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  • Writer's pictureDani

Meaning: Is it Kenough?

Among the myriad of themes explored in Barbie, what resonated most profoundly with me was how existential emptiness and loneliness shaped Ken’s actions throughout the film. We are first introduced to this when he doesn't receive Barbie's validating gaze. He is nothing without her, and he clings to the thought that perhaps one day she will give him life. She never does of course, but he attempts to win her over every chance he gets.

Ken's search to fill the void of existence isn't a novel concept only portrayed in movies. It is innately and uniquely human. Ken wasn't human, but Greta Gerwig did a wonderful job projecting this attribute onto him; much in the same way children animate their toys during play.

Ken grappled with this sense of emptiness and loneliness throughout the film. Things seemed hopeless in the beginning, but while in the real world he becomes acquainted with the male aesthetic, y he assumes that his maleness and understanding of the male aesthetic would allow him to assimilate into the culture of the real world. After some effort, he soon realizes his lack and then returns to Barbieland with hopes of assuaging his existential anxiety.

He succeeds in his venture and replicates the patriarchal aesthetic in Kenland. All of the Kens in Kenland are swayed by this implicit purpose derived from the patriarchal aesthetic. They have houses, roles in government, horses, and control over the gaze of the Other. In this sense they eliminate their existential emptiness, loneliness, and anxiety by eliminating the freedom of the Other by reducing them to nothing but vapid dolls.

I don't know if we can say that they oppress their oppressors here because it's unclear to me whether or not the Barbies actively restricted the Kens’ freedoms or not. I think the argument could be made either way. I do think that the Kens actively oppressed the Barbies though. They deliberately conquered them.

When Barbie returns to her motherland, she discovers what dire straits her home is in and confronts Ken and his village. It becomes clear, when Barbie encounters Ken, that he is still searching for her validating gaze by presenting himself as being a creator of meaning. Barbie, much like Ken, reflects on existential anxiety (the elimination of what it means to be Barbie), but instead of seeking blind domination she embraces Simone de Beauvoir's philosophy by maintaining her own freedom and the freedom of the Other. This includes the Kens when they gain the ability to participate in government.

I think that she acts in this way because she had the opportunity, in both Barbieland and the real world, to create meaning. The creation of meaning in this sense protected her from the influence of external validation and a vapid existence. Perhaps, if we heed this warning of the importance of meaning in the face of existential anxiety, emptiness, and loneliness we can be better prepared to fend off bad actors and activities that aren't in our best interest?

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