They took away our OK Soda and we said never again.
Tabs was off yesterday, partly because it was my birthday but mostly because I read this Willa Paskin profile of Greta Gerwig and the Barbie movie and then spent the rest of the afternoon in a helpless despair spiral. And listen, the story is good! Paskin is a pro, and she asks all the questions she should ask. If you’re interested in Gerwig or the unavoidable Barbie marketing tsunami at all, it’s well worth reading.
What sent me into the tarpit was this section near the beginning:
If there is a kind of earnestness that once would have precluded a director from “selling out,” it is the same earnestness that now precludes them from thinking about that notion at all. (What is Barbie but a superhero in heels, older than Spider-Man and Iron Man?) Instead of aiming for a product you might grade on a curve as “relatively thoughtful, for a Barbie movie,” Gerwig devoted herself to threading a needle slimmer than the eyelashes painted on the doll’s face. The movie is a celebration of Barbie and a subterranean apologia for Barbie. It is a giant corporate undertaking and a strange, funny personal project. It is a jubilant, mercilessly effective polymer-and-pink extravaganza whose guiding star turns out to be Gerwig’s own sincerity. “Things can be both/and,” she said. “I’m doing the thing and subverting the thing.”
Ok first, “a celebration of Barbie and a subterranean apologia for Barbie” are the same thing. But that last line, the Gerwig quote, was the bone I couldn’t swallow. Someone else involved in the story must have also noticed that it was a striking thing to say, because it shows up again as a pull quote directly after this paragraph:
Gerwig understands both the love and the loathing for Barbie, but for many others, the doll remains an either/or proposition: Either she’s feminist or she’s really, really not. Arguments that she is feminist include the fact that she has had her own Dreamhouse since 1962, when women were routinely denied mortgages and credit cards. She went to the moon years before Neil Armstrong, and unlike any real-life American woman, she has been president. But a couple of years after becoming a homeowner, a Slumber Party Barbie came with a scale locked at 110 pounds and a “How to Lose Weight” manual, with the directions “Don’t Eat.” (Perhaps the most famous Barbie movie before this one was Todd Haynes’s breakout short “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,” which used dolls to stage a biopic about the singer, who died in 1983 of complications from anorexia.) Over the decades, there has been a persistent release of other Yikes Barbies, like the memorable Teen Talk Barbie that was programmed to say, “Math class is tough!”
Pull-quoting that line right after you name check Todd Haynes? Is the layout department fucking with us here?
I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know if it’s good. The early reactions are generally positive, and Paskin herself says “the surprising thing about ‘Barbie’ is… [that] it feels as if it was made by an actual person.” But whether or not it’s a good film on its artistic merits, the purpose of a Mattel™ Licensed and Approved Barbie® Movie is to sell more Barbie dolls.
When Gerwig says “I’m doing the thing,” the thing she’s doing is marketing, and marketing is never more than itself. Marketing is the maw-mouth of capitalist smarm that consumes everything and converts it into more marketing. My people didn’t survive the “ironic anti-marketing” trend of the 1990s just to forget this! They took away our OK Soda and we said Never Again. Unless you’re actively convincing people not to buy the product, you’re not “subverting the thing,” you’re just doing the thing in a faux-subversive register, because that’s what the culture demands right now for the marketing to work, and ultimately all that’s important is that the marketing works. As Paskin writes, the film “speaks directly to women, mothers in particular, about the impossibility of perfection…” But why? “…so we can feel great about buying perfect Barbies for our babies.”
It shouldn’t be surprising if the Barbie movie is good. It has to be good, or it wouldn’t be successful marketing. Anyway Tabs was off yesterday because I spent the day huddled in a ball, imagining our grim future of Mattel vs. Hasbro I.P. franchise battles, the “anti-war” G.I. Joe movie, the Hot Wheels movie where the cars solve climate change, etc. I hate it already. According to Bloomberg’s Sarah Rappaport, Barbenheimer double-feature tickets are selling briskly.
Lydia Polgreen reviewed the various partisan efforts to get Joe Rogan and Bud Light canceled, and concludes: “Corporations are not your friends. They do not represent your interests.” “Subversive marketing” is just marketing, and ”woke capitalism” and “anti-woke capitalism” are both just capitalism. Speaking of unchecked capitalism:
What News of the Guild, Squire?
How’s the writer’s strike going? Deadline’s Dominic Patten reported yesterday that “Hollywood Studios’ WGA Strike Endgame Is To Let Writers Go Broke Before Resuming Talks In Fall.”
“The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” a studio executive told Deadline. Acknowledging the cold-as-ice approach, several other sources reiterated the statement. One insider called it “a cruel but necessary evil.”
David Slack expanded on this in a thread, pointing out that studios with no new products won’t have good earnings for much longer, and that the timing of this story right before tonight’s SAG-AFTRA strike deadline is very suspicious. David Roth has also been thinking about the entertainment industry’s villains:
The things we make, out of blank cleverness or greed, might in time devour us is an old idea, if a resonant one. But as the market grinds on through what feels like a closing stage of something, "devour" seems almost too focused a description for what's going on. There's a whole process and purpose behind eating, after all, and while that would necessarily matter less to the party being eaten it is at least legible. This moment doesn't quite feel like that. It just feels like being chewed, endlessly. No one wants to be food, but it feels somehow more demeaning to be gum.
Kylebot 9000. Matt Levine explained the new Elon thing, from his vacation in northern Vermont (lol). Ms. Lopatto duly updated the list. Fire up the love cannon: AO3 is back online. “Alpha dog with perfect posture.” This thread is a whole deranged incel “green line theory” pamphlet. “Walmart Melania,” “Tacky Onassis,” “America’s Karen.” Casey DeSantis is giving isometrics vibes. A Margaritaville comes to town, a Margaritaville leaves town. Dave Infante reported that, following years of mismanagement by owner Sapporo, San Francisco’s Anchor brewing might be sold to another brewer. But when it appeared officially, the word was bankruptcy and liquidation. Kottke revisited Wired’s “Long Boom,” found that at least 7 of the "10 Scenario Spoilers" happened. Burger King Thailand creates the Barbie movie of cheeseburgers.
We are having a “Jaws” Girl Summer. It’s giving Moby-Dick Energy. We’re in our Ancient Mariner Era. Is the ocean more terrifying than usual this year, or are we suddenly just more aware of how terrifying the ocean can be?
Are you wet-pilled, queen? Aur naur! This summer is land coded.
And in media news, Vice was an absolutely incredible cash grab by useless execs like Cory Haik, previously of “Mic’s disastrous pivot to video” fame. In Hell Gate, Katie Way writes: “In fact, say the word ‘mismanagement’ three times in the mirror and you'll summon a current or former VICE employee who has a terrible story about someone who is listed in the filing as making hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Sorry I don’t have any positive news today! Mercury is in centigrade or something.
Today’s Song: Truth Club, “Blue Eternal”
~ Crash and burn, all the tabs explode tonight ~
Please don’t be mad at me if you love Barbie or whatever, it’s fine, you’re fine, we’re all fine. It’s ok to like things. (Not me, though.) Thanks to Music Intern Sam for a brand new song that still somehow captures today’s grouchy Gen Xer energy. The best way to say Happy Birthday is by subscribing.