Last week, Rep. Matt Gaetz and his wife, Ginger, arrived at a Washington reception for “Barbie” in matching pink, grinning in photos along the “pink carpet,” mingling among guests sipping pink cocktails, admiring a life-size pink toy box.
They left with political ammunition.
“The Barbie I grew up with was a representation of limitless possibilities, embracing diverse careers and feminine empowerment,” Ginger Gaetz wrote on Twitter. “The 2023 Barbie movie, unfortunately, neglects to address any notion of faith or family, and tries to normalize the idea that men and women can’t collaborate positively (yuck).”
Another account scolded Matt Gaetz, the hard-right and perpetually stunt-seeking Florida congressman, for attending the film at all — citing the casting of a trans actor as a doctor Barbie.
“If you let the trans stop you from seeing Margo Robbie,” he replied, leaving the “T” off the first name of the film’s star, “the terrorists win.”
The non-terroristic winners were many after the film’s $162 million debut: Robbie and Greta Gerwig, the film’s director, finding an eager audience for their pink-hued feminist opus; the Warner Bros. marketing team, whose ubiquitous campaigns plainly paid off; the film industry itself, riding “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” to its most culturally dominant weekend in years.
But few outcomes were as nominally inexplicable (and probably inevitable) as the film’s instant utility to political actors and opportunists of all kinds. For a modern take on what was long a politically fraught emblem of toxic body image and reductive social norms, no choice was too small, no turn too ideology-affirming or apparently nefarious, for a bipartisan coalition of commentators and elected officials to see value in its dissection.
“I have, like, pages and pages of notes,” Ben Shapiro, the popular conservative commentator, said in a lengthy video review, which began with him setting a doll aflame and did not grow more charitable.
“Here are 4 ways Barbie embraces California values,” the office of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote in a thread hailing Barbie as a champion of climate activism, “hitting the roads in her electric vehicle,” and of destigmatizing mental health care.
If there was a time in American culture when a giant summer film event was something of a unifier, that time is not 2023.