Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling has been smashing box-office records left and right. It brought in $162 million during its opening weekend—the biggest debut of the year—and became the best-selling Monday ever for Warner Bros. I just watched the film described in the Atlantic as “a charming blockbuster adventure about the tribulations of simply existing as a woman in society” and by the New Yorker as “brilliant, beautiful, and fun as hell,” and had a blast. So why is it that for some—as in mostly right-wing men—it seems to be breaking their brains?
Perhaps you have been lucky enough to avoid the sight of conservative pundit Ben Shapiro’s 43-minute video screed deriding the movie, which included troubling moments of setting some unfortunate Barbie dolls on fire. (Read my colleague Jackie Flynn Mogensen’s list of hilarious negative Rotten Tomatoes reviews by a bunch of dudes.) “The Ben Shapiro Show” host clearly has complicated feelings about Barbie. So complicated, in fact, that his insights could not be contained in a mere 43 minutes, so he had to make another video about it. In it, he debates fellow conservative Brett Cooper, who actually liked Barbie. “You can’t deny that it was fun,” she says. “It was colorful. It was a great time.”
Women used to build society. Now they dress in pink and bring a bottle of wine to an air conditioned theater to cry in solidarity with an actress lecturing America about how hard it is to be a woman, then ragetweet at people who don't like "Barbie." https://t.co/r9wTJgAYrh
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) July 24, 2023
I’d like to describe this as a peculiarly American phenomenon, but in fact, the “anti-woke” outrage over Gerwig’s movie has crossed borders and has landed in my home country of Brazil.
This came to my attention because my father texted me: “I’m even curious to see [the movie] now after the criticism.” He was specifically referring to criticism from right-wing supporters and allies of former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. “Hmm,” I thought after receiving this. “What could he possibly be talking about?” And so I went down a rabbit hole of the Brazilian conservative freakout over a film inspired by Mattel’s plastic doll. Ben Shapiro, take some notes!
My anti-Barbie tour started on Instagram with Alê Portela, a Bolsonaro-aligned congresswoman from the state of Minas Gerais, who created a whole campaign to discourage moviegoers from taking their children to see the movie. She described Barbie as a “degeneration of family values” and her fight as one against the “pulverization of ideological manure on playfulness.” Among Barbie’s gravest offenses is the fact that one of the Barbies is played by Hari Nef, a transgender actor.
Up next was Abraham Weintraub, a former minister of education in the Bolsonaro administration who in the summer of 2020 made a hasty exit to the United States amidst Supreme Court investigations into the spread of Covid-19 disinformation. On Twitter, the disgraced minister compared the Barbie movie to a particularly vile Nazi Gestapo officer named Klaus Barbie who became known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for his sadistic torture of Jews in that French city. “It’s not the first time that the name Barbie has been at the service of the devil!” he wrote. “Protect your children from any ideological line of Barbie. Old or new!”
Não é a primeira vez que o nome Barbie está a serviço do demônio!
Esse era Klaus Barbie, oficial da SS nazista, conhecido como o carniceiro de Lyon (França).
Protejam seus filhos de qualquer linha ideológica de Barbie! Da Antiga ou da atual! pic.twitter.com/ADoGM6wXqF
— Abraham Weintraub (@AbrahamWeint) July 20, 2023
I might have stopped there, but how could I with an entire universe of male meltdowns on YouTube yet to explore? My favorite example was from the aptly titled “JurassiCast” channel, where a pair of distressed-looking middle-aged men whine about the movie being “anti-man,” because men come across as idiots. Barbie, one of them declared, is a movie for “Shiite feminists.” The only thing they liked? Ryan Gosling’s Ken, with whom they apparently share a love for the Godfather, Sylvester Stallone, and horses. Ken was also the favorite character of a wig-wearing duo who, in their review of Barbie, called feminists “resentful,” Gerwig “a militant,” and the movie “feminist propaganda.” The Barbie cinematic experience had such an impact on them that, in their words, they felt like throwing up.
Another YouTuber with 1 million followers told his Christian fans to boycott the movie. Okay, fair enough. But then, in an unusual twist of logic, he criticized those who have done the same thing because, he says, it creates a kind of reverse marketing that makes people curious to see it. Watching a movie charged with “progressive ideology,” according to this very serious-looking guy, would be like “drinking a bucket of dirty water.” The last movie he enjoyed? Top Gun.
Finally, I moved on to the Christian pastors who were surprised and shocked to find that Barbie is a feminist movie and not a religious one. Several of them characterized it as deceptive, a nostalgia-induced smokescreen for anti-motherhood indoctrination.
Clearly, after all that, I am desperate for a palate cleanser. Barbie, round two, here I come.