Barbie snubbed at Oscars, but not in academia

University of New England

Barbie may have missed her rightful moment on the podium at the Oscars, but she is winning big with researchers, according to UNE sociologists.

UNE’s Popular Culture Network (PopCRN) has been inundated by interest from researchers around the world in answer to a call to write about Barbie for a book edited by PopCRN and to attend an online conference in March dedicated to understanding the Barbie phenomenon.

“Barbie is having a real cultural moment, and this is making waves among pop culture enthusiasts working in universities across the world,” says conference convenor, Dr Lisa Hackett, a lecturer in sociology and criminology at UNE.

“We regularly hold conferences on a range of very famous and well-loved pop culture icons, such as James Bond, but we have never seen this level of interest before,” she says.

“But we get it – Barbie is a global cultural phenomenon spanning 65 years. Although she has always strongly reflected American culture and ideals, the responses we’ve had from academics in India, South America, African nations and others, prove her pervasive and universal appeal.”

Co-convenor Associate Professor Jo Coghlan says the response to the movie also demonstrates the enormous impact of this cultural juggernaut.

“The public reaction to the Barbie movie was quite remarkable,” she says. “Not just in box office sales, but the intergenerational nature of it – we saw grandmothers and mothers, daughters and granddaughters, dressing up to go see the movie together. And both women and men responded to the themes of patriarchy and gender roles.”

Commentary on the impact of the movie will feature at the conference.

“One of the things we’re interested in is what the film says about our culture, that Barbie can smash its competition out of the park in terms of box office takings, but be overlooked for any major awards – there seems to be a widening gap between what Hollowood sees as a quality film, and what the audience sees as a quality film,” A/Prof Coghlan says.

“But Barbie has always had a lot to say about culture, about the role of women, about beauty standards, about admirable aspirations, about American politics and significant cultural events like space travel and the Olympics. Barbie has even gone to war.”

“And we’re seeing this interest and diversity reflected in the 27 submissions we’ve accepted for our upcoming book Barbie: You Can be Anything – Imagining and Interrogating Barbie in Popular Culture, and the 50 submissions so far received for the conference.

“So she may have been overlooked by Hollywood, but we are taking her very seriously.”

Australia’s leading popular culture research network is hosting a two-day academic conference on Barbie and her place in global popular culture historically and in the present.

The free two-day conference on 27-28 March will examine a range of cultural, social, historical and political issues surrounding Barbie from her 1950s incarnation to her reimagining in the 2020s.

Academics, including independent scholars, industry experts and postgraduates are encouraged to attend.

Papers from the conference will also have the opportunity to be published online in Media/Culture Journal and in the International Journal of Popular Culture.

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