How Mainstream is Porn? Media Ignore Implications of Body Art Barbie

Tattoo BarbieCMI's Matt Philbin discussed Tattoo Barbie in his latest column:

We can be sure she's not the first of her generation to mark her 50th birthday by getting tattoos. After all, the cultivation of youth-obsessed narcissism and bad taste is a Baby Boomer hallmark (see Clinton, Bill). But "Totally Stylin' Tattoos Barbie" is no less disturbing for being a product of her generation.

Mattel is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the bubbly blonde franchise with an update - tattoos for her and her young owners. Of course, temporary tattoos have been a staple "secret toy surprise" in cereal boxes and candy for decades. But only in the ‘90s did real ink cease to be liberty souvenirs for sailors and become unisex accessories. Tattoos are now a ubiquitous sign of rebellious conformity for men, and often a statement of Tila Tequila aspirations for women.

As a reflection of contemporary pop culture, Barbie's always been an emblem of what little girls wanted to grow into (or at least, what Mattel thought they wanted to grow into.) From debutant to surfer girl to go-go young exec, her ensembles and accoutrements were an ideal vision of how an impossibly beautiful 20-something with unlimited cash and free time would live. 

A Nexis search revealed that networks largely ignored Tattoo Barbie. CNN and Fox News briefly mentioned her during broadcasts but failed to explore the implications of the message Mattel is sending to the young girls who look up to Barbie.

So logically, today we have "Tramp Stamp Barbie," accurately reflecting the aesthetics of our porn-sodden culture. "Sex sells," and it always has. What's fairly new is that it's selling to the grade school set. Oh, Mattel has tried before. In 1999, protests forced "Butterfly Art Barbie," from the shelves. But a decade of relentless sexualization later, the company is betting enough parents won't notice. It's a pretty safe bet. Check out what kids are watching on ABC Family. Stroll through the mall or multiplex any given Saturday. The same parents who allow their "tween" daughters out tarted up like Bratz Dolls probably aren't going to work up much outrage over "Body Art Barbie."

Speaking of Bratz, they were Barbie's very successful competitor until a judge ordered the company to cease making them because of copyright infringement. Bratz were Barbie's wilder contemporaries - the bad girls who don't get brought home to mother and don't care. Dressed as though to go clubbing and looking for a hook-up, they took a sizeable chunk of market share from poor nerdy Barbie. Ironically, though, when that copyright judge ruled last year, it was in favor of Mattel. Bratz had apparently been an idea of Barbie's creators.

From here, the path is clear: next year comes "Urban Ken" with shaved head, baggy pants and barbed wire ink around his neck. Then, "Body Piercing Barbie" and "Pole Dance Barbie." Finally the "Malibu Dream House" will be updated into "Secluded San Fernando Valley Rental Dream House."

Barbie's not the only one getting a makeover lately. Nickelodeon has announced that it will be unveiling a new "tween" version of the Dora the Explorer doll in time for the 2009 Christmas season. Bi-lingual Dora is beloved of the preschool set and the most excruciatingly multicultural cartoon star not under contract to PBS. 

Nick has realized that, while it has the 3 - 8 year-olds sewn up, it's losing them as they age. So tween Dora will apparently ditch her animal friends for humans (a rather comforting natural progression), head for the big city and a total age and style update.

This is news because it has a lot of adults nervous. On the left, it's earned the ire of the kind of people that always get upset when companies offer products people want. Dora has been a repository of feminist ideas about child-rearing. She's an adventurer in non-gender-specific clothes. No tea parties or doll houses for her! For Nick to grow her hair and put her in stylish clothes is heresy.

On the right, well, we've seen what Barbie's updates have brought. And it doesn't exactly inspire confidence that, in doing the Dora makeover, Nick is working with ... Mattel.