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In Defense of Art

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Non-Objective Painting, 1919.  Oil on canvas.

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Non-Objective Painting, 1919. Oil on canvas.

I’ve seen an image circulating online lately showing a painting from 1907 saying the artist was rejected from art school, then one from 2012 that won a prize. The implication being that the rejected art from 1907 is better than the prizewinning art from 2012. Things like this annoy me. It’s perfectly fine to have personal preferences when it comes to art and what you find enjoyable. But it really bothers me when people say something isn’t good, or isn’t art just because they don’t like it.

Art, and the goals of art, is constantly changing. During the Renaissance they were focused on mastering perspective and capturing the world as true to life as they could because that was the only way they had to record visually what was around them. And it was made possible by the new scientific thinking of the age. Once perspective had been mastered, artists could move on to other projects, like the Impressionists working to capture light. After photography came around paintings did not need to be so true-to-life because there were photographs for that now. Some art worked on questioning what constituted art (Dada for example); some deconstructed art to try and take it down to its bare essentials. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Modern art, but I still appreciate it for what it is.

There’s also the fact that all major art movements have been influenced by the political and social environment they arose from. So perhaps if you don’t like the art, instead of just calling it bad you should take a look at the world around it. Question why you don’t like it instead of just making a snap judgment based on how it looks. Obviously a large part of art is to make you feel, question, and think. Some of it is meant to be unappealing on purpose. That doesn’t mean it’s bad.

And yes, certainly there is a lot of bad art out there. I’m not going to deny that. My point is simply that just because you don’t like or understand something doesn’t mean it’s bad or not art. You can dislike something all you want, but to deny it its place in the art world is doing the piece and yourself a great disservice. Perhaps I sound a bit defensive. But you know what? I am. I’m defensive of art because it’s what I’ve spent the last few years of my life studying, and what I hope to spend my life working with. Art can be an incredibly subjective and emotional thing. And a lot can be learned about a culture or time by looking at its art. So it makes me sad when people make such snap judgments about art or discount it as unimportant. Just think of what a plain, boring place the man-made world would be without art.

(Yes, I realize another aspect of this is that the painting from 1907 is supposedly a painting Hitler did, and that opens a whole other can of worms. But really it was just the judgmental comparison of art from the early 1900s to contemporary art that got to me, since it’s not the first time I’ve seen or heard things like that. Also, it’s important to keep in mind, this was also painted in 1907).

Since I know at least some of my readers make their way over here from my work on the Pizza Lab articles over on Pizza Clubhouse I decided to write some food related posts. I imagine coming here and seeing posts about art is rather disappointing after reading about and looking at pictures of delicious pizza. Hopefully this will be a nice compromise. I’ll start with a look at food in paintings.
A good place to find paintings of food is in Northern Baroque art. I’m not just saying that because it’s some of my favorite art – the Dutch are known for their genre paintings. In the North where the population was more dominantly Protestant, there wasn’t as much of a market for explicitly religious themed art as there was in places like Catholic Italy. Some genre paintings do still have certain subtle Christian iconography, but you have to know what you’re looking for. There are a lot of still lives of flowers, but there’s also a lot with food.

Meat Seller's Stall, Pieter Aertsen, 1551, oil on panel

Meat Seller’s Stall, Pieter Aertsen, 1551, oil on panel

A whole lot of food can be found in Pieter Aertsen’s painting Meat Seller’s Stall. The viewer is greeted with sausages, beef, pork, fowls, cheese, mussels, fish, and of course pretzels. To the modern eye some of this food may not be the most appealing – overall we’re not used to seeing the aces of the food we eat – but it’s still a wonderful painting. The food items are so detailed, you could pick out from the painting what you might want to buy for dinner.
Still-Life with Colander and Artichokes, Clara Peeters, 1613, oil on panel

Still-Life with Colander and Artichokes, Clara Peeters, 1613, oil on panel

Another painting that beautifully captures food is Still-Life with Colander and Artichokes by Clara Peeters. Unfortunately I could not find a good quality image to share, but you’ll have to take my word for it. It’s so detailed it could almost look like a photograph. You half expect the crabs to start sidling away.
Still Life with Parrots, Jan Davidsz de Heem, 1640-45, oil on canvas

Still Life with Parrots, Jan Davidsz de Heem, 1640-45, oil on canvas

In opposition to the everyday food found in the previous paintings, some painters depicted exotic, rare foods. This can be seen in paintings like Still Life with Parrots by Jan Davidsz de Heem. There are melons, citrus fruits, conch, lobster, shrimp, and more. The fancy tableware (which I’ll get to more in depth in another post) emphasizes the expensiveness of the scene, and the parrots emphasize the exotic nature of it all. It’s a beautiful scene meant to show wealth through the food afforded.
The Milkmaid, Jan Vermeer, 1658-60, oil on canvas

The Milkmaid, Jan Vermeer, 1658-60, oil on canvas

Food also makes appearances in paintings where it’s not the main star. This can be seen in paintings like Jan Vermeer’s painting The Milkmaid. The subject is most definitely the young girl pouring milk. However the bread in the foreground is rendered in just as much detail, and in fact is in more light than the girl is. The bread is not just a prop, it’s an important part of the scene.

So why was food such a popular subject? For one it was a challenge for painters to test their skills. You had to be a good painter to accurately depict all the different textures of food. Another reason is that food carries with it a lot of meaning culturally. As we’ve seen, certain foods could speak to a person’s wealth. Different foods also carry with them different connotations, so food allowed the painter to imbue a painting with meaning without it being overwhelmingly obvious. Plus, just in general food is appealing to people. Genre paintings were often not commissions, but rather painted and sold on the open market, so they needed subjects that would appeal to a wide audience. If you want people to buy your stuff, lure them in with food.

More Pretty Pictures

Hello all.  I had to create a Pinterest account in order to do research for a paper last semester.  Instead of just leaving it empty I decided to make a board for the blog.  So now you can follow my Aesthetic Musings Pinterest board.  I’ll add pieces I find beautiful and interesting, and every so often I’ll do a Pinterest Round-up post and discuss some of the pieces and why I added them/think they’re relevant.  Enjoy!

Art and Appropriation

The Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2013 collection got me thinking about ideas of art and appropriation. The collection was inspired by mosaics from the Monreale Cathedral in Palermo, Sicily. I always enjoy seeing people inspired by art for their own work. But does it lose something when taken from its original setting? Something like mosaics, for example the mosaics that inspired the Dolce & Gabbana collection, that are from a religious setting. Their original intent was likely to illustrate religious stories and inspire feelings of piety and awe. So what happens when the idea of these mosaics is translated into an entirely different medium, such as fashion? Obviously the meaning changes. In the case of simple inspiration I think this is a good thing. Looking at art and translating it into your own way doesn’t do any harm to the original, and indeed may give a new appreciation of it.

From the Fall 2013 Dolce & Gabbana collection

From the Fall 2013 Dolce & Gabbana collection

The problem arises when art is just plain ripped off, and exploited for commercial purposes. What happens to a work when someplace takes it and puts it on a shirt or umbrella? There’s no unique interpretation it just becomes another object for sale. And while most art is/was originally for sale, when the image is on a t-shirt or something it can be sold over and over and over again. Really comes down to what Walter Benjamin discusses in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I’m not sure if the original work necessarily has an aura that fades, but I do think that the more an image is reproduced the further it gets from its original meaning/intent. The more people seen an image the less special it becomes.
monalisaumbrella monetwaterliliestop
It’s also interesting when museums adopt a work of art as their mascot, so to speak. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has taken on the blue hippopotamus from ancient Egypt as a mascot of sorts. Certainly that changes the original meaning; it went from being a piece of a burial ceremony and representing one of the most dangerous animals these people had to deal with, to a happy, welcoming mascot of a large institution. The Mona Lisa is another example of a work that has taken on the identity of a museum in a way. It has become so associated with The Louvre that it’s hard to separate the two. And a painting that was done by an Italian painter has since become a symbol of France.
I’m torn about how I feel about all of this. On the one hand, I hate seeing art being so displaced for purely commercial purposes. On the other hand I’m all about making art more accessible to people, and if putting it on a shirt or whatever brings awareness, and perhaps makes people interested in an artist or art, it’s not an entirely bad thing. I think overall people just need to be respectful of the original piece when taking it for use elsewhere. As always, I welcome others’ opinions.

Ah, spring is finally upon us, which means that, along with the allergens that will soon be invading my nasal passages, love is in the air. It also means we’ve entered wedding season. Though people get married year-round, spring is still traditionally seen as “wedding season” and there is an abundance of wedding related advertising. If you’re in your mid-twenties or older, chances are you have at least one wedding to attend this year, maybe more. The first time one of your friends get married, it’s fun an exciting; once the “save the date” magnets start over-taking your refrigerator it’s all a bit overwhelming and exhausting. So come, rest, and let me tell you why weddings are terrible.

I should preface this by saying that when I talk about weddings, I’m not talking about marriage itself. Yes, I could go into a feminist tirade about patriarchy and gender roles, but overall I’m pro-marriage. Two people in love deciding to spend the rest of their lives together is great if that’s what they want. No, I’m talking about the weddings themselves. I’m discussing an event, not an entire institution.

So why are weddings terrible? For one they promote exorbitant spending, even amongst those who cannot really afford it. Weddings continue to get increasingly lavish, with more and more money being spent on a one day affair. We live in a consumer culture and because of this many believe that spending will buy happiness and self-fulfillment. Advertisers use romance as a way to sell goods, and goods become an important part in our celebration of romance. Not surprisingly lavish weddings have their origins around the time of the Industrial Revolution and really took off in the post-WWII period. Weddings become a way to show your status and taste. The show Four Weddings on TLC is all about judging brides on their level of taste and the amount put into their weddings. There is increasing pressure to have a wedding that meets a certain standard, a standard which is getting ever higher.
Indeed a lot of the items now seen as standard or even required for a wedding were traditions started by companies trying to sell their product. Take for example diamond rings. Rings have been used in wedding ceremonies for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that diamond rings became an essential purchase if one wants to get engaged. And this is all because there was a plentiful supply of diamonds around the world that needed selling, and the N.W. Ayer advertising agency was there to move merchandise for their client. They transformed a rock into a symbol of enduring love.

Soon it will be a requirement for women to arrive to their weddings in giant hamster balls - I mean glass carriages.

Soon it will be a requirement for women to arrive to their weddings in giant hamster balls – I mean glass carriages.

Another reason weddings are terrible is because in the quest for the perfect day/moment many women turn this need for perfection on themselves. Many brides make their bodies another project or goal to be worked on so they can be beautiful on their big day. They try to lose weight, whiten their teeth, tan, hire professional hair and make-up artists all just to attain the image of beauty they want for their wedding. They may even impose these standards on their bridesmaids. There’s also an idea around that brides are beautiful and that anyone who doesn’t marry is ugly.

I suppose really to explain why weddings are terrible I could have just said one word: “Bridezillas.” But I don’t want to dedicate too much space to these horrible people, and give them the attention they so clearly crave. But seriously, bridezillas. (As for whether it’s bridezillas who make weddings terrible, or the terribleness of weddings that makes bridezillas, that’s really a chicken or the egg question for me. I think they both feed into each other about equally).

I don't know why this picture exists, but I'm glad it does.

I don’t know why this picture exists, but I’m glad it does.

Now after all of this, I’m sure there are some of you out there thinking, “Weddings are not terrible! You’re probably just a bitter, jealous old maid who lives with her 20 cats.” And for you I have two things to say: 1.) No, no I am not; and 2.) Even if I were, in way that’s kind of the point. Weddings are terrible because they marginalize and exclude a large segment of the population – single people. There’s nothing wrong with being single, yet this standard for lavish weddings as likely the one big day of your life makes it easy for single people feel like if they don’t get married they’ve somehow failed. And that just isn’t true. There’s also the fact that lavish weddings currently favor heterosexual couples, but that’s slowly changing at least.

So are weddings terrible? In theory? No. theoretically a day of celebration for two people in love is beautiful and great. In reality? Yes. Unfortunately in today’s consumer culture weddings have become less a celebration of love and more a celebration of goods and status/image. I imagine there’ll eventually be some backlash against these lavish weddings. But we’ll see.

If you’re interested in this subject or want proof that I’m not the only one who thinks weddings are terrible I recommend Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding by Cele C. Otnes & Elizabeth H. Pleck and White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture by Chrys Ingraham.

The Unexpected Moment

Yesterday I had to run over to the library in the Metropolitan Museum of Art because there was something wrong with my account and there’s a book I need to request. Turns out apparently those cards expire. Who knew? Anyway, fixing the problem took all of about a minute, which left me with over an hour until my train home. Since I’d rather be surrounded by beautiful art than standing around Penn Station I decided to wander around for a bit. No real goal in mind – just wasting time mostly. So I was surprised when I found myself standing in front of some (mostly) French paintings feeling well…I’m not entirely sure “awestruck” is the right word, but it’s the best I can think of, so I’ll say I was feeling awestruck. There was just something about these paintings that got to me. Looking at the paintings, looking at the paint itself and the brushstrokes…it was just a powerful moment. It kind of reminded me of why I’m doing what I am, and why I got my degree in art history. I feel like in grad school, when you’re super bogged down with work it can be easy to forget why you decided to do this in the first place. So it was really nice to get that reminder. I’m not sure there’s any real point to this post…except maybe just to say: go out and see some art guys! You never know what impact it may have on you.

The Beach at Deauville, Kees van Dongen, 1945-55, oil on canvas.

The Beach at Deauville, Kees van Dongen, 1945-55, oil on canvas.

Love and Beauty

In Bed: The Kiss, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

In Bed: The Kiss, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

As the greeting card, chocolate, and flower industries refused to let anyone forget, Valentine’s Day was last week. Actually having an enjoyable Valentine’s Day for the first time in probably ever got me thinking about the effects love might have on beauty and our perception of it. Love itself is an interesting concept since it’s a fairly fundamental aspect of human life, yet no one can really explain it well. What it means, and the varying types and degrees of love seem to vary widely from person to person. But I won’t be tackling love itself too much, just the effect it might have on aesthetics.
I suppose I’ll start with the obvious, which is that Kant would be having none of this. Something can’t be beautiful if love is involved because that would mean interest. And for there to be beauty there must be disinterest. Once interest is involved the best it can be is pleasant or good, not beautiful. Yet, and I think Kant may agree, love itself can be beautiful. If the beautiful is really more about a moment than an object then it seems to follow that a moment of love can be beautiful. Or maybe it’s just different. Actually, come to think of it, Kant probably wouldn’t agree, because in a moment of love there’s still interest, so it wouldn’t count. Kant seemed to be a bit of a stickler about that. I have the feeling he’d be outnumbered on this though. I think a lot of people would argue that love can be beautiful, and that things you love can be beautiful.
What about artwork which take on love as its subject? Do we tend to find these pieces more beautiful than others? Certainly I think some people are drawn more towards images of love, but I don’t think that necessarily makes those works more beautiful than others. There are plenty of pieces depicting hateful moments that are just as beautiful. Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpina is definitely not about love, the subject itself isn’t beautiful, but the way he was able to work the marble and make it look squishy like human flesh…that is beautiful. So maybe love doesn’t have that big of an impact on what art we find beautiful.

The Rape of Proserpina, Bernini, 1621-22, marble

detail of The Rape of Proserpina, Bernini, 1621-22, marble

Though there is another way love can affect the viewer. If someone is in love, are they more likely to find things beautiful? Obviously that’s an incredibly subjective question that I can’t reasonable find a real answer to. But I think it could. Generally when people are in love they’re happier and it’s easier to see the beauty in things when feeling good, as opposed to when sad (obviously you don’t have to be in love to be happy and you can be sad when in love, but you know what I mean). So while the beauty of a work may remain the same, people may be more likely to appreciate it when they’re in love.
Lastly there’s the effect of love on the artists themselves to take into consideration. Are artists who are in love more likely to create beautiful works? This is pretty much along eh same lines as the viewer in love question. If an artist is in love with his or her subject, what kind of impact does that have on the final piece? Is it more likely to be beautiful? Bringing Kant back into it, I wonder if pieces are more beautiful when the artist is disinterested in the subject than when in love with it. It’d be interesting to find out, though I’m not entirely sure how to go about doing so. There’s also the idea that an artist might be more inspired to create in general when in love, and especially to create beautiful things. Love can be a powerful inspiration. Of course you don’t have to be in love to create beautiful things; many beautiful pieces have been born from misery.
It seems the best I can do is barely scratch the surface of this topic. I welcome any other thoughts on the subject though, and perhaps I’ll revisit it at a later date.
Venus and Adonis, Rubens, early 1600s, oil on panel

Venus and Adonis, Rubens, early 1600s, oil on panel

Today in Why Everything You’ve Ever Loved is Terrible I will be tackling cars. I suppose I should preface this by explaining my point of view on cars before delving into why they’re terrible. I am a child of suburbia. I was born in the suburbs, I currently still live in the suburbs. Cars are important to us. There is some public transportation, and I do take the train to get to school. But for just getting around town? A car is the way to go. And for most suburban teenagers a car means freedom. You’re not restricted by where your parents or friends’ parents are willing to take you anymore. So yes – I love my car. I don’t deny it. I’m not a car enthusiast; other cars don’t really interest me. But I love my car (not in a creepy, My Strange Addiction way though). So please just keep all this in mind while I go on and tell you why cars are terrible.
We all know why cars are terrible from an environmental perspective, so that’s not what I’ll be talking about. Let’s start with this: if it weren’t for cars, Americans might not be so fat. First there’s the obvious reason of if people didn’t have cars they would probably walk or ride a bike more places, and use more energy in their transportation. But there’s also this scenario – if it weren’t for cars, fast food might not even exist. The fast food industry was born out of drive-in restaurants which were a direct response to cars and the highways built to accommodate them. If it weren’t for cars the McDonald brothers may never have come up with their “Speedee Service System” which became the model of fast food service. Yes, Americans love shortcuts, so even without cars I’m sure there’d still be terrible food around to eat, but maybe it wouldn’t be quite as accessible.
Another reason cars are terrible is that they enable our (and by our I mean Americans’, sorry) inability to build communities. They encourage our already anti-social behavior. I know some people are going to disagree with this, but hear me out. Yes, obviously communities exist. But people don’t set down roots like they used to. Cars allow people to travel great distances for work, and move a lot faster and easier than back in the pioneer days. Most people don’t pass down the family homestead through the generations like they used to. It’s more unusual to find someone who hasn’t moved at least once or twice in their life. Cars also contribute to our antisocial behavior because unlike public transportation, when driving you are generally alone. Yes people carpool, take road trips, drive friends and family around, but for most everyday driving, you’re in that car by yourself. And even now on public transportation most people are plugged into their own little world, and may as well be alone. For some reason Americans see travel as a solitary act. There’s also the already mentioned independence that cars represent for teenagers (or anyone really). The car leads to some of the first real breaking away of a child from his or her parents/family.
Yet another reason cars are terrible is because they can be symbols of sexual repression. There’s the common cliché that men with fancy sports cars are overcompensating for something. Cars and their long, vaguely (or in some cases not so vaguely) phallic shape come to stand in for what they may be lacking.

Only a slight exaggeration...

Only a slight exaggeration…

Some men see the qualities of their car as the qualities for themselves. But men aren’t the only ones in this. Lest we forget the phenomenon of dagmar bumpers. Dagmar bumpers became popular in the 1950s (a time not exactly known for its sexual liberation) and their function was to guard the bumper. They were originally intended to look like artillery shells, but soon gained the moniker “dagmars” after the television star Dagmar, and her chest.
These are dagmars...

These are dagmars…

...they are named after this woman's chest.

…they are named after this woman’s chest.

There’s also the issue of “chick cars” and the sexism that goes along with that idea. As soon as a car becomes labeled a “chick car” it is scoffed at and avoided by men. But I’ll leave the feminist rant for another day.
So there are many reasons cars are terrible. And perhaps we shouldn’t love them as much as we do. But I think as long as they represent this idea of independence that they do for so many people, it’ll be a tough relationship to break up.

If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend the following to read:
“American Mobility” by Michael Aaron Rockland
“The Evolution of the ‘Chick Car’ Or: What Came First, the Chick or the Car?” by Chris Lezotte

It’s been almost two years since I first looked at the role of cute in aesthetics (where does the time go?). I think it’s about time to revisit the subject.
A good work that looks at this idea of cute is the book Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism by Daniel Harris. Harris makes it quite clear that in his opinion, cuteness has no relation to the attractive, but instead is more closely related to the grotesque. He feels that the grotesque is cute because it is pitiable, and it is pity that provokes our sympathy, making cute things desirable. For Harris cute has more to do with a quality something lacks than a quality it has. There’s a neediness to cute that we find touching and appealing as opposed to unsightly.
I’m not sure I entirely agree with Mr. Harris. Certainly there is an element of neediness involved in the cute. Little puppies and kittens are so cute because they can’t really fend for themselves yet. I think it’s more his use of the word “grotesque” in connection with cuteness that I object to. Yes, we’ve all seen things that are so ugly they’re cute. But that’s not the case with everything. The definition of grotesque according to is: “odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre.” I suppose by this definition the cute does kind of fit. But “grotesque” generally has such negative connotations, while “cute” is generally seen as positive. But maybe that’s why Harris uses that word – to make us realize that the cute is not universally positive, especially when it is used as a ploy to get people to buy things they don’t really need.
One phrase from that definition of grotesque has really stuck out to me: “fantastically absurd.” To me this does seem almost directly related to cute. I mean how many times have you seen something cute and said or thought, “That is just ridiculously cute,” or something along those lines? In a way the cute really is fantastically absurd. There’s something about the cute that seems almost unreal, and I think that’s another way in which the cute appeals to us.

This is ridiculously cute.

This is ridiculously cute.

I think there is an interesting intersection between the cute and the grotesque currently occurring in some art and just in pop culture in general. Artists like Jordan Elise Perme and her Horrible Adorables capture this collaboration well.
Creature Twins by Jordan Perme.

Creature Twins by Jordan Perme.

It’s possible that this is a reaction against the past. An example Harris discusses in his book is how throughout the 20th century the teddy bear progressively became less bear-like (original teddy bears were based on taxidermic specimens) and more moon-faced and plump, which made them more inviting and huggable. But this turn away from realism in animals can be found other places as well. For example Mickey Mouse has become less mouse-like than his original iteration. But there does seem to be a turn away from this phenomenon these days. An example of this is the new design of Chuck E. Cheese that occurred last year. The old Chuck E. Cheese was similar to Mickey Mouse in that he hardly looked like the animal he’s supposed to be. This new Chuck E. Cheese is definitely much more rodent-like.
I suppose whether or not cute belongs in aesthetics could be up for debate. But this almost simultaneous popularity of cute and the turning away from it seems important and worth a closer examination. The cute should not just be dismissed.

I know I’ve talked about Barbie here before, but she’s such a cultural icon I figured the ol’ gal deserved a second look.
Barbie dolls first came out in the 1950s and were one of the first toy dolls that looked like a teenager/grown-up as opposed to a baby. From the start parents worried that Barbie’s figure was too sexualized for young children. Just the fact that she had breasts was scandalous (their size in relation to the rest of her body is another issue). Many mothers were hesitant to buy the doll for their daughters, until advertisements started pushing Barbie as a tool to teach girls proper grooming habits. Apparently that angle outweighed the negative aspects of Barbie and made her acceptable as a toy for children.
I honestly believe that Barbie started out innocent enough in America. Okay, yes, the idea for her came originally from Bild Lili, a German comic character and doll aimed primarily at adult men…but that was never the target audience here. Here Barbie’s measurements were necessary to scale fashionable clothes down to her size without having them just look like sacks. But as we all know, many issue have since been projected onto Barbie. The main one being the issue of body image. There is a segment of the population who believe that Barbie dolls are harmful to girls’ self-esteem and body image. Does playing with a Barbie make a girl think she has to be skinny, large-chested, blonde, and blue-eyed? Maybe. Obviously I can’t speak for everyone. But I know I never felt that way. Have I ever suffered from negative body image; felt I wasn’t thin enough, my boobs not big enough? Sure. It’s probably hard to find a girl who hasn’t suffered from at least one of those issues. But it wasn’t my Barbie doll that made me feel that way. It’s the society that holds Barbie’s figure as ideal that did.
It can also be argued that Barbie reinforces the idea that women need to have a man, since the manufacturers felt the need to make Ken to be Barbie’s boyfriend, despite no real desire for him from the children. I suppose this is kind of true. But overall I call bullshit on that. For one, it’s not like they were married or anything. And it seems rather apparent that Barbie is self-sufficient, since she’s abel to get every job imaginable. Clearly the girl can pay her own bills.
Where does G.I. Joe (and other dolls for boys) come into this? On his own, G.I. Joe isn’t really that bad. It could be argued that he promotes violence in little boys, but these days I think there are bigger promoters of violence than action figures. No, the terribleness of G.I. Joe comes in when he’s compared to Barbie. Just the term “action figure” for boys’ toys and “doll” for girls’ toys shows an engrained idea that boys are supposed to be active while girls are expected to be static. What’s terrible and ridiculous is that this expectation is built into the dolls themselves and their joints. Boys’ action figures can have upwards of 20 movable joints. This allows for complex movements and actions. The original Barbie had only five joints. Modern Barbies have more, and are more flexible but still have nowhere near the amount of joints the action figures do. Poor Barbie can’t even stand on her own due to her perpetually tip-toed feet.
So are Barbie and G.I. Joe terrible? Maybe. With the exception of the joints thing, he dolls themselves aren’t actually terrible. They’re just toys. Really it’s the meanings we impose on these toys that are terrible. Unfortunately I think it’s harder to change those than the toys themselves.

original-teenage-fashion-model-barbie gi_joe_boxed_man_of_action1

If you’re interested in the whole Barbie vs. G.I. Joe thing, check out the essay, “Barbie and Action Man: Adult Toys for Girls and Boys, 1959-93” by Judy Attfield.