For months, personalities at The Daily Wire have maintained that collaborating with a transgender person would spell doom for any corporate campaign, and have driven boycotts against multiple companies that did so. Given this recent history, a close observer of the Daily Wire might expect the right-wing media company to make a similar attempt around the cultural juggernaut that is Barbie (2023), which features both a surprisingly trans plot and a trans actress in a major role.
Instead, editor Ben Shapiro went to see the film on opening weekend and then posted a video in which he melts down about it for three-quarters of an hour.
(This article contains spoilers about the Barbie movie)
It’s immediately clear from his review that Shapiro does not understand the intended audience of the movie he has decided to DESTROY in a rant nearly half as long as the movie’s runtime. He says two minutes into his review that the movie is aimed at mothers and their “8-year-old” daughters, something that he repeats again 10 minutes in, 32 minutes in, 36 minutes in, and 39 minutes in. But the Barbie movie is rated PG-13 “for suggestive references and brief language.” It’s intended neither for kids without parental guidance nor, perhaps, for podcasters who over-identify with the protagonist’s foil. (Hilariously, Ben complains in his review that many men “are husbands and fathers, many of us have daughters,” unintentionally echoing a joke from the movie where the CEO of Mattel refers to himself as “the son of a mother and the nephew of a female aunt.”)
Shapiro also misses the plot of the movie that he claims to have taken pages of notes on, saying that “the point of the film is that the matriarchy is amazing” and that “all the Kens are gay” even though “Earring Magic Ken,” popularly considered a gay incarnation of the character, is reduced to a brief cameo, and the portrayal of a fantasy matriarchy where men are seen as peripheral at best is a clear critique of patriarchy shown by narrative inversion. He even claims, incorrectly, that Ken is portrayed in the film as a lifeguard, when Ryan Gosling’s character makes clear that his job is actually “beach.”
As a one-time aspiring screenwriter, Shapiro might have taken note of such basic details as Ken’s job, why the character Allan exists, and that people have in fact come and gone from Barbieland before, but he appears to have fixated instead on his own jealousy, which is transparent throughout his takedown. Shapiro complains that he doesn’t know why Mattel would turn over their IP to filmmakers who hate them, and then calls those filmmakers “idiots who think they’re smart” because of their “dumb references,” “morons,” shitty writers, and even transphobic.
“If you're on the left,” Shapiro — who is currently making an anti-trans basketball “comedy” — whines, “You can make one of the world’s most boring, crappy comedies. You can waste an extraordinary amount of money and talent. You can waste some of the great IP ever created. But as long as you slather it in a bunch of warmed-over Gloria Steinem nonsense, the critics will just salivate over you."
It’s also possible that Shapiro missed such key plot points as Ken’s job because they were delivered when trans actress Hari Nef was on screen. At no point in the movie is Nef’s character “Doctor Barbie” said to be transgender — it’s unclear what such a designation would mean given that the Barbies canonically have no genitals — but Shapiro cannot stop thinking about it. He complains in his review that she has a deeper voice than he does and, later, that Gosling’s character is “victimized” by the experience of briefly flirting with Nef. (Earlier in his review, Shapiro forgets to misgender Nef and complains that the entire cast except Gosling is women.) Confusingly, Ben sums up the point of the movie as defining women by their vaginas, a point that is both bafflingly wrong and also something that he himself has done many times.
Shapiro’s attendance at the movie represents a kind of tactical retreat for the Daily Wire, whose personalities previously attempted to motivate audiences to boycott first Bud Light, then Target, and then over a dozen other brands (including Fox News) for their alleged support of trans people and the LGBTQ community more broadly. Shapiro’s colleague Candace Owens pre-empted Pride Month by memorably telling her audience, “Do not shop at Target or else you're gay and you're a pervert.”
But as the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them, and so while Shapiro complained multiple times about the casting and marketing of the film, when it came time for the premiere, the curmudgeonly podcaster dressed up like his favorite Ken and joined the line.
There is, of course, a more cynical interpretation of all of this. YouTube does not merely reward the creators of content that people enjoy. It also pays for hate clicks. As of this writing, Shapiro’s video review, which featured periodic cuts to advertisements run by YouTube as well as an in-video endorsement of ExpressVPN, had attracted well over a million views, and the podcaster seemed downright gleeful with the amount of attention it has received. The analytics website SocialBlade estimates that Shapiro’s YouTube channel nets as much as $7.6 million a year.
But there is more to life than money and plastic perfection. Like picturing Ken without Barbie, it is difficult to picture Ben Shapiro without him getting publicly angry about the dolls. And he does not appear to enjoy where his fame has led him. He admits five minutes into his review that the movie made him viscerally angry and that watching it amounted to “two hours I will never get back,” then repeating later that “this film took years off my life.”
Near the end of his rant, Shapiro complains that Ken is encouraged to find ways to define himself without Barbie. It is advice that Ben Shapiro himself should consider. Barbie has been a smash hit financially, boosting Mattel and landing Nef a cover shoot — a rare achievement for a trans person — in TIME magazine. Hari is everything. He’s just Ben.