The anti-woke right wing thought it would flex some post-Bud Light brouhaha muscles by taking down the “Barbie” movie. This did not come off looking like a show of strength for them, to say the least.
After all the Fox News and Newsmax segments attacking the movie before it hit theaters, after Rep. Matt Gaetz’s wife Ginger complaining of “Disappointingly low T from Ken,” and after the criticism on right-wing movie review sites, the movie is an enormous hit. “Barbie” had the biggest opening of the year at the domestic box office, and the biggest opening weekend ever for a movie directed by a woman.
Ben Shapiro dedicated a 43-minute video to trashing the movie, calling it “one of the most woke movies I have ever seen” and urging his followers to downrate the movie if they were polled by market research firm CinemaScore. “Barbie” has an A rating at CinemaScore. Following widespread mockery of his video, Shapiro returned to claim, “The reaction to me burning a Barbie car with, like, a Barbie and Ken in it is like the reaction of the Islamic world when someone burns a Quran in Sweden.” No, Ben: People were making fun of you. There’s a difference.
It was a full far-right pile-on. Alt-right conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec called it a “man-hating Woke propaganda fest” and “possibly the most anti-male film ever made.” Far-right social media site owner Elon Musk claimed that if “you take a shot every time Barbie says the word ‘patriarchy’, you will pass out before the movie ends.” They really, really wanted to show they could leave a mark on a major Hollywood movie centering on an iconic corporate product. But it turns out they have less sway over “Barbie” than Bud Light.
It’s important not to lose sight of what this is about: It’s part of an effort to enforce gender roles according to right-wing preferences, a backlash against the movie’s undermining of the ways Barbie has represented femininity for generations now. Although interestingly, they’re really upset about the representation of Ken, as if Ken had ever been some major figure in American visions of masculinity. But using him to mock exactly the kind of people who think about whether a character based on a doll is “low T”—that spurs the hysteria. There’s also another particularly ugly strain to the right-wing efforts to take down “Barbie”: rage over the casting of trans actress Hari Nef as a doctor Barbie.
Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk called the movie “trans propaganda that is in this hyper-feminine, ultra pink propaganda thing, but it’s really been taken over by the trans mafia.”
“One of the Barbies is a trans Barbie,” Shapiro said. “And this is true! Totally normal, as if this is a female Barbie—with a voice deeper than my own.” Gosh, Ben, I don’t know, that might be as much of a you thing as it is a her thing. But the “Totally normal, as if this is a female Barbie” part is telling, because yes and yes. Just take out the “as if” and you’ve nailed it.
The anti-trans sentiment directed against Nef’s casting is important here: One reason for the frenzied rage over the movie’s message about gender as a whole is the sense that masculinity and femininity as universal, unchanging truths are being undermined. The idea that Ryan Gosling as Ken is not a rippling specimen of dominant manhood links to anti-trans bigotry. The anger about both is rooted in the belief that a rigid gender binary is sacred and in the fear that it’s slipping away from them as the kids these days move away from strong adherence to said binary.
But wherever the rage is coming from, the far right, with its huge media infrastructure and high-profile influencers, tried to take down “Barbie.” And holy crap, did they ever fail. In fact, Twitter user @TechnicallyRon took those right-wing reviews and made them into movie-style posters that made some people want to see the movie even more.
Thanks to the right-wing hissy fit, I’m off to the movies this afternoon. Look for an upcoming review of “Barbie” at Daily Kos.
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