Well apparently, Barbie’s house is not such a dream after all. I’m working in Berlin for two months this summer, and there’s been quite a kerfuffle about the life-sized Barbie Dreamhouse that opened near Alexanderplatz in May. Organizers bill the Dreamhouse as a temporary theme park, but I think that may be overstating it slightly. The 2,500-square meter house is more like an expensive fun-house shopping experience – pay the money, walk through and see life-sized Barbie ensconced in her expansive pink world, bake virtual cupcakes on a touch screen, do some dress-up if you paid for the high-end VIP package, and then end your visit at the toy store.
In Berlin, though, when the Dreamhouse opened last month, it was promptly greeted by a series of protests. Most notably, from a media point of view, a protestor from the FEMEN group stood topless on the gigantic pink shoe outside the house and burned a Barbie doll strapped to a cross, to nearby chants of “Being Barbie is not a career!” Across her chest was written, “Life in plastic is not fantastic.”
Two other groups, the far-left political group Die Linke and the international activist group Pinkstinks, also showed up at the opening to protest the implicit suggestion that girls should strive for little more than being a pretty face. In the weeks since the Dreamhouse opening, nearly 3,000 people have joined the “Occupy Barbie-Dreamhouse” movement on Facebook, a group that has since organized public discussions and workshops on sexism, gender stereotypes, and violence against women.
Not surprisingly, Christoph Rahofer, the head of the group taking the Dreamhouse on tour, said, “I really can’t understand how playing with a Barbie doll is problematic.” Occupy Barbie-Dreamhouse founder Michael Koschitzki responds that, “Our protest is not directed against kids playing with Barbie or against parents going there. The Barbie Dreamhouse presents a very narrow role model for women. The Dreamhouse experience shows cooking, make-up and singing as the fulfillment of a woman’s life.” Furthermore, he adds, “As a real woman, Barbie would be anorexic. She would have a Body Mass Index of 16.24, which is medically categorised as anorexic. She wouldn’t have a normal menstruation cycle and she would be infertile.”
I’ve read about these various protests with interest, partly because I haven’t purchased Barbies for my own kids, although one or two have made their way into the house over the years. While I’m not interested enough to pay the steep $23 entrance fee and see the inside for myself (kudos to Roma Rajpal for her dedication in doing just that!), I did head down there this morning, a few weeks after the opening, just to see the spectacle.
Or rather, the lack of spectacle. On a sunny summer’s day, what I found was… almost nothing. In the time I stood watching, I saw exactly one mother and daughter pair enter the Dream House. A few men sat at the outdoor café, but whether they were fathers waiting for their families inside or just bored workers on a coffee break was hard to say.
If today is any indication, the Dreamhouse doesn’t seem to be making a very big splash in Berlin, apart from the initial bad-press hoorah. Mattel and EMS Entertainment have big plans, though, of taking the Dreamhouse on a multi-city European tour after the Berlin stint finishes in August.
Maybe Barbie’s dream will sell better somewhere else.