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Online Right and Ben Shapiro battle over the true meaning of Barbie

Ben Shapiro offered a measured, nuance critique of Barbie by torching three dolls

July 25, 2023 - 7:00am

Greta Gerwig’s recent film Barbie has racked up big money at the box office while sparking a fiery debate within the Online Right. This dissension primarily arises from the film’s portrayal of Ken, embodied by a vacant-eyed Ryan Gosling. Hidden beneath the film’s glossy surface — typical kid’s fare elevated for adults who refuse to grow up — are layers of nuance that have carved Internet Right-wingers into two contrasting camps.

The film’s narrative weaves together two storylines. The first focuses on Margot Robbie‘s “Stereotypical Barbie”, who ventures into the real world seeking to understand the profound changes in her life. The second plot, which has inflamed discussions within the Online Right, involves Gosling’s Ken and the various other Kens who populate the fictional world. These jobless figures — representative of various customer demographics — attempt to woo the similarly diverse Barbies, the rulers of the toy world’s matriarchy. 

In the film, Ken ventures into the real world alongside Barbie, and discovers the existence of “patriarchy”, before returning to his world to incite a rebellion among the Kens, who aim to overturn their female-led order. Of course, Hollywood happy ending tropes persist, as this rebellion leads to a collaboration by promising equality for all dolls.

One faction within the Online Right perceives Barbie as a typical example of “woke” dogma. Its members critique the film as a thinly veiled attempt at progressive social commentary in which, as popular YouTube critic The Critical Drinker states, “women are simply amazing, and men and everything they do is utterly and irredeemably bad.” National Review critic Armond White, meanwhile, describes Barbie as a platform for Gerwig’s “jaded-feminist adult social messaging”.

Adding fuel to this critique was the dramatic reaction of Ben Shapiro, a prominent figure on the Online Right. In a 43-minute video on YouTube, the commentator opens by igniting three Barbie dolls, describing the film as “flaming garbage” and “angry feminist claptrap that alienates men from women”. He critiques the portrayal of gender dynamics, asserting that “the basic sort of premise of the film, politically speaking, is that men and women are on two sides and they hate each other.”

In contrast, some on the Dissident Right or Extremely Online Right — take your pick of this vague, ever-shifting nomenclature — delve deeper into Ken’s journey and rebellion against the matriarchy, interpreting it as a symbolic challenge to the feminised system of governance. In a long and detailed thread one anonymous commentator, echoing the work of fellow anon Lom3z, suggests that Ken’s voyage takes him beyond the “longhouse” — a term used to describe a feminised and technocratic system of governance.

Josh Lekach, another Right-winger, argues that Ken emerges as the film’s standout character with an engaging and humorous narrative arc. He contends that “the woke stuff was the least persuasive aspect of the movie” and “almost made [the various diverse Barbies and Kens] into a mockery”. From this angle, Ken becomes a sort of clandestine protagonist, much as the Left perceived Erik Killmonger in Black Panther. This is fascinating: neither the far-Right nor the far-Left would seem to have much love for consumerism, yet people will bend over backwards to read their interpretations into a particularly strong cinematic performance. 

These divergent viewpoints within the younger and more engaged Right reveal old ideological fault lines: while figures like Shapiro and The Critical Drinker view Barbie as entirely irredeemable, others see the film as a hidden conservative epic. Of course, these intra-Right feuds have been heating up in recent months alongside Republican presidential campaigning, but pop blockbusters like Barbie profit from divisiveness just as much as widespread acclaim. 

Designed to provoke debate and drive ticket sales, the film has been successful in generating widespread public discourse. Whether scorned as “woke” trash, praised for its clever handling of diversity and gender issues, or read against the grain as an esoteric conservative “hero’s journey”, Barbie has unequivocally fulfilled its mission. It is not just a profitable corporate product, but also one capable of bolstering its marketing push with vast amounts of free discourse.


Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work

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Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago

The film is neither good nor terrible, but it was designed to troll the easily outraged. I miss the times when you could watch a movie or listen to a song without it being a political statement.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago

The film is neither good nor terrible, but it was designed to troll the easily outraged. I miss the times when you could watch a movie or listen to a song without it being a political statement.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
1 year ago

Ken has always been an emasculated, plasticized, non-threatening accessory to Barbie, whose main role is to hold Barbie’s hand, wear various unflattering garments in pastel, and basically take up space until Barbie elopes with GI Joe.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
11 months ago

Action Man has a much better chance

Last edited 11 months ago by Ben Jones
David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

With Ken??

David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

With Ken??

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
11 months ago

Yes, that is because Barbie is a fantasy for little girls. They don’t want a threatening or sexualised boyfriend in their fantasy.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
11 months ago

Action Man has a much better chance

Last edited 11 months ago by Ben Jones
Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
11 months ago

Yes, that is because Barbie is a fantasy for little girls. They don’t want a threatening or sexualised boyfriend in their fantasy.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
1 year ago

Ken has always been an emasculated, plasticized, non-threatening accessory to Barbie, whose main role is to hold Barbie’s hand, wear various unflattering garments in pastel, and basically take up space until Barbie elopes with GI Joe.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
11 months ago

Oliver has a great gig here, basically regurgitating meta-commentary. Oh, and The Drinker (who isn’t really on ‘The Right’, he simply abhors the Wokeism destroying popular culture, although I suppose in Oliver’s world that puts you there) has a name (Will Jordan).

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
11 months ago

Oliver has a great gig here, basically regurgitating meta-commentary. Oh, and The Drinker (who isn’t really on ‘The Right’, he simply abhors the Wokeism destroying popular culture, although I suppose in Oliver’s world that puts you there) has a name (Will Jordan).

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
11 months ago

If women want to be happy they should try having kids again. Despite all this promotion the narcissism thing really isn’t working.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
11 months ago

If women want to be happy they should try having kids again. Despite all this promotion the narcissism thing really isn’t working.

David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago

others see the film as a hidden conservative epic

A quick look at the backgrounds of those directing and producing the film shows that the Shapiros have it. It’s intent is feminist.

However, it could have been a different film. Without the paranoia about the subtle workings of patriarchy, it could have been a critique of rampant female narcissism (Botox, plastic surgery, instagram etc) which has (some) modern women behaving more and more like dumbed down versions of Barbie.

Aside from the Ken’s being lazy and good for nothing – there was something eerily familiar about Barbieland.

David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago

others see the film as a hidden conservative epic

A quick look at the backgrounds of those directing and producing the film shows that the Shapiros have it. It’s intent is feminist.

However, it could have been a different film. Without the paranoia about the subtle workings of patriarchy, it could have been a critique of rampant female narcissism (Botox, plastic surgery, instagram etc) which has (some) modern women behaving more and more like dumbed down versions of Barbie.

Aside from the Ken’s being lazy and good for nothing – there was something eerily familiar about Barbieland.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
1 year ago

Who cares? Hasn’t UnHerd got more important issues to headline?

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
1 year ago
Reply to  Gerald Arcuri

More important than Barbie?

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
1 year ago
Reply to  Gerald Arcuri

More important than Barbie?

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
1 year ago

Who cares? Hasn’t UnHerd got more important issues to headline?

E Wyatt
E Wyatt
11 months ago

The main thing about the film for me was how tedious it actually was. Nice costumes and sets, but hardly any plot, very little humour apart from what you’d already seen in the trailers, and endless simplistic banging on about feminism to the detriment of everything else. A bit more singing and dancing would have improved it. Definitely a kid’s film and not worthy of any heated debate from either side.

Last edited 11 months ago by E Wyatt
E Wyatt
E Wyatt
11 months ago

The main thing about the film for me was how tedious it actually was. Nice costumes and sets, but hardly any plot, very little humour apart from what you’d already seen in the trailers, and endless simplistic banging on about feminism to the detriment of everything else. A bit more singing and dancing would have improved it. Definitely a kid’s film and not worthy of any heated debate from either side.

Last edited 11 months ago by E Wyatt
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
11 months ago

It’s a movie about a doll. Who cares? Mattel maybe

David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I get what you are saying, but this film is likely to have more influence on the way the general population thinks than all the Unherd articles put together.

Because it has a mass audience and because it will be absorbed uncritically.

David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I get what you are saying, but this film is likely to have more influence on the way the general population thinks than all the Unherd articles put together.

Because it has a mass audience and because it will be absorbed uncritically.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
11 months ago

It’s a movie about a doll. Who cares? Mattel maybe

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
11 months ago

Ben Shapiro makes Ken look like a warrior king.
It seems obvious that losers like him and the usual “anti-woke” folks are simply over-compensating for their own lack of traditional masculine qualities.
Similarly, the anti-women rantings of the likes of David Morley only reflect their own catastrophic inadequacies.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
11 months ago

Ben Shapiro makes Ken look like a warrior king.
It seems obvious that losers like him and the usual “anti-woke” folks are simply over-compensating for their own lack of traditional masculine qualities.
Similarly, the anti-women rantings of the likes of David Morley only reflect their own catastrophic inadequacies.