The right-wing Barbie meltdown shows how reactionary forces are losing the culture wars

Ben Shapiro: “Get ready, folks. It’s going to be liberated Barbie time."


Citation Andrea Austria / Media Matters

The Barbie movie is scheduled to be released on July 21; as it stands, there is no evidence that anti-trans attacks by right-wing influencers have resonated with audiences at all. (Barbie is distributed by Warner Bros. Movies, which is currently being struck by the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.)

Greta Gerwig, director of the film, recently explained the underlying thesis of her latest project in a New York Times Magazine article

“People say, ‘Well, what’s the story of Barbie?’” Gerwig recalls. “The story of Barbie is the fight that’s been going on about Barbie.”

In keeping with recent anti-LGBTQ extremist campaigns, right-wing media personalities have now imposed their anti-trans agenda onto that fight. They certainly have the muscle memory for ideologically wrestling with toys: Great battles in the conservative culture war have been waged over Mr. Potato Head, Legos, XboxMuppets, and more.

Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, Fox host Rachel Campos-Duffy, and the gambit of right-wing blogs are outraged that Hari Nef, a transgender model and actor, stars in the movie as Doctor Barbie. (There are more than a dozen characters named Barbie in the movie, per IMDb, and an audio clip of each Barbie greeting each other by the same name has gone viral on TikTok.) This is not the first time Mattel has celebrated transgender representation through the Barbie brand: In 2022, the company released a doll version of Emmy-nominated actress Laverne Cox.

On June 30, Kirk called the movie “trans propaganda that is in this hyper-feminine, ultra pink propaganda thing, but it’s really been taken over by the trans mafia.” He later added the trailer for Barbie was “the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,” then floated a boycott of the film.

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Citation From the June 30, 2023 edition of Real America's Voice's The Charlie Kirk Show

After repeatedly tweeting about Nef’s casting, Shapiro warned, “The new Barbie movie is going to be a woke bleep show.” He attacked Nef for writing a letter to Gerwig advocating that she be cast in the movie and predictably went on to repeatedly misgender her.

“Get ready, folks. It’s going to be liberated Barbie time.”

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Citation From the June 28, 2023 edition of The Daily Wire's The Ben Shapiro Show

On Fox, Campos-Duffy complained that “the left has given Barbie a complete feminist makeover,” then went on to misgender and attack Nef. “They couldn’t get a woman to play a doctor?”

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Citation From the July 3, 2023, edition of Jesse Watters Primetime

In a panel segment following her monologue, Campos-Duffy said Gerwig’s Barbie is “another indoctrination vehicle.”

On his podcast, right-wing pundit Dave Rubin asked, “Why do they go out of their way to have a biological boy play a girl who’s supposed to be completely a girl in the Barbie movie unless they’re trying to confuse kids?”

Right-wing blogs are also furiously churning out their own Barbie takes. Conspiracy theory-peddling website Revolver News ran a guest post by Federalist contributor Peachy Keenan titled “The Pink Menace” that described Gerwig as the “Destroyer of Dolls” and zeroed in on Nef, labeling her “Groomer Barbie.”

The Pink Menace

Citation Screenshot from Revolver News

An article on right-wing “media watchdog” NewsBusters asked whether the movie was preparing a “Woke Barbie Bait-and Switch” from its press tour to the actual contents of the film, suggesting (baselessly) that the promotion was intentionally papering over Barbie’s “potentially progressive leanings,” citing “the movie’s aggressively diverse cast” and the inclusion of Nef as Barbie.

Both Fox News and the Washington Examiner wrote about Christian movie review site Movieguide instructing audiences not to take children to see the upcoming movie.

From the decadeslong legacy of the doll to the upcoming star-studded merchandisable movie, Barbie is a phenomenon. Social media users are flooding feeds with “Barbiecore”: hot pink outfit inspiration, adorably plastic makeup tutorials, and rankings of red carpet looks from the movie’s premiere events. There’s been an “explosion” of Barbie-themed launches selling out across the market — from frozen yogurt to shoes and clothes to couches.

Mainstream audiences simply do not hate transgender actors enough to hold back their enthusiasm for the film.