The decade's most triggering comedy
Last week we discussed the impending doom of Hollywood. As the media was frantically warning us, the entire entertainment industry was on the verge of collapse thanks to a writer’s strike, an actor’s strike, and a series of supposed blockbusters that turned out to be flops. This was in some ways an ironic combination of factors, given that the quality and performance of these movies would seem to indicate that the writers and actors had already been on strike for years. The average viewer will come out of the latest Hollywood dud, hear that the writers just went on strike, and respond, “Wait, that movie had writers?” It already seems like these films are being generated by AI. Now they really will be, and I doubt we’ll be able to detect any difference.
It has been a gloomy time in Hollywood all around. But this weekend has given them a glimmer of hope. A false hope, I think. A hope that will teach them all the wrong lessons, but hope all the same. The Hollywood Reporter declares a box office “stunner.” A historic weekend for movies, they report:
“The summer box office just went nuclear. Filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s female-fueled Barbie opened to a historic $155 million domestically, a threshold usually reserved for male-driven superhero fare or marquee IP, such as the final Harry Potter movie. It came in well ahead of an expected $90 million to $110 million and helped fuel one of the biggest weekends in history. Barbie — which brings to life Mattel’s iconic fashion doll — is also strutting to big numbers overseas. The pic launched to an impressive $182 million from 70 markets for a global bow of $337 million against a $145 million production budget… In North America, Barbie scored the biggest domestic start ever for a movie directed by a woman, solo or otherwise.”
After gushing for several more paragraphs about “Barbie,” the article does mention that Christopher Nolan’s film “Oppenheimer” also opened this weekend to an enormous haul, raking in $80 million. This makes it Nolan’s biggest opening weekend for any of his non-Batman films. It’s especially impressive — far more impressive than “Barbie’s” performance, as we’ll see — because his movie is an original three-hour R-rated historical drama. It is very difficult to make that kind of film into a smash hit. People don’t generally flock to theaters to watch incredibly long character studies of historical figures. That is unprecedented, or nearly so.
There is, however, plenty of precedent for moviegoers crowding theaters to watch movies based on familiar brands. Audiences are increasingly becoming bored with franchise films and brand films — as “Indiana Jones” and the “Flash” and “Little Mermaid” and many others have discovered. But if there is a brand with a large and dedicated fan base that hasn’t had its own film in a long time, then it will probably do pretty well on its opening weekend. That is the story with “Barbie.” The movie is a smash hit because Barbie as a brand is a smash hit. The quality of the film doesn’t make a difference. The directing, the acting, the writing. None of that factors into the equation. Mothers and daughters did not file into theaters over the weekend because they really wanted to see what Greta Gerwig cooked up, nor did they come because they were big Margot Robbie fans. They came because it’s Barbie. It’s a brand they like. And American consumers are conditioned to salivate whenever their favorite brand rings the bell. This weekend was not a vindication of Hollywood, or the filmmakers behind Barbies, but rather a vindication for Pavlov and his dogs. “Barbie’s” box office performance is a result of conditioning, and not much else.
If anyone deserves the credit for the biggest box office debut for any female director in history, it’s not the female director but the marketing department. They are the ones who knew enough to lie about the true content and message of the film. Because as we have now discovered — though it should not have come as a surprise to anyone — the “Barbie” movie is a preachy feminist screed about taking down the patriarchy. It is a gender studies lecture in Barbie packaging. I know this not because I watched the film. I would rather jump feet first into a wood chipper than sit through that film. I don’t need to watch “Barbie” to know that it’s bad for the same reason that I don’t need to pull a rotten onion out of the garbage and eat it in order to know that I don’t like the taste. I have never thrown myself into a volcano, but I feel that I can safely say that the experience would be unpleasant, and probably a little hot. Some books can be judged by their covers — or at least by their back covers, where you find the description. And we now have descriptions of the “Barbie” movie, which make the themes clear. Something that the marketing never did.
Fox News reports:
“Hollywood movie critics are widely praising ‘Barbie’ as the most ‘unwavering feminist summer blockbuster ever to exist,’ giving the new film particular adoration for its messaging around ‘the patriarchy’ and gender roles. The film, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, boasts a strong 89% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, with many reviewers surprised by Director Greta Gerwig’s willingness to engage in extensive social commentary.”
So surprising — a Hollywood film director is engaging in political commentary? No one’s ever heard of such a thing.
“Once an equal parts fascinating and controversial Mattel toy, both loved and hated—a tiny-waisted, vacuously smiling, slender doll designed like a straight-male fantasy—is now the complicated feminist symbol of empowerment in Gerwig’s hands,” The Wrap wrote. ‘But we aren’t talking about an empty you-go-girl kind of empowerment here. That would be too simple-minded for Gerwig, whose articulate and accessible feminism has always been fiercely multifaceted and complex.”
“‘Barbie’ is both a master’s thesis on feminism and an Austin Powers-esque romp,” The Globe and Mail noted.
TheWrap also stated that the movie “delivers a fierce feminist statement dressed in pink,” while The Globe and Mail declared the film “the most captivating and unwaveringly feminist summer blockbuster ever to exist.”
Meanwhile, Indiewire praised the film’s “outside the box” and “funny, feminist fantasia” and singled out Gosling’s performance of “newfound male rage” and “patriarchal power” as a particular highlight.
Funny, they didn’t tout this thing as a “master thesis on feminism” in the trailer. They didn’t title the movie “The Adventures of Feminist Barbie.” No mentions of patriarchy or male rage, either. It is, again, not in the least bit surprising that these themes dominate the film. Not surprising to us, anyway, as people who pay attention and are aware of what’s happening in the world and in our culture. The average “Barbie” viewer is, on the other hand, not so aware. That’s why the sleight of hand trick worked. Dangle a fun and nostalgic and family-friendly Barbie film in front of the audience, then when you have them in the seat whack them over the head with the feminist stick. Sell them the Barbie doll and let them open the package and find Gloria Steinem inside.
We know about the aggressive, male-hating feminist bent of this film thanks in part to some brave souls — like Ben Shapiro who actually sat and endured it — so that they could report on its content. This is a form of journalistic courage far more impressive than reporters who cover war zones. But we also know about the movie’s real message from the generally positive reviews of liberal movie critics. The review in Variety gets into some of the details that the film’s marketing material smartly glossed over:
“At the same time Barbie is experiencing her rude awakening, Ken’s busy filling his empty head with all the possibilities that ‘patriarchy’ entails. In Barbie Land, Ken’s job is a deliberately ill-defined afterthought (basically, just ‘beach’), whereas in the Real World, dudes rule — an idea he takes back to Barbie Land with pointedly absurd results, brainwashing all the women into behaving like obedient housewives.”
This is apparently the major underlying theme. In the movie, men in Barbie Land are useless and stupid. Men in the real world are useless and stupid, but also violent, predatory, and in control of everything. Ken witnesses this dynamic and tries to export the patriarchy back to Barbie Land. And they actually call it “the patriarchy” in the film. That phrase is used many times.
I should mention that the Variety review is not entirely positive. It does take issue with the movie, and specifically with the way that men are portrayed. But the issue, according to film critic Peter Debug, is that all of this time spent making men look terrible might risk taking the spotlight off of women. There’s nothing wrong with sending the message that all men are dumb pigs, but you should give them less screen time in the process, Peter says. Quote:
“It’s upsetting (in a useful way) to see Barbie confronted with the overnight impact of rampant patriarchy, a concept that has rarely looked more off-putting than the frat-boy fantasy caricatured here. Think of it as the misogynist alternative marketed by old-school beer commercials, the polar opposite of Mattel’s mid-’80s ‘We girls can do anything. Right, Barbie?’ campaign. While the Barbies plot to take back the government, Gerwig gives all the Ken dolls an over-the-top musical number, ‘I’m Just Ken,’ which is so amusingly self-involved it risks subverting the very point the movie’s trying to make. If ‘Barbie’ is all about centering and celebrating women, why let Ken steal the show?”
This is the modern media for you. The only problem with demonizing men is that it requires you to talk about men too much. And that’s the Barbie movie for you, too. Thousands of moms took their daughters to see this thing over the weekend. And it is a wonderful movie to show your daughter, if you want her to be a vapid, man-hating harpy. If that is your great dream for your daughter, then by all means show them Greta Gerwig’s Barbie.
But this is not actually what most mothers want for their daughters. For comparison sake, contrast this with the general public reaction when a movie wears its feminist credentials on its sleeve. Take the upcoming “Snow White” remake, for example. We’ve already seen how they’ve traded in Snow White for Snow Brown, casting a Hispanic woman in the title role. And for whatever reason they’ve decided that the most inclusive approach is to take casting opportunities away from actors with dwarfism by turning the seven dwarves into regular-sized carnies.
But they are also changing the whole arc and theme of the story, as this interview with the stars revealed:
Now we aren’t going to focus on the point that the taller woman there, Gal Gadot, is playing the evil queen and the shorter one is playing Snow White. Remember that in the story, the queen is supposed to be jealous of Snow White’s beauty. Which will be hard to pull off in this case, as the evil queen is significantly more attractive.
Putting that aside, the point is that the clip you just watched and heard has been roundly mocked by nearly everyone. The movie is destined to be a worse flop than the woke “Little Mermaid” bastardization. Nobody wants to see a fairy tale where the damsel in distress no longer needs saving and the central romance has been replaced with a dreary sermon about self-empowerment. Nobody wants to see Snow White become a corporate middle manager and achieve true happiness by moving into a two-bedroom condo. They want to see her get saved by the prince and fall in love. When you advertise ahead of time that your film is going the former route rather than the latter, going the feminist route rather than the classic route, nobody will see it. Feminism has to trick you, it has to smuggle itself in. It cannot walk in the front door, announcing its arrival.
That’s because, despite what Snow Brown claims, nearly all women innately desire a man to protect them and provide for them. Women want to be swept off their feet by Prince Charming. That’s why these stories have lived on for centuries and resonated with each new generation. The feminist fairy tale resonates with no one. It’s a vision of what feminism wants women to do, what it wants women to think, what it wants women to want, but it will always ring false because it is false.
That’s not to say that feminism hasn’t won many disciples in the modern world. Obviously it has. It has proven to be a devastating and lethal force, far deadlier than the bomb at the center of that other blockbuster this weekend. Feminism has killed 60 million babies, and that’s just the beginning of the destruction it has wrought on the world. But it wins adherents through brainwashing, intense and constant indoctrination, and by playing on a woman’s resentment, hatred, self-pity, and desire to blame others for her problems. This doesn’t really work as a fairy tale because fairy tales are aspirational and fanciful and whimsical. Feminism, on the other hand, is base and vulgar and hateful. It also doesn’t work in marketing materials for a film based on a beloved children’s toy. That’s why they hid it away, tucked it under all the pink and the plastic, and then came out with the man-hating sledgehammer when the audience was already sitting in the seats.
The only question is whether those mothers who took their daughters to see this film spent the whole ride home explaining why all of that stuff in the movie was wrong? Better yet, as soon as they saw what was really happening, did they grab their daughter by the hand and leave the theater before the movie ended? Or were they too obtuse to notice the toxic feminist message, even when it was delivered with a sledgehammer? Or were many of those mothers already man-hating feminists themselves, and so they didn’t see any problem with it? I suspect a mix of all of these options has played out, but I hope there were plenty in the first category. And for any parents who hadn’t yet taken their daughters to see this movie, but planned on going in the future, well now you know better.