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How Barbie became about Kendrew Tate

Mar 19, 2024

By Jack King

The following article contains major spoilers for Barbie.

When we first meet the Kens of Barbie, they're a vassal race to their plastic-fantastic lady counterparts, living only to affirm and pursue the Barbies, albeit to little success. The Kens have little concept of what they can be beyond this. Ryan Gosling's Beach Ken is the most down bad of the lot: across the first act of Barbie, we see how his advances are repeatedly rejected by Margot Robbie's Stereotypical Barbie, who prefers to spend her evenings doing Barbie things like sleepovers with the gorls. But then Stereotypical Barbie has an identity crisis of her own, suddenly thinking about such terrifying concepts as death and depression. The kaleidoscopic, cotton candy-coloured Barbieland is a place where everything is great all the time, if you're a Barbie — so what's this sudden urge to stay in bed and repeat watch Pride and Prejudice?

Barbie learns that she must go to the Real World (a heightened L.A., itself a world of artifice) to sort out her woes, and she's joined by Beach Ken, undying simp so he is. There, they split up briefly, and Ken stumbles upon the idea of patriarchy. He's quickly won over by the Real World's promise of macho superiority, like a boy sucked into the incel YouTube rabbit hole, evolving into a self-declared messiah of maleness akin to Andrew Tate. He returns to Barbieland waving the scriptures of brewskis, horses, and female subjugation, speedily completing his transition from Ken, to Kencel, to Kendrew Tate. Barbieland becomes Kendom; the Barbie Dreamhouse torn down and replaced by Mojo Dojo Casa Houses; the Barbies are turned into housebound, servile automatons a la The Stepford Wives. Eat your heart out, Jordan Peterson.

By the time the Kentriarchy comes into play, it's hard not to think about last year's Don't Worry Darling, another hyper-stylised, pop art take down of male fragility and gendered wish-fulfilment (inspired by Peterson, funnily enough). It's not just that Kendom is aesthetically similar to the town of Victory — with their Googie stylings, retro resplendence and atomic age accoutrements — they're both built by men unsure of themselves, latching onto masculine stereotypes for a sense of self. In Don't Worry Darling, we discover that the guys of Victory are actually incels who've trapped their girlfriends inside a VR program aping ‘50s Americana, with its nuclear family norms; they perform a Mad Men-esque, tobacco-tinged theatre of male dominance. In Barbie, Beach Ken rocks around with a headband, massive sunglasses and a glam-rock fur jacket that bellows from him like a mushroom cloud. Thicc with no less than two Cs, he swaggers around with his bare, barrel-y chest and washboard abs on full show, evoking Stallone in First Blood or Arnie in Commando, with that same sense of dick-swinging braggadocio, albeit here it's literally dickless.

Nevertheless, Ken is comparatively softer than Harry Styles' Jack or Chris Pine's Peterson-esque Frank, as is Barbie's textual tone relative to Don't Worry Darling, so it's hard not to empathise with and root for the guy, even if we're less keen on the idea of he and his Kennish brethren bringing the Barbies into heel. But Barbie clearly shares an interest in how some men feel emasculated in a world where most people would like to see people of all genders get a fair crack at things, and how those insecurities manifest: in Don't Worry Darling, literal gendered violence, and in Barbie, a sort of slap on the ass, “go get me a brewski” crude slapstick.

Kendom hardly lasts. The town's name change isn't even ratified, in fact, because the Kens get bored and decide to start playing war with one another. Barbieland is returned to normal, though with some Kencessions: the Kens are given power equivalent to that shared by women in the real world; a couple of court judges here, a political placement there. Not full-on equality, but hey, it's a start. More importantly, Ken learns that he is his own doll: he doesn't need Barbie to define him, nor is he defined by the blank space between his legs. After the credits rolled, I briefly wondered whether the Kendrew Tate of it all could be taken as something of a cautionary tale, when charlatans like Peterson and Tate have taken to exploiting male insecurity for their own riches, but that seems a generous reading, and perhaps misses the point. Simply knowing that one's self-actualisation need not come at the expense of others should be more than Kenough.

The following article contains major spoilers for Barbie.