Share-a-Frown Barbie

Barbie is in the hot seat again. For someone so obsessed with image, America's plastic princess has an enemy's list longer and more varied than Richard Nixon's. Eating disorder groups hate her (dangerously thin), religious organizations (dangerously busty), animal rights activists (doll fur is murder, too), and feminists (don't get them started) have all taken swipes at Barbie. Now the disabled have a bone to pick with the little icon. Just last month, amid much self-congratulatory chest thumping and an avalanche of press releases, toymaker Mattel introduced Barbie's latest gal pal, wheelchair bound "Share a Smile Becky." The ungainly and condescending moniker confirms that the disabled have assumed the jolly sidekick role once reserved for the overweight in today's pop culture. Funny, spunky and non-threatening. Bad news is, the Beckster won't be visiting her friend any time soon since Babs' swanky Dream House turns out to be inaccessible. That darn old wheelchair can't squeeze into the elevator or through the doors. Not exactly the message of encouragement Mattel wanted to send to kids everywhere: it's ok to be disabled, but don't expect to fit in. In their defense, Mattel has vowed to incorporate wheelchair accessibility into their future dwellings. Their new Barbie Folding Pretty House with wider doors will be available in July. Hard to imagine with all the accusations and abuse, but Barbie was once a pioneer. Amelia Earhart, Susan B. Anthony and Cher all packed into an 11 and 1/2 inch body mold. She paved the way for the very same feminist movement that now derides her as a spawn of Satan. Before Barbie, dolls were helpless and needy like Betsy Wetsy and Tiny Tears. Playtime was basic mommy practice, feeding, burping and changing; reinforcing the notion that young girls' identities would ultimately be defined by their reproductive ability. Then in 1959, during the Donna Reed administration, Barbie blew into town. Single, on the go and sporting twin torpedoes under her sweater that kicked the door to puberty wide open. The power of Barbie's bosoms can't be overlooked. They, along with National Geographic, were the sex-ed curriculum of a generation. Barbie was her own woman, independent, a free spirit and she taught pre-pubescent girls to care about the things that are truly important - clothes, hair and accessories. Almost 40 years later, Barbie is adrift. Still single and unable to hold down a job, she flits from career to career, stewardess to dentist to model to astronaut to loan shark to carnival roustabout. Friends are discarded like outdated pantsuits, with nary a backward glance. Adieu, Midge, Stacy, Christie, P.J. and countless others. Even the one constant in her life, her relationship with mega-doofus Ken, is on shaky ground. Barbie and Ken have been an item since '61, but by now it is a coupling of convenience, like Merv Griffin and Eva Gabor. Passion hasn't flickered between them for decades. Not surprising for anyone who's ever seen Ken naked, as Barbie surely has since they change outfits constantly. For all his preppy good looks and lean swimmer's build, Ken is not bristling with testosterone. Instead of the standard issue manly equipment, he wields a mysterious and creepy little nub. Which probably explains Barbie's occasional indiscretions with G.I. Joe. At least he had Kung-fu grip. (If word of their affair is ever made public, G.I. Joe could be court martialed, even imprisoned. Oops, wrong gender. He could have his pension reduced.) Into this atmosphere of sexual tension struts the new stud on the block, Billy. Billy is blonde and buff with sky blue eyes and pouty bee-stung lips. And, wonder of wonders, has a genuine penis. While this groundbreaking news must have Barbie quivering with anticipation (All The Way Barbie, comes with travel toothbrush, cabfare and diaphragm) she is doomed for heartbreak. Billy is not looking to rock Barbie's world, but Ken's. Billy is gay. Isn't that the way it always is? All the good men are either nubby or gay. Currently, four Billy varieties are available, Cowboy Billy, Sailor Billy, San Francisco Billy and Master Billy, clad in black leather pants and harness. Billy is a one man version of The Village People. And don't get the impression that Billy is just a novelty item, like a kinky pet rock. Since being introduced last March by Totem International, 25,000 have sold at $49.95 each. In July, Totem launches a web site where Billy will speak on a wide range of issues. Barbie's life is now a Jerry Springer sweeps episode. But perhaps, just perhaps, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In August, Totem plans to introduce a new lesbian doll. If you can't beat 'em... And by that time Barbie's handicapped accessible digs will be ready. So she'll have no problem fitting through her closet door if she decides to come out.


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