In my last posting, I wrote about Barbie as a cultural icon and the complications that creates for Mattel. In this article, I want to elaborate on what those complications are.
Barbie lives many lives; she is a product on a store shelf; she is a doll in a little girl’s bedroom; she is something boys are not supposed to play with; she is a body type impossible to achieve in real life; she is a southern California blonde beauty; she is a memory tucked away in the back of a closet and more.
If we think Barbie’s relationship with women and girls is complicated, imagine how complicated she is for Mattel. What do you do when you have created a product that people have imbued with powerful meaning? If you are Mattel, how do you manage someone's memory and emotions. In fact, more disconcertedly, how do you manage an idea; an adjective; a symbol, a totem?
The good news for Mattel is that Barbie is not going anywhere anymore than are Tarzan or Dorothy and her Oz pals. The bad news is that her fortunes will rise and fall with powerful cultural forces beyond the company's control.
As a result, no one can truly predict Barbie’s future as a product but no matter how things play out, Barbie has a firm grip on global culture…it's just that how you see her is how you look at her.