The feminist tug-of-war around the 'Barbie' movie and bimbos : It's Been a Minute The Barbie movie has arrived and we seem to be reaching peak Barbie-mania. But, Barbie's brand of hyperfeminine fun has been on the rise for years — especially online among left leaning femmes who call themselves bimbos and have been giving the term a new meaning.

Host Brittany Luse and Hannah McCann, a lecturer at the University of Melbourne who specializes in critical femininity studies, explore how both Barbie and real-life bimbos are criticized for being bad role models, and yet this carefree, maximalist, feminine style may actually be a little subversive.

The spectacular femininity of bimbos and 'Barbie'

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BRITTANY LUSE, HOST:

A heads-up to listeners - this episode includes mentions of sex and sex work and also contains some vulgar language.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUSE: Hey, y'all. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Brittany Luse. I have been waiting for this weekend for months. My tickets are bought. I've laid out my pink outfit, and I'm ready to see the "Barbie" movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

ALEXANDRA SHIPP: (As Barbie) Hi, Barbie.

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Barbie) Hi, Barbie.

EMMA MACKEY: (As Barbie) Hi, Barbie.

ISSA RAE: (As Barbie) Hi, Barbie.

ROBBIE: (As Barbie) Hi, Barbie.

SIMU LIU: (As Ken) Hi, Barbie.

ROBBIE: (As Barbie) Hi, Ken.

LUSE: And "Barbie" is coming at just the right time. Her brand of hyperfeminine fun has been on the rise for the past few years, especially among some young femmes who call themselves bimbos.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISSY CHLAPECKA: Hi. Welcome to bimbo TikTok. I'm so glad you could finally make it.

LUSE: TikTokers like Chrissy Chlapecka, who you just heard, and Nikita Redkar are exploring what it means to be a bimbo through their online personas. But they aren't just embracing the no thoughts, pretty girl stereotype. They're adding an extra layer to what being a bimbo means. The new bimbo is often a socially aware, anti-capitalist leftist.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKITA REDKAR: Girlies, we all want to eat the rich. But what if I told you we already have them on the menu?

LUSE: While I haven't seen the "Barbie" movie yet and I don't know her political views, both Barbie and real-life bimbos are hyperfeminine, and they get criticized for being bad role models. But what's actually so bad about carefree, maximalist femininity? We've got bimbos, Barbies and the benefits of being over the top. And later, a bit of Barbie trivia. Coming up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: Before we get to what the bimbo means now, we have to understand where she came from. And surprisingly, the word bimbo originally referred to men.

HANNAH MCCANN: Apparently, it came from the Italian word bambino, which means baby. And it was used as a kind of pejorative for men.

LUSE: That's Hannah McCann, a lecturer at the University of Melbourne who specializes in critical femininity studies. She said that the heyday of the male bimbo came to a close in the 1920s, when the phrase flipped genders in songs like "My Little Bimbo Down On The Bamboo Aisle."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY LITTLE BIMBO DOWN ON THE BAMBOO AISLE")

FRANK CRUMIT: (Singing) I'll tell you about it, but don't tell my wife 'cause I've got a bimbo down on the bamboo isle.

MCCANN: We start to see this just intensifying use of the word bimbo to describe women and particularly curvy, sexually promiscuous, airhead stereotyped women, often blonde.

LUSE: It stayed that way for almost 100 years till we got to the 2020s. And now the bimbo is being remade again, mostly thanks to TikTok.

MCCANN: You'll see on #BimboTok on TikTok that the people that are part of that are saying, yeah, I'm stupid. I've got nothing in my head. I'm a slut. And unlike the original stereotype that's really associated with cisgender, white, blonde women, what you see on #BimboTok are people who are queer, all different kind of races and ethnicities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED TIKTOKER: Anyone can be a bimbo - the girlies, gays, theys, our trans icons and bicons and everyone in between.

MCCANN: People who are identifying really explicitly as left wing and Marxist, often.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHLAPECKA: A bimbo isn't dumb. I mean, she kind of is, but she isn't that dumb. She's actually a radical leftist who's pro-sex work, pro-Black Lives Matter, pro-LGBTQ, pro-choice.

LUSE: For young people of all genders who identify as bimbos, being a bimbo recently also means being extremely political and leftist. What is smart or could be smart about having a, quote, unquote, "no thoughts, head empty" approach to social critique? Like, how does that work?

MCCANN: It's about not having to engage with people who are demanding that you prove yourself, demanding that you can intellectually keep up with them or compete with them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FIONA FAIRBAIRN: Bimbofication is an ego death. When you say goodbye to your ego, you don't have to defend yourself. You just are. Let people underestimate you.

MCCANN: And that is...

LUSE: Interesting.

MCCANN: ...Explicitly why it's so jarring to patriarchal frameworks that insist you prove yourself and keep up in a way that is perfect and up to certain standards and that you speak in a certain way, that you look a certain way. You know, that idea...

LUSE: In order to be heard and to have your ideas be valid.

MCCANN: Yeah.

LUSE: One of the things we've been thinking about in preparing to talk to you is, like, how a bimbo feminism is, like, a part of a longer chain of different feminism styles or aesthetics that have come out in the past few decades, like girl power, which I survived, and girlbossery, which I also barely survived. But I wonder, what's new about bimbo feminism? Like, what needs does it address? And why is it popular now?

MCCANN: It's really good that you brought up girlboss feminism because bimbo aesthetics and bimbo articulations are explicitly also a reaction to girlboss feminism because...

LUSE: Say more about that.

MCCANN: ...Because being able to say, I've got nothing in my head, and I'm not going to prove myself within this particular patriarchal structure is such a rejection of girlboss feminism, which is about leaning in and trying to keep up with the boys and dressing a certain way, power dressing, wearing the pantsuits and so on, being in line with capitalism and getting to the top of it and being an entrepreneur and all those things - whereas bimbos are embracing that aesthetic that is associated with kind of working class or lower class and often, like, white-trash stereotype.

LUSE: Also, aesthetics commonly associated with sex workers - having, you know, hair extensions, tight clothing, super tall platform heels. The more I think about what it means to be a bimbo or what a bimbo Looks like is where race plays into that as well because the thing I just keep thinking about over and over again is I'm like, well, where would I fit in? And I identify with a part of the bimbo aesthetic that you're talking about. Like, I'm here to have a good time and preserve my energy for the things that actually need me, that need my attention and that I actually care about. I'm not here to prove myself to people who already don't see my value, but I don't know if I'd feel comfortable calling myself a bimbo because of the assumptions that are already out there about Black women's intelligence. Where does the bimbo aesthetic exist outside of whiteness?

MCCANN: I think that's such an important question. Before this rise of #BimboTok, which is trying to articulate a bimbo that isn't necessarily white or cisgender or a woman, every stereotypical representation that we have of the bimbo is white and blonde. And even if we look at something like the "Barbie" movie, I mean, there's obviously Barbies of all different races in the film, but the main Barbie's white. And, you know, the most kind of famous #BimboTok stars are also white. So even though, you know, there is this strong sense of wanting to reject that and also to support movements like Black Lives Matter, I think it's so fair enough if you feel like this doesn't speak to you.

LUSE: I have seen self-professed bimbos of different racial backgrounds. It'll be interesting to see how these conversations continue to develop. But going back to a very famous bimbo that you mentioned earlier, our OG bimbo, Miss Barbie, is coming back. In the same way that bimbos could be simultaneously read as feminist and anti-feminist, Barbie has been read as both of those two. And also, because Barbie's movie is coming out, I am seeing people fight every day online about what she represents. What makes Barbie such a fraught icon of femininity?

MCCANN: She's a fraught icon because even though in recent decades, Barbie has diversified in terms of body types and presentations and abilities and ethnicities, she, for the most part, has been blonde. She's white. She's skinny. She's kind of normatively beautiful and adhering to kind of particular beauty standards. And so she's fraught because she's seen to represent a model to which little girls should aspire, which is narrow. But on the other hand, you know, there is this idea that Barbie has been every occupation, and she can do anything. And so there's this...

LUSE: Right. Right.

MCCANN: There's a kind of, like, feminist critique of Barbie as representing patriarchal femininity. And then there's a feminist defense of Barbie as representing a girlboss feminism. I hate both of those, really. I think that if we want to look at what Barbie means, she's not just this floating signifier that tells us how to look. It's about how people play with Barbie. And there's multiple Barbies that people have - and Kens. And they do all kinds of things with them.

I mean, my Barbies - I had two Barbies and a Ken. Ken was gay, and the Barbies were a butch and a femme Barbie. And I cut one of their hair off. And it was - that was it. Like, they were all queer. And you can project onto Barbie. That, to me, is more interesting than just saying that she's a problematic icon or she's some fantastic icon.

LUSE: Barbie is, I mean, quite literally, plastic.

MCCANN: And it's so interesting to me that there's this kind of, you know, fear of, like, everyone's going to try and, like, look as unrealistic as Barbie. And then when you get women who literally try and have plastic surgery to look like Barbie, all of the commentary is like, this crazy, distorted figure person who doesn't look like a human being anymore. And you're like, doesn't that tell us something interesting about, like, the hyperfemininity of Barbie is actually - in her unnaturalness, points out something about the unnaturalness of gender generally? Like, it actually seems kind of subversive and queer to me rather than natural and unremarked upon.

LUSE: That is kind of interesting because it's, like, the idea that, like, all beauty is profane unless it's natural. I mean, I used to wear a strip of false eyelashes, sometimes double, on each eye every time I went to a bar or club when I was in college. There was something really fun about having all of the effort that it took to look a certain way sitting right there on my face. But if the idea is that some people are so beautiful that they don't have to draw their faces on, I could see how that would be a little bit more insidious. Like, if you're born with it, it's better. Like...

MCCANN: Yeah. One of the things I've kind of theorized about previously is whether there is such a thing as toxic femininity. Like, we talk about toxic masculinity. Is there a toxic femininity? And one of the kind of areas I think that promotes kind of toxic ideas about femininity is this cult of natural beauty that exists. There is this kind of bioessentialism behind it that is as if there is some good beauty and then bad beauty. And the bad beauty, of course...

LUSE: Yeah.

MCCANN: ...Is associated with sex workers, with, like, lower-class, working-class women. It's associated with a bimbo. That's what's rejected. And, you know, I think so much of our attention when feminists critique beauty practices - they're actually focusing on the hyperfeminine, and they're focusing less on the more insidious kind of cult of natural beauty.

LUSE: Speaking of the idea of hyperfemininity, going back to Barbie, Barbie is not just feminine. She's hyperfeminine, spectacularly feminine, as you say. What does that mean, spectacular femininity?

MCCANN: Yeah. There's this really fantastic concept coming out of critical femininity studies called spectacular femininity, which is really looking at characters who've been dismissed before. So for example, Maya Padan's done this work on the Spice Girls and, like, how their aesthetic is actually so spectacular that it connects with this kind of reading of them as drag. And I think that that's actually really interesting when we think about pop stars, because so many drag queens actually do reference pop stars. It's an interesting kind of interaction between, like, what is drag and who is in drag and what do we count as kind of subversive? It's a much more dynamic way of understanding what's going on in that presentation rather than just saying, oh, no, they're dupes of the patriarchy, too, which is unfortunately how some of the girl power stuff got interpreted.

LUSE: Well, it's interesting because what it sounds like it does, too, is it really takes their gender performance, and it actually considers it a performance.

MCCANN: Yes.

LUSE: Like, a Britney Spears or a Cher or a Diana Ross or a Madonna - there's a performance element in everything that they're doing. You don't come out the womb just Ginger Spice. There's construction. There's labor. There's work involved in becoming a Spice Girl or becoming the - you know, like I said, the Madonna or the Diana Ross or the Janet Jackson that we see on stage.

MCCANN: Exactly. There was a really interesting show that I analyzed a few years ago out of the U.K. called "Snog Marry Avoid?" And they would take these women off the street who, according to the show, were wearing too much makeup. And they were just, like, disgustingly over-the-top women - and not just women but, like, people who engaged in subcultures who were, like, goths and other kind of...

LUSE: Oh, sure.

MCCANN: ...Over-the-top styles. So they would take these people, put them through this make-under process where they would, like, take off all their makeup and then, like, reapply makeup but just, like, natural, nice makeup and then dress them in conservative clothes.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SNOG MARRY AVOID?")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What are you going to do to me, POD?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As POD) I'm going to turn you into a natural beauty.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: OK.

MCCANN: And the whole point of this show was, like, giving them a make-under. And, like, ugh. And then they'd have all these people judge them and be like, would you snog, marry or avoid this person, like, when they had makeup?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SNOG MARRY AVOID?")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I would avoid that girl. She's got too much makeup on. I can't even see her features. I can't even see the color of her eyes, either.

MCCANN: And then afterwards, it would be like, everyone wanted to marry them rather than avoid them because, you know, they looked so much more acceptable. And I just thought, this is so interesting that so much feminist analysis has focused on makeover shows as, like, super problematic, like, reinforcing patriarchal standards. But when you transpose that onto a make-under show, you actually see how those spectacular femininities are quite uncomfortable and, like, quite unnatural and disruptive for people. And it's actually there's some midpoint there of something that passes as natural and conservative, and that is what is acceptable. And that's the kind of line that's trying to be enforced there.

LUSE: That's funny because it also feels like - you said that the name of the show is "Snog Marry Avoid?" It's funny because the tell is kind of in the construct of the show where it's based around marriage as the ultimate goal. It's like, you could be just enjoying yourself wearing 6 pounds of makeup on your face every day, but then it's like, but do you want to get married?

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: Because if you want to get married, you're going to need to wash your face and put on only two coats of mascara.

MCCANN: And that's, like, what I think bimbo aesthetics are about, too. It's like, no, it's actually so exaggerated and over the top that if you're put on "Snog Marry Avoid?" it would be - people would be saying they'd avoid you. You know what I mean? So...

LUSE: (Laughter). Even when you think about, like, Barbie, one of the things that I have noticed in all of the "Barbie" promotion that has been put out there is that spectacularly feminine aesthetics of the film. The pink Dreamhouses and the, like, super pink, campy outfits are not necessarily appealing to men. Like, that's not who the film is even being marketed to. It's meant to appeal to people who enjoy the performance and the theatricality and the sense of fun within those spectacularly feminine aesthetics. We talked earlier in our conversation about the different feminist aesthetics. We know what the girlboss has wrought. Living in the girlboss matrix has made me personally tired. What potential do you see coming out of bimbos and bimbo feminism? What kind of world, aesthetic or era might they create?

MCCANN: My biggest hope for bimbo feminism is that it will paradoxically mean taking femininity seriously. So even though part of bimboism is embracing being unserious, I think my hope is that it means when we look critically at texts like "Barbie", we take it more seriously as something disruptive, as something that has queer potential, that we actually start thinking about masculinities in terms of femininity, as well. So we look at how - something that Rhea Ashley Hoskin has theorized, as well, is how, kind of, actually everything about toxic masculinity is really just a rejection of femininity. So we start kind of actually taking that more seriously, and we think about how fun femininity can be, how joyous and opening up the expressive possibilities for everyone without denigrating it or assuming that it's for a male gaze.

LUSE: Thank you so, so much, Hannah, for coming on the show and talking with me about this today. I learned a lot.

MCCANN: Thank you for having me. I just love talking about bimbos.

LUSE: Thanks again to lecturer Hannah McCann from the University of Melbourne. Coming up, I bring on some of my NPR colleagues for a little Barbie trivia. Stick around.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: All right. In honor of the "Barbie" movie finally coming out this weekend, we are now going to play some Barbie trivia. And to do that, I'm joined by Aisha Harris from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Hi, Aisha.

AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: Hi, Barbie - Brittany.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: Oh, Freudian slip. The resemblance is too strong. It is too strong. And we are also joined by B.A. Parker from NPR's Code Switch. Hi, Parker.

B A PARKER, BYLINE: Hi. How's it going?

LUSE: I am good. I am good. Now, you two, much like me, have probably been fed a lot of Barbie content lately. That's because the new "Barbie" movie, which, allegedly, had a $100 million film budget and also, allegedly, had a $100 million marketing budget - which I'm not gonna lie - I've felt and seen and heard every dollar.

PARKER: I saw that Dreamhouse.

LUSE: Look. I've - do you know how many times I've watched that Architectural Digest video of the Dreamhouse? I'm obsessed.

PARKER: (Laughter).

LUSE: So we all know who Barbie is, but how much do we really know about the icon? I'm here to test your knowledge on all things Barbie. Are you ready?

HARRIS: No, but we're going to do it.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: Dang. I invited y'all to come on here. Can we get some enthusiasm?

PARKER: What's up?

HARRIS: I'm ready. I'm ready, ready.

LUSE: You're ready?

PARKER: Sure.

LUSE: (Laughter) I appreciate your commitment, Parker, to being, like, still tentative.

(LAUGHTER)

PARKER: Look. I had a Kenya Doll. I don't know about what I'm supposed to be answering.

HARRIS: I think I had two Barbies. One of them was Working Out Barbie.

PARKER: I forgot I had a Black My Size Barbie. My bad.

HARRIS: What?

LUSE: You had a Black My Size - that's the one. The only one that I wanted was the Black My Size Barbie.

HARRIS: Jealous.

PARKER: I was a child of divorce, and my grandpa was like, help the child out, do you know what I mean?

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: Well, I am really glad to have some of your Barbie knowledge or lack of Barbie knowledge in mind before we start this game. So this is a multiple choice game, OK? And you both have to pick an answer. And yes, there will be a winner at the end, so buckle up. OK?

HARRIS: OK.

PARKER: All right.

LUSE: OK. All right. Number one - you never ask a woman her age. But fortunately for us, Ms. Barbara Millicent Roberts, aka Barbie - yes, Barbie is her nickname - is a world-famous icon. So all we had to do was a little Googling. So how old is Barbie turning this year? A - 55, B - 64, C - 71 or D - 82.

HARRIS: I don't know how to do math.

LUSE: (Laughter).

PARKER: Wait, I think I know this one because I saw her birthday on TV last week. B - 64.

LUSE: Ooh, what say you, Aisha Harris?

HARRIS: I feel like it was...

LUSE: You can use scratch paper if you want to do some quick calculations.

PARKER: (Laughter).

HARRIS: Math is not my thing. I could have...

PARKER: That's all right.

HARRIS: (Laughter) I'm going to go with 71.

LUSE: So, Parker, you say B - 64, and Aisha is saying C - 71. The correct answer is B - 64.

HARRIS: Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

PARKER: I saw on TV last week - it said March 9, 1959.

LUSE: Parker, I mean, you literally got her birthday exactly right.

(LAUGHTER)

PARKER: This is not because I care. It's because I've been inundated with Barbie information.

LUSE: It's that $100 million. It's working on you. It's working on you.

PARKER: (Laughter).

LUSE: So you are absolutely right. Because Barbie's birthday is March 9, 1959, that makes her a 64-year-old Pisces.

PARKER: Oh.

LUSE: Wow. Parker, because you got Barbie's birthday absolutely right down to the date, you get a bonus point.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

LUSE: But that was the bonus question. And you answered it...

PARKER: (Laughter) I'm sorry.

LUSE: ...Before I could ask.

HARRIS: Fine.

PARKER: (Laughter).

LUSE: All right. Well, there's more opportunities - more opportunities. OK.

PARKER: OK.

LUSE: Question number two - Barbie has had over 200 careers, and in nearly every sector of the economy. However, one of these jobs Barbie has not yet done. Which of these jobs is Barbie still applying for? A - rapper, B - chief sustainability officer, C - United States senator, D - McDonald's cashier.

HARRIS: Ooh.

PARKER: I mean, at this point, she needs to be retired.

HARRIS: (Laughter) OK, I remember there being a McDonald's Barbie and me wanting it, and it came with, like, little fries.

PARKER: I don't even know what a chief sustainable officer is.

LUSE: I mean, I don't know what that is either.

PARKER: (Laughter).

HARRIS: I also feel like there could be a rapper. Like, a very not-enlightened earlier version of Mattel might have done a rapper.

PARKER: I feel like that probably happened in, like, 1993 or '94 or something.

HARRIS: I know. It was, like, Vanilla Ice-era, you know, Snow, you know.

PARKER: (Laughter) The era of the white rapper.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: OK. I'm going to say, because it just seems really, really specific, the chief sustainability...

LUSE: OK, so Aisha is saying B - chief sustainability officer. What say you, Parker?

PARKER: OK, because that seems so specific that I feel like she probably has been there - I don't know. You know what? I'm going to I'm going to hope that she hasn't been a rapper, and I'm going to go with rapper.

LUSE: Oh, Parker and Aisha...

PARKER: No.

LUSE: Barbie has been a rapper, a chief sustainability officer and a McDonald's cashier three times. She's even been an Avon representative and a matador. But she has never been a United States senator.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KELLY SHERIDAN: Sorry.

PARKER: What? What? Do you mean all that time we had Hillary Clinton, we didn't have a Barbie senator doll?

LUSE: I guess not. I guess not. I guess not. She has been a United States president. However, she has been a United States presidential candidate in '92, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

PARKER: But when is she winning?

LUSE: She's not winning.

HARRIS: She's just a candidate?

LUSE: She's just a candidate. She's trying to spread her message. Well, somebody - she's running independent - you know, third-party votes. You know what I'm saying? She's running for the Barbie party.

PARKER: Yeah, I guess...

LUSE: And you know third-party candidates...

HARRIS: She's the Ralph Nader of Barbies (laughter).

PARKER: I mean, she's about sustainability.

LUSE: She's - exactly. She's about sustainability. And maybe that's why she's not - I don't know. Maybe that's why she's not winning. Maybe people aren't messing with that platform. She also was a vice presidential candidate in 2016.

PARKER: Wait, who was the - who's the presidential nom? Who's the running mate?

LUSE: I don't know. I like to think it's Christie, her Black girlfriend. But I don't know.

HARRIS: Yes.

PARKER: Wait, is Skipper still around?

HARRIS: I have no idea.

LUSE: Maybe Skipper was secretary of state.

HARRIS: Maybe.

LUSE: I don't know (laughter).

PARKER: Like RFK?

LUSE: Exactly. Nepotism.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: But, fun fact - rapper Barbie, which did happen, which was a thing - rapper Barbie was, in fact, white. Aisha, very prescient on your point - on your part to see that. And she was released in 1992, which is very close to your guess of 1993, Parker. But she was released in 1992 with a boombox that had batteries included. And I am shocked because I actually remember seeing this commercial. And I wanted a rapper Barbie. Really I wanted to wear her outfit.

HARRIS: Was she supposed to be a rapper? Or - I thought she was supposed to be, like, a...

LUSE: Yes.

HARRIS: ...Breakdancer.

LUSE: No, she was, like, Rappin Rockin Barbie.

HARRIS: Oh, OK. I vaguely remember that. Yeah. Now that you say that, I do. I do. I understand.

LUSE: Barbie had her boombox. She had a big old rope chain. Barbie was - I mean, she was not dressed completely dissimilar from Nino Brown.

HARRIS: Did she have bamboo earrings?

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: At least two pair?

LUSE: OK. OK. Let me show you the commercial for Rappin Rockin Barbie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTORS: Hit it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR #1: (Rapping) Here's Rappin Rockin Barbie.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTORS: (Rapping) You can sing along 'cause with her boombox you can rap a song.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR #2: (Rapping) This Barbie's cool from her head to her toes 'cause she's got the most happening clothes.

HARRIS: Yes, I do remember this.

PARKER: Can I say I would dress like that right now if I could be?

LUSE: Hello? That was a good outfit.

HARRIS: Yes.

LUSE: You know, another interest, I will say, that Barbie had was Greek life. In fact...

HARRIS: No.

LUSE: I'm at my parents' house recording right now. And...

HARRIS: Is she an AKA? Oh, my goodness.

LUSE: I got an AKA Barbie right here - an official AKA Barbie from their centennial in 2008. It's got the official little crest on it and stuff.

PARKER: It has not been unboxed.

LUSE: Absolutely not. My mother has this - you can...

(SOUNDBITE OF FINGERNAIL TAPPING)

LUSE: I want to give you all a little box noise right there. She has a very cute kind of French roll ponytail with, like, a swoop in the front and a really lovely, like, pink-and-green gown.

HARRIS: That is cute. That's cute. Not going to lie.

LUSE: Yeah, it's pretty cute. But - yeah.

PARKER: She's the OG Kamala?

LUSE: I'm not even sure I'm allowed to touch it with my regular-person hands.

PARKER: You were not wearing gloves while you were touching that.

LUSE: I know. My finger oil is going to ruin the AKA Barbie. All right, on to Question 3. Barbie and her boyfriend, Ken, famously split in February 2004 after 43 years together. Two years later, Ken tried to win her back with a makeover. He started sporting boardshorts and a white T-shirt, but that didn't work. It took seven years for the couple to officially get back together. Which of these things did Ken do to win Barbie back? A, he put up a bunch of billboards in New York and LA that said, Barbie, we may be plastic, but our love is real; B, he unfollowed every other doll on social media in the Barbieverse except for Barbie; C, he wrote her a song called "Baby Doll" featuring lines like, you're the only doll for me, baby; or D, - he gave an exclusive interview to People magazine where he said, I'm made of plastic, but I'm not scared of my heart melting for you, Barbie. A, B, C or D?

PARKER: All of these are too much. All of these are doing too much.

HARRIS: This is the less-interesting version of Miss Piggy and Kermit breaking up.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: OK. Brittany, aren't you glad you chose us to do this quiz?

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: I didn't even - is this, like, all playing out over social media accounts? I'm confused.

LUSE: Well, I mean, this was something. It was reported in the press. Honestly, the fact-checking for this came from CNN and CNN Money articles, so this was a real thing that happened in 2004.

PARKER: What was CNN doing that this made it to, like, the ticker tape at the bottom?

HARRIS: OK.

LUSE: I know it's funny because I'm like - literally 2004 was, like, an election year.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: Like, y'all weren't busy? I don't know.

PARKER: We were fighting for our lives.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: OK. Are we - is it billboards, social media, the song entitled "Baby Doll" or a pining interview in People magazine?

HARRIS: I mean...

LUSE: A, B, C or D?

HARRIS: Any of those seems possible.

PARKER: I'm going to go with C - the song.

LUSE: You go with the song. OK. What are you going with Aisha?

HARRIS: I'm torn between A and D because A would obviously get a lot of - and Times Square is, like, where lots of kids are. So like, that seems like a really marketable thing for Mattel to do, but I can also see the People magazine thing happening 'cause it's People magazine. I'm going to go with the D - People magazine.

LUSE: Well, you both are not going to help Ken win Barbie back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHERIDAN: (As Barbie) Sorry.

LUSE: What actually worked was A - putting up a bunch of billboards...

PARKER: No.

LUSE: ...in New York and LA That said, Barbie, we may be plastic, but our love is real. It was the billboards.

PARKER: That's some Drake foolishness. I can't deal with that.

HARRIS: I mean, Ken is Drake. Drake is Ken.

PARKER: That's true.

LUSE: So - OK. Right now Parker's got two points. Aisha, you've got one. We have a bonus round right now.

HARRIS: Wait I have one? How do I have one? I've gotten...

LUSE: No, you have none. Yes, sorry. You have zero.

HARRIS: OK.

PARKER: (Laughter).

HARRIS: I mean, you know, let's just make sure we get this right here.

LUSE: Let's do a bonus round for three points. Let's do a bonus round for, like, winner takes all. Let's just, like, raise the stakes, OK?

HARRIS: OK.

PARKER: OK.

LUSE: Bonus round - worth three points. It was reported that during her split with Ken, Barbie got friendly with a new blonde man. Who was it?

PARKER: Oh, I know it.

LUSE: Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh - well, hold on. Hold on. A, Jacques (ph) the French painter; B, Cody (ph) the American cowboy; C, Blaine the Australian surfer; or D, David (ph) the English football player. Jacques, Cody, Blaine or David - who was Barbie seeing in the meantime in-between time when she was away from Ken? OK. Parker, I'm seeing a hand raised.

PARKER: It's Blaine, the Australian guy.

LUSE: Parker is saying Blaine. Aisha, what say you?

HARRIS: I mean, I know she knows it. So I mean...

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: ...I guess it's Blaine.

LUSE: All right. Parker is right.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

LUSE: It is Blaine. I'm going to have to give it to Parker, though, because she just really knew immediately.

PARKER: Because I remember when it happened because I was like, who asked for this?

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: It's fine, Parker. You know more than me about Barbie.

LUSE: Well...

PARKER: This is not willingly, though. This is not on purpose.

LUSE: The final score is Parker winning with five points and Aisha hanging in there with zero. Hanging in there.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: So we're all winners today. We're all winners today. But wow. Thank you all so much for playing Barbie trivia with me. This was so much fun.

HARRIS: It was a pleasure.

PARKER: Thank you.

LUSE: That was Aisha Harris from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour and B.A. Parker from NPR's Code Switch.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIALING PHONE)

MARCUS: Hey, Brittany. This is Marcus (ph) from LA. I was wondering if you saw this new NPC trend on TikTok. I came across videos of this one girl, Pinkydoll, and now I'm completely entranced by her going (slurps) ice cream so good.

LUSE: Hi, Marcus. Thank you so much for calling in. I am not going to lie. I have also become obsessed with Pinkydoll. So for those who don't know, Pinkydoll is probably the most prominent social media influencer who specializes in playing a nonplayable character, or NPC, like what you see a lot of times in video games. They're the background characters that either perform the same function over and over again. Or they have one line that they say, and they walk kind of funny. You see a lot of them in the Grand Theft Auto video games. So basically, what she does is she goes live on TikTok, and viewers flood her live streams, and then they send her these little tokens that they pay for. Tokens come in the form of basic emojis. They look like a dumbbell or an ice cream cone or something like that. And she has a specific response to each one. If somebody sends her two Gs, she says...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PINKYDOLL: Gang gang. Gang gang.

LUSE: If somebody sends her an ice cream cone, she says...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PINKYDOLL: (Slurps) Ice cream so good.

LUSE: My favorite is when people send her a dumbbell, and she says...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PINKYDOLL: Yeah, strong woman.

LUSE: It sounds strange. It kind of is, but it's also really soothing. There are a lot of people who in the past week or so have tried to hop on the bandwagon once they realized that, according to her, she's making roughly $7,000 a day between the various social media sites that she uses to make money, such as TikTok and OnlyFans. But there's a reason why she's making $7,000 a day. She has a really well-developed character.

So you and I are both on the same page. We both are loving Pinkydoll's live streams, but we're obviously not the only ones. There are thousands, millions of people who are obsessed with watching these NPCs or, at the very least, soothed by them. I've been trying to figure out why that is. And in my opinion, right now, I think that part of the reason why we're so into these NPCs is because we're maybe a little overstimulated by the rest of social media. There's just enough happening in Pinkydoll's videos that it feels like maybe she's, like, lulling you to sleep or trying to get you to relax. I think part of it also is that people like to watch a pretty woman do silly things online. I think there's a million examples of that on the internet. I think the other thing, too, is that to a certain extent, I think that people like the idea that they can pay for an experience and get immediate gratification. It's even faster to get a response from Pinkydoll than it is to, like - I don't know - order Uber Eats or something like that.

I've seen so many people over the past two weeks try to unpack exactly what Pinkydoll is doing. She was even profiled recently by The New York Times. Is it fetish content? Is it something that she's doing purely for money? Is it almost performance art? Or is it simply people trying to put a box around a pretty woman doing something kind of silly online? Honestly, I think Pinkydoll might be the only person who knows the answer to that question.

Thank you so much for calling in again, Marcus. You and I are on the same page. I'm team Pinkydoll. And to all of you listening, I want to know what you want to talk about, too - anything from the biggest pop culture story of the week to the newest bangers to the TV show everyone is talking about. If there's something everyone in your world is going on about, record a quick voice memo with your first name, location and the topic, and send it to ibam@npr.org. That's ibam@npr.org. I cannot wait to hear what you want to talk about. This episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE was produced by...

BARTON GIRDWOOD, BYLINE: Barton Girdwood.

ALEXIS WILLIAMS, BYLINE: Alexis Williams.

LIAM MCBAIN, BYLINE: Liam McBain.

COREY ANTONIO ROSE, BYLINE: Corey Antonio Rose.

LUSE: Our editor is...

JESSICA PLACZEK, BYLINE: Jessica Placzek.

LUSE: Engineering support came from...

JOSH NEWELL, BYLINE: Josh Newell.

LUSE: Our executive producer is...

VERALYN WILLIAMS, BYLINE: Veralyn Williams.

LUSE: Our VP of programming is...

YOLANDA SANGWENI, BYLINE: Yolanda Sangweni.

LUSE: Our senior VP of programming is...

ANYA GRUNDMANN, BYLINE: Anya Grundmann.

LUSE: All right. That's our show for today. I'm Brittany Luse. See you next week for another episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR.

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