In the opening scene of the Barbie movie, listless little girls dressed as drab Dust Bowl mothers play at ironing as they tend plastic babies until a gigantic cosmic Barbie appears on the landscape in a vogue pose. Her presence inspires the girls to smash their dolls and cast off their pretend chores in a whirl of rageful frustration. While this scene spoofs 2001: A Space Odyssey, it unknowingly dramatizes an archetypal event in the collective American psyche.
In 1959, the Barbie doll hit the market and created a stir. American mothers objected to her sensuous form, so Mattel marketed it directly to children, a tactic never used before, and it worked. The maternal archetype of Hera, sentinel of the social order, goddess of childbirth, and protectress of the home, was supplanted. Aphrodite, the captivating goddess exuding an aura of beauty, desirability, and persuasive allure, had arrived.
Dolls don’t command a culture, but when a new primary archetype rises in the collective unconscious, it will potentiate available images that reflect its qualities—Barbie was the perfect representative. The new goddess encouraged a generation to flirt with fashion, aesthetics, autonomy, and self-expression. With her ever-changing wardrobe and perpetual grace, she became the diminutive totem dominating current social media. Her representatives help maintain an era where beauty is a currency, a tool, a language all its own, and men are revisioned as her companion-child, Eros or Cupid.
In this perfect pink world, Barbie-Aphrodite lived with millions of girls, imagining endless possibilities as they donned the costumes of various roles and professions. The creators of the Barbie Movie want to change all that, but their retelling of Pinocchio, the puppet who becomes a real boy, struggles to carry the power and depth of an archetypal event.
Burdened by a giddy blend of social commentary, kitsch, archetypal imagery, a touch of nostalgia, mythical narratives, child-like fantasy, Freudian psychosexual theory, the allure of capitalism, a bow to classical fairytales, a dash of glamor, a sprinkle of kiddy-kamp, drenched in a layer of surreal satire sauce—it’s power to call forth a transformative process is diluted.
The ending of The Barbie Movie leaves the collective psyche unchanged; the pink world is restored to its original state after a few ideological tremors. One doll escapes, perhaps a representative of every-woman, who now resides in the real world, with responsibilities and vulnerabilities. Her final scene, with broad smiles and flat feet, might leave us all humming a new tune:
What if Barb was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin’ to make her way home.
It also leaves us with a lingering question: Does this movie herald a change in the collective psyche, or is it a spoof to laugh at ourselves for taking the current cultural tensions too seriously?
~ Joseph Lee
HERE’S THE DREAM WE ANALYZE:
“I’m in the hallway of my new rental place. I see my new flatmate vacuuming the hallway carpet. I see a small amount of white dust he sprinkles on the carpet. As he vacuums, the dust keeps growing and growing. I realize it’s actually snow! It keeps billowing out of the vacuum cleaner, and soon, it becomes clouds of snow. The more he vacuums, the more snow he makes. We both grab some snow and make snowballs. Then we both start throwing them and have a snowball fight. Then I wake up.”
What If God Was One of Us by Kate Colston & Robin Morris
Arlene Diane Landau. Tragic Beauty: The Dark Side of Venus Aphrodite and the Loss and Regeneration of Soul. ORDER HERE
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