Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel, created a doll. She was blonde, thin and (because she was based on a German sex doll named “Lilli”) was, um, in some ways, mightily and unrealistically endowed. (Her male counterpart, Ken, however, was denied his, um, endowment.) The doll, named Barbara Millicent Roberts, became known as Barbie and would hold many jobs in her time, rising as far as becoming “Presidential Candidate Barbie…’ (Always a presidential candidate, never a president…I know how she feels.)
Here at the JTB2 conference, we just finished a screening of “The Tribe,” a film by Tiffany Shlain and her husband Ken that examines Jewish identity through the lens of Barbie–emanating from the fact that a Jewish daughter of immigrants created the ultimate beauty icon/idol that would become
the bane of woman’s existence an impossible model for beauty.
The film was clearly a hit with the JTB2 participants, who stayed through a Q & A that got deep into issues of filmmaking, assimilation, insiders and outsiders, and the Barbie-as-metaphor conceit, and ultimately culminated in a rescreening of the film for those who had either missed it the first time, or who wanted to sit through another viewing with the benefit of the Q&A fresh in their minds.
Shlain, who just presented the film at Sundance, explained that the film was made in the hope that it would be a trigger for discussion, and that there’s a kit (available through the website) that includes a “Guide From the Perplexed” that provides a structure for such conversation.
No Barbies were hurt during the making of this film, says a disclaimer at the film’s end. And this reviewer’s only comment is: “Darn.”