls and â€œfamilyâ€ life. Midge and the other â€œmulticulturalâ€ Barbie(s) meant well, but overall they reinforced â€œstereotypes.â€ Nonetheless, I remember playing with Midge and Barbie. The focus shifted to how â€œprettyâ€ they were, how â€œthinâ€ they were, and how the blue of Barbieâ€™s eyes reminded me of my grandmother. Itâ€™s so â€œclichÃ©â€ to say that I wanted to dress like Barbie. I thought, at 8, that I was a doll. My mother called, and still calls, me â€œJamieDoll.â€ Perhaps a defense of my close connection is necessary as I realize that people like Dr. Kamy Cunningham say that Barbie is the â€œanti-clone for every woman who wishes to be more than surface deep, she is the alter ego ideal for American m[e]n [â€”the] virgin/whore she makes men out of little boysâ€ (Barbie Doll Culture and the American Wasteland).Â Itâ€™s not easy being Barbie.
And, it must be understood that I see Barbieâ€™s anatomical faults. Laurell K. Hamilton wonders, â€œDid you know that if Barbie was a real woman with those proportions, she’d have to carry her kidneys in her purseâ€ (The Killing Dance). I marvel, as Barbieâ€™s body is a scientific feat and her eyes are those of Bambiâ€™s if ever reincarnated. But, I digress. Iâ€™m not a woman that wants Barbieâ€™s measurements. Iâ€™m a woman that, on a recent trip home to California, hugged my mother only to feel her unruly scarf the color of Barbie pink. The unmistakable pink used to market Barbieâ€™s uncomplicated, uncluttered life. I saw Barbieâ€™s independence in every strand of my motherâ€™s scarf. I find a defense for Barbie at every corner.
The notion behind my mantra was reinforced as I watched Ann Romney take the stage during the Republican National Convention (RNC). Would Godard have cast Romney to play one of his protagonists? She certainly looked the part with her perfectly coiffed blonde hair falling on her shoulders, red lipstick, red silk-taffeta dress, with cuffed sleeves and small V-neck, and black leather heels. The je ne sais quoi of Romneyâ€™s ensemble was its shade of red. It vacillated from fire-engine red to cerise to â€œJolly Rancher redâ€ (New York Times). Romney was reminiscent of Angela RÃ©camier, played by Anna Karina in â€œUne femme est une femmeâ€ (â€œA Woman is a Womanâ€) as she mirrored Angelaâ€™s gentle pursuit and spoke with phrases full of spunk. Â Now, Iâ€™m pacing in my office, spooning through a jar of peanut butterâ€”the natural kind, the kind with water on the rim. Barbie posters are stacked on the desk and Midge (Barbie) is back in her box. I wonder if Barbie likes peanut butter?
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.