MESH: Barbie The Movie Is A Joke, Doesn't Take Itself Seriously

The movie starts in Barbie Land, where we meet Barbie (played by Margot Robbie) and her friends, and she faces a malfunction. Therefore she decides to go to the real world to find the girl who plays with her because her emotional downturn is affecting her.

MESH: Barbie The Movie Is A Joke, Doesn't Take Itself Seriously
Scene from the 2023 film Barbie. /IMDB

By Otieno Arudo (Mesh Mwandishi)

Barbie the movie is a comic movie, that is comfortable with making fun of itself, its makers, its sponsors and its audience.

It is a plot with silly and goofy jokes that are enjoyable if taken in good grace. However, the discourse that followed its July 21 premiere came in different shades, from simple tweets to lengthy think pieces to prime-time discussions on TV- showing something about the jokes did not go down well with some people, or that the satire cut so deep, it rattled many.

I think the second reason is much more plausible, and I prefer to make it the centre of this piece.

Art is not made by neutral beings, neither are its consumers and so it would not be false to accuse both sets of people as harbouring an agenda. But even with the reality of these politicized times, it is worth pointing out that satire is the glass that makes the mirror that shows us our true selves. 

Ken and Barbie, played by Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie respectively. /FILE

A Plot Of Two Worlds- Barbie Land & The Real World

The plot for me is not the most important thing in the movie, it is the various powerful scenes that I will point out in a minute.

The movie starts in Barbie Land, where we meet Barbie (played by Margot Robbie) and her friends, and she faces a malfunction. Therefore she decides to go to the real world to find the girl who plays with her because her emotional downturn is affecting her.

She gets to the real world with her Ken (Ryan Gosling) who hid in her car, to be shocked by the culture of patriarchy that they find in the real world which is the opposite of the order in Barbie Land where women run everything and men are in the underclass.

While Barbie is saddened by this, Ken becomes alive realizing he has inherent power as a man, he goes on a mission to try and find a job because he thinks being a man(and having a horse) is enough, but realizes he needs qualifications to work in some sectors. However, he goes back to Barbie Land to institute the patriarchy.

Barbie on the hand connects with the girl she saw in her visions to try and cheer her only to learn that she has not only located the wrong person but that Barbie dolls are not liked as well as she thought.

Soon, she discovers the emotionally distressed human is the girl's mother played by America Ferrera and they take a trip to Barbie Land to cheer her up, only to find the Kens have instituted a patriarchy.

With the help of Gloria (the character played by America Ferrera) and her daughter, Barbie goes on a mission to return to Barbie Land under the stewardship of the Barbies, and away from the Kens.

The scene that represents a turning point and one of the most powerful in the movie (if not the most)- is when Gloria goes on a rant about how the expectations of womanhood are not only hard but often inconsistent," you have to be nice or are you are difficult. Not too nice though or you are naive" goes on the rant in listing these contradictions.

This rant makes the Barbies that were under a trance placed on them by the Kens snap out of it. Barbie in this scene then utters a statement about the cognitive dissonance that is required to make sense of living under oppressive systems.

After the Barbies take over, Gloria's daughter asks what is Barbie's ending- another meta-joke, as the writers acknowledge the audience is asking itself that question. The answer is given by the character Ruth Mattel, who says Barbie has no ending and explains to the doll that she is an idea and ideas live forever over many human lifespans.

This scene is also another powerful moment as Barbie is made to understand what it is to be a human, it means eventual death first and foremost, but also suffering and existential anguish before that. Despite this, Barbie still chooses to be human, saying she doesn't just want to be an idea.

Lessons From The Punchlines & Satire

Going into Barbie (2023), every watcher knew two things to be true- that Barbie was made by an outspoken woman (Writer & Director Greta Gerwig) and that the picture is an advert strategy by the makers of the doll, Mattel.

Never at one point was the movie pretentious about these two things, the writing owned them, even crafting some punchlines in reference to them. Indeed, the style of comedy in the film is self-referential and very meta-modern, in a way that reminded me of Family Guy or Rick & Morty jokes.

Promo poster for the Barbie movie. /FILE

For example in one instance, a narrator voices out the fact that the directors' decision to cast Margot Robbie sabotages their intended message about women not being pressured to feel beautiful. This type of humour allows them to keep their credibility, abandoning a veil of 'pure intentions' that the audience would see right through, and call them out on.

The movie was made as an investment and merch campaign based on existing Intellectual Property (IP) to boost sales, and this is not brushed aside either. A couple of outfits are advertised in the middle of the scenes, as the characters casually mention them.

When I mean advertised, I mean for the couple of minutes these outfits are being talked about the graphics on the screen resemble those of a proper commercial advertisement. This works because the movie, having made fun of itself puts everyone at ease so that this absurdity feels like an extension of the comic.

The film also uses self-referencing to further the plot when it voices the questions that the audience is always asking. For example, as mentioned in the section above, a character asks the double-entendre question "What is the ending for Barbie?"

Now let's get into the satire, Barbie Land is that it is not an equitable society. Although the characters rail about the patriarchy, most of them are living in a system that actively oppresses men.

Even when the Barbies take power back, they still relegate the Kens to second-class citizens, only conceding one seat in the local council. This ending for the Kens, forces feminists to question whether their goal is really equality or subjugation of men.

Conversely, it also forces men to confront how it would feel to be denied a meaningful seat at the table   

The other instance of satire occurs when Ken encounters patriarchy for the first time and is immediately enamoured by it. He makes the mistake of linking the correlation between most men having powerful jobs as the sole causality.

This common cognitive bias is made fun of by his saying patriarchy is about men and horses, as that is what he has observed. He however finds out the hard way, when he goes to apply for a series of high-level jobs in fields like medicine and finance, thinking that he will get them, just by virtue of being a man- after all that is what he saw.

The point of that scene is to let the audience question whether the patriarchy works for all men in a blanket sort of way. The real corporate world requires competence, especially the visible, high-paying jobs that are usually quoted in these types of debates.


Is Barbie woke? No, not at all, that is lazy reading in my view. The punchlines are aimed at feminists and chauvinists alike, and the satire deeply buries harsh truths about the relationships between men and women, when you look beneath the pink veneer that covers it.

Satire is a stylistic device that is eminent, its esoterism elevating it above the banal and those seeking commonality. Those with a wiser understanding are able to see the joke, those without miss out, unfortunately.

Barbie the movie is too layered to dismiss as a movie about dolls for girls, a movie about feminism for women, or a movie about horses for men. Rather, it is a movie about selling merch to be bought by everyone executed in a funny way, with an ethos of not compromising on the quality and dedication to pink.

It is also about stepping away from our doll-like perceptions and embracing the messiness of being actual human beings.

Mesh Mwandishi is a young writer based in Nairobi Kenya. He has a keen interest in pop culture analysis and started by doing reviews on Kenyan music. He has since extended into film and other media as well. You can follow him on the handle @meshmwandishi on all social media platforms.

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Margot Robbie posing for a photo while playing the character Barbie in the Barbie movie. /VOGUE