Is Barbie-Ken split a sign of times?

February 24, 2004|By Susan Reimer

I'M SURE you've heard that Barbie and Ken split rumor is, she dumped him for an Australian boogie-boarder and the decision by Mattel to separate the pair after 43 years of dating has inspired no end of witty and clever chatter.

She's hitting her sexual stride, and he peaked at 25. He's an air-head, clothes-horse and she's bored with him. She's 45 and her body clock is ticking. She wanted more of a take-charge guy (you'll notice, she always drove the Corvette). How many wedding dresses can you buy and still not walk down the aisle? He's gay, and it's time for Grace of the Will & Grace playroom set to move on.

Talk about shallow. Here we are discussing the make-believe reasons behind the make-believe break-up of a couple of dolls.

But I'm saddened by this news. And a little worried, too.

What are we supposed to make of the fact that Mattel - which came out with Astronaut Barbie in 1965 - decided that the best way to keep Barbie current is to have her walk away from a long-term relationship in favor of a boy toy?

Mattel once gave us President Barbie, though the nation recoils at the thought of President Hillary, yet still felt compelled to freshen her image with a J.Lo and Ben-style breakup.

What's next? Miss Piggy sues Kermit for palimony in an effort to hype the Muppet market share?

Sad to say, Barbie and Ken might have been the closest thing many children have to an image of commitment, longevity and true love.

The cynicism behind this new ad campaign is inescapable. Ken and Barbie didn't make it, and that's the new norm. There are supposedly more Barbie dolls in this country than people. If none of them is getting married - if all of them are walking out on comfortable Ken for new and exciting Blaine - what message does that deliver?

The irony is, Ken and Barbie called it quits during the same week that hundreds of gay couples rushed to the altar in San Francisco, intent on adopting the heterosexual model for monogamy that is being discarded by the rest of the culture like so many naked Barbies on the toy-room floor.

What is it about marriage that gay couples think they will find if Ken and Barbie couldn't find it after 43 years?

What do those forbidden to enter the institution of marriage think is going on inside it?

Do they think it is some kind of stable, solid, sanctified state of grace to which all committed couples should aspire?

Mattel has just issued the bulletin that it is not. Marriage is not good for Barbie, not good for Ken - and not good for business.

Ken and Barbie, thanks to Mattel, couldn't bring themselves to marry after 43 years of thinking about it, and something Britney Spears saw across the threshold caused her to bolt within hours of tying the knot.

Yet gay couples around the country think there is something so valuable in marriage that it is worth taking on every court in the land.

You have to wonder if they have read the news.

Commitment isn't sexy. It isn't hip. It is boring. Stability doesn't sell. It isn't cool, it isn't current. It isn't even necessary.

These days, you can have sex without marriage. You can have babies without marriage.

And, I guess, you can have dolls without marriage, too.

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