The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty

The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty

3.7 22
by Yona Zeldis McDonough

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To some she's a collectible, to others she's trash. In The Barbie Chronicles, twenty-three writers join together to scrutinize Barbie's forty years of hateful, lovely disastrous, glorious influence on us all. No other tiny shoulders have ever, had to carry the weightSee more details below



To some she's a collectible, to others she's trash. In The Barbie Chronicles, twenty-three writers join together to scrutinize Barbie's forty years of hateful, lovely disastrous, glorious influence on us all. No other tiny shoulders have ever, had to carry the weight of such affection and derision and no other book has ever paid this notorious little place of plastic her due. Whether you adore her or abhor her, The Barbie Chronicles will have you looking at her in ways you never imagined.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Since her birth at the hands of Ruth and Elliot Handler in 1959, Barbie has been decried for her bad influence on girls' self-esteem and become the object of praise for her ability to elevate girls' play beyond baby dolls and kitchen sets. Though she's only a molded hunk of plastic, Barbie has wielded a curious amount of power over the last 40 years. McDonough (Tying the Knot) attempts to present differing points of view about Barbie, but the overall tone is one of admiration, even from the doll's critics. Anna Quindlen wistfully imagines driving a silver lam stake between Barbie's perfect breasts, while Ann duCille discusses issues of race and conformity, positioning Barbie at the center of what's wrong with the doll section of toy stores. Other essayists strike a gentler tone: Jane Smiley, Erica Jong, Carol Shields and Steve Dubin see the dark side of what the doll could represent to young girls, but recapture the original, guilty delight they felt when posing, defacing and, predominantly, undressing her. This well-chosen group of writers artfully explores the world that created Barbie, the childhood selves the authors remember and the meaning behind one of our era's most controversial pieces of plastic. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
No longer just a child's plaything, "Barbie has become an icon and a fetish--to some angelic, to others depraved." In honor of Barbie's 40th birthday, McDonough (Tying the Knot) has collected 20 stories and five poems in one volume: Steven Dubins's essay on Barbie's origins as a German pornographic doll; Jane Smiley on Barbie's "genius," which took girls from big hairdos and pink jeans to women's self-knowledge and rights; Anna Quindlen on her desire to "drive a stake through Barbie's plastic heart"; and a lots of essays with priceless titles ("Barbie Does Yom Kippor" and "Sex and the Single Doll"). Speaking largely to today's 30- to 45-year-olds, the varying intellectual and emotional perspectives here make for an engaging blend of idiosyncratic remarks and in-depth social commentary. Comparable in its irreverent style to Adios, Barbie: Young Women Write About Body Images and Identity (Seal Pr.-Feminist,1998); recommended for public and academic libraries.--Kay Meredith Dusheck, Univ. of Iowa, Anamosa Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A collection of essays, and some poems, about the posable plastic icon at the 40th anniversary of her creation. Everyone has an opinion about the Barbie doll. Created in 1959 by the founders of Mattel (and named for their daughter Barbara), she was the first American-made doll to represent the world beyond the nursery, and if her proportions are unreal, her influence on millions of little girls, as well as on popular culture, is indisputable. McDonough, whose 1997 essay in the New York Times Magazine was the jumping off point for this book (and who is a former Kirkus contributor), has herein gathered a diverse and mostly talented group of writers to celebrate, denigrate, and otherwise explain what Barbie has come to stand for in American society. Exemplifying as it did the conflicted mores of the late 1950s, with her body that, while obviously sexual, lacks nipples or genitals, the creation of the Barbie doll also coincided with the second wave of feminism and the surge of the civil rights movement. The best essays in this collection discuss Barbie as seen through the lenses of sexuality, gender, and race. In "Barbie Meets Bouguereau," Carol Ockman places Barbie's body in context of other idealized notions of feminine beauty. In "Black Like Me," Ann duCille explores the Mattel company's many attempts to create Barbie dolls of color and realizes that the message of their packaging, meant to convey black pride, "is clearly tied to bountiful hair, lavish and exotic clothes, and other external signs of beauty, wealth, and success." Sherrie Inness points out that Barbie alone, in contrast to other dolls on the market, represents independent single women and their diverse career options.Good, bad, or indifferent, there's obviously still fun to be had in playing with Barbie dolls. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

From the Publisher
Caroline Preston author of Jackie by Josie From the spring day in 1959 when I dumped my Ginny doll for the new flashy babe on the block, I have adored Barbie. When she was finally exposed as a sexist stereotype, my adoration, undiminished, went underground. The Barbie Chronicles celebrates our complex forty-year love/hate relationship toward the world's most irresistible doll.

Hilton Als author of The Women The pieces and poems in this book so rich in insight and wit, mean so much — to cultural and political studies, to the life of the mind, to those who have given thought of affection to this strange and strangely alluring figure which, despite her initial docility, refuses to remain seated on anyone's shelf.

Faye Moskowitz author of A Leak in the Heart Whatever your position on the world's most persistent posable piece of plastic, you'll find much to intrigue you in this provocative collection that examines Barbie from all angles — with perspicacity and panache.

Albert Mobilio winner of The National Book Critics Circle Award for Excellence in Reviewing Equal parts celebration, confession, and investigation, The Barbie Chronicles takes shrewd measure of just how much we are what we buy.

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When I first sat down in the summer of 1997 to pen a piece about Barbie, I imagined writing a wry, affectionate defense of the sexy little doll who seemed to be getting so much bad press. Little did I know how Barbie had changed in the three decades since she and I had parted company. I didn't really understand the fantastic impact she had made on American culture during those years nor the maelstrom of controversy that her mere name seemed to elicit. But the publication of my essay on the back page of The New York Times Magazine filled me in quickly: Barbie had been busy all this time, what with her brand-new professions, newly reconfigured face, hair, and, yes, even body.

Ever since her 1959 debut, Barbie has been an amazingly popular doll. Created by Ruth and Elliot Handler in the late 1950s and named for their daughter, Barbara, Barbie has her origins in the German Lilli doll, a quasi-pornographic toy intended for men. The Handlers cleaned her up and toned her down before presenting her to the American market, but her inherent sexuality -- so stunning in a world of baby dolls and little girl dolls -- remained intact, just waiting for a generation of American children to discover her.

Discover and fall head over heels in love. Her phenomenal success in the intervening years has spawned enough Barbie dolls to populate a small planet, to say nothing of the ancillary characters -- Skipper, Francie, Midge, Ken, Allan, and Kelly -- that fill her world.

The girls who played with the very first Barbies are now grown, with Barbie-toting daughters of their own. But Barbie continues to exert a hold on their imaginations, as well as the imaginations of the boys who watched -- envious, disdainful, titillated, curious -- as their sisters, cousins, friends, and neighbors dressed, and undressed, their sexy, ever-so-adult-looking dolls.

Forty years after her debut, Barbie is big news and big business. Millions of dolls, clothes, accessories, and paraphernalia are bought and sold every year. There are Barbie conventions, fan clubs, Web sites, and scores of publications.

There is also, I soon discovered, a whole new literature of Barbie that emerged in the shadow of the consumer frenzy she created. She has inspired novelists and poets, commentators and journalists, and academics from a wide range of fields. No longer just a child's toy, Barbie has become an icon and a fetish -- to some angelic, to others depraved. And as such, she serves as a kind of springboard for a whole range of cultural discourse, some philosophical and reflective, some lighthearted and appreciative, some furious and damning.

The Barbie Chronicles both grows out of and adds to the current conversation about Barbie. In it, I have included twenty essays and five poems written from varying intellectual perspectives as well as differing emotional ones. Some are original works commissioned specifically for this volume; others are reprinted from existing material. But whatever the take on Barbie is, it is never neutral.

Anna Quindlen proposes driving a stake through Barbie's plastic heart, while Melissa Hook remembers her as a conduit through which she could connect with her frosty and distant grandmother. For these writers, Barbie has a talismanic power, one that illuminates both the world without and the self within. Here then are stories that will, I hope, shed a little more light on the meaning of America's most beloved, most notorious piece of posable plastic.

Copyright © 1999 by Simon & Schuster

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