Barbie and La Nouvelle Vague (part 1)
It is my interest in 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 essence—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. It’s 2p.m., but it looks more like 7p.m. outside. I love her. I hate her. Barbie shaped my social consciousness. This afternoon “Barbie, Barbie, Barbie” is my constant mantra. She represents the essential feminist that I want to be and the sexual icon so many love to hate. Perhaps this is why Godard used Barbie’s essence as a point of reference when casting his female characters. Consider Patricia Franchini, played by Jean Seberg, in “À bout de souffle” (“Breathless”) and Camille Javal, played by Brigitte Bardot in “Le Mépris” (“Contempt”), these protagonists are much like Barbie as they appear ambivalently sexy, intelligent, stylishly dressed, and all the while aloof.
It’s also at this point that I must note that Barbie helped to close the “racial divide” of my childhood. A year after I was born (1980), Mattel embraced the “changing times.” The company began to produce “multicultural” Barbie(s). So, when I played with Barbie I never had to worry about being “black” or “white.” She was “politically correct,” especially since Midge (Barbie) was introduced to represent “mixed” girls and “family” life. Midge and the other “multicultural” Barbie(s) meant well, but overall they reinforced “stereotypes.” Nonetheless, I remember playing with Midge and Barbie. The focus shifted to how “pretty” they were, how “thin” they were, and how the blue of Barbie’s eyes reminded me of my grandmother. It’s so “cliché” 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 “JamieDoll.” Perhaps a defense of my close connection is necessary as I realize that people like Dr. Kamy Cunningham say that Barbie is the “anti-clone for every woman who wishes to be more than surface deep, she is the alter ego ideal for American m[e]n [—the] virgin/whore she makes men out of little boys” (Barbie Doll Culture and the American Wasteland). It’s not easy being Barbie.
And, it must be understood that I see Barbie’s anatomical faults. Laurell K. Hamilton wonders, “Did you know that if Barbie was a real woman with those proportions, she’d have to carry her kidneys in her purse” (The Killing Dance). I marvel, as Barbie’s body is a scientific feat and her eyes are those of Bambi’s if ever reincarnated. But, I digress. I’m not a woman that wants Barbie’s measurements. I’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 Barbie’s uncomplicated, uncluttered life. I saw Barbie’s independence in every strand of my mother’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 Romney’s ensemble was its shade of red. It vacillated from fire-engine red to cerise to “Jolly Rancher red” (New York Times). Romney was reminiscent of Angela Récamier, played by Anna Karina in “Une femme est une femme” (“A Woman is a Woman”) as she mirrored Angela’s gentle pursuit and spoke with phrases full of spunk. Now, I’m pacing in my office, spooning through a jar of peanut butter—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 teaches in the English Department at Columbia College. A California native, she holds a BA in English from California State University, Northridge and an MFA 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, Small Hollering, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2011.