PRINT April 1995


the Further Adventures of Jewish Barbie

Retrieved by UnErase©, a special retrieval system for information deleted from our one reality system, here from the Jewish Barbie files are the final highlights of the life lead in a parallel universe by Jewish Barbie, who exists, but is repressed, by the defensive layer of the ego, by society, and most cruelly of all, by Barbie herself.

WHEN WE LEFT JEWISH BARBIE, she was spiritually adrift on a college campus in New England. Having flouted her plastic roots by cramming her apartment with Central American textiles and effigies of the Virgin, Jewish Barbie had become a bit of a mess. Betrayed by Shaynah Punim Models and her parents, who had deployed her as a tool in their own narcissistic agendas, she felt really unsupported. Repressed from our one reality system, by destiny deprived of the groundwork for mental health, she bravely strove to be validated on her own terms anyway.

Rereading and obsessively underlining The Anxiety of Influence by Harold Bloom, Jewish Barbie worked through murderous revenge fantasies against Barbie, who refused to recognize her existence, despite many prank phone calls and unwanted pizza deliveries from Jewish Barbie’s high-spirited college pals. Now she had real friends, by the way, from the college eating-disorders clinic. A popular peer counselor, she conducted a passionate seminar entitled “I’m O.K., You’re Barbie,” healing many other young women—and some young men—by coping with her own pain. It was during this period that her excessive interest in alternative Central American spiritual practices subverting the centralized Catholic Church blossomed into full-blown Frida Kahlo worship and concomitant fetishism of Guatemalan shrines. She accepted a grant (Manischewitz Studies in Post-colonialism) to examine these indigenous shrines, combining as they did authority issues with the neo-’70s El Salvador moment and the esthetic of the classic Bev Hills Catholic-wannabe. She intuitively grasped the importance of keeping a tidy altar, and the significance of shrines, like shopping, as a way for people to express their spirituality through stuff. These were dark years, with no dry cleaners.

Years later, still with a soft spot for Central America, Jewish Barbie moves to a SoHo loft big enough for a basketball game. She is semiembarrassed about it but not enough to move. The combination of her plastic roots and her underdog identification continues to be a spiritual challenge. It is only after she returns to NYC that she learns that “real” Ken—the son of Barbie’s inventors—had been down in Central America, too, with a highly developed social conscience, doing research on “low self-esteem among people of color.” They were like two Barbie figures with issues passing in the night, circling around the same symptomatic spots. As for Barbie, she has never recognized the existence of Jewish Barbie and never will; Jewish Barbie has accepted this, and goes on with her life, in SoHo. Still working through her plastic roots, she has an overdeveloped interest in “the body” and in work combining photos with text. She can occasionally be spotted purchasing perfect produce at Dean & Deluca, or at openings at the Drawing Center.

[Enter Rod Serling.] Jewish Barbie does not exist in our reality. Split off from Barbie at the moment of her creation, Jewish Barbie fractioned off, became her own reality, and just went on from there forever, like the unconscious. Yet back in our reality, glimpses of this alternative Barbie universe can be sighted, like obscene sprouts of enjoyment coming to the surface, symptomatic pimples typically aggravated around a complex of Jew/goy issues. For example, a 1986 made-for-TV movie starring Farrah Fawcett as a Nazi-hunter, The Beate Klarsfeld Story, depicts the trial of Nazi Klaus Barbie in Lyons. In front of an embassy we see people with signs saying “Barbie = S.S.! Barbie = S.S.! ” Privy to top-of-the-line therapy, Jewish Barbie does not take this personally, reading the whole movie in terms of psychoanalytic projection. While it is creepy to associate Barbie with the Nazi Klaus Barbie, Barbie is creepy too, Jewish Barbie reasons. As a phantasmatic social body ego, Barbie sews herself up around the incarnation of her own impossibility—represented, of course, by Jewish Barbie. As the support for the Barbie fantasy, Jewish Barbie becomes an unwanted semiotic leftover coded obscene, satanic. Recurrent failure to recognize this empirical leftover’s prior, founding function—well, that’s the way Barbie gets off! Jewish Barbie is the libidinized scapegoat covering the gap through which Barbie’s own impossibility comes to consciousness! For Barbie to emerge into representation, Jewish Barbie keeps on telling herself, “She must misread me. For her to exist, I must be repressed! I’m not evil!,” she continues to tell herself.

In another symptomatic event, in 1990, militant Barbies abetted by guerrilla artists in California rebelled against their makers, switching voice boxes between Barbies and G.I. Joes as a political statement about oppressive gender construction through toys. G.I. Joes surprised their owners by suggesting “Let’s Go Shopping”; rogue Barbies announced “Vengeance is Mine.” Organized under the acronym BLO (Barbie Liberation Organization), rogue Barbies flouting Mattei uncannily echoed PLO resistance to the state of Israel. Just this week, doing research at Toys-’R’-Us, I saw Native American Barbie and Dutch Girl Barbie; Jewish Barbie remained conspicuously absent.

Barbie historian and reader M. J. Lord has observed, “The daughter of a Polish Jewish immigrant, Ruth Handler [Barbie’s creator] coded with her fashion dolls the same sort of phantasmatic ‘America’ that Louis B. Mayer had coded in his movies.” As we have seen, Goodbye Columbus deploys Ali MacGraw, a WASP, as a Hollywood Jewish princess only acting like she’d had a nose job. (“I was pretty,” she explains, “Now I’m prettier.”) The Tori Spelling Effect performs a recent twist: in the TV series Beverly Hills 90210 we see the Tori Spelling Effect at work through the technique of Displace the Jew. The daughter of producer Aaron Spelling, overlord of cheesy international sitcom empire, the real Jewish princess of the show Tori Spelling plays a conspicuously Catholicized virgin . Displace the Jew occurs with the Andrea Zuckerman character, coded “Jew” by her not-to-the- manor-born anxiety, her academic overachievement, and her eyeglasses (signifying nonbabehood). This character—played by Gabrielle Carteris, who is Greek—is in fact a decoy, set up as the scholarly Semitic foil to the blonde, bob-nosed Tori, who emerges, by contrast, ethnically cleansed.

Since I couldn’t interview Tori Spelling, I had a chat about “passing” with emerging glamorous-Jewesse Rebecca Odes, from New Jersey via Vassar, who has just gone blonde (but who was also fetching as a brunette): “It’s like this reverence. It’s like you’re walking down the street and you grace the world with your blonde presence.” Having recently appeared in Spin, Rebecca was wearing an ultra-snappy outfit: butter-yellow ribbed turtleneck, beige fake-fur chubby jacket, frosted lipstick, hip-hugger jeans, long legs with heels. Long blonde hair represents the final frontier of Rebecca’s thoughtful journey into total self-construction as babe: “It’s almost like you don’t have to dress up anymore . . . I feel like I go into a store and it’s like, Hey, Miss America. I think that blondeness is so culturally revered . . . . It’s like a reverse scale, like blondes are assumed to be attractive until proven otherwise. Long blonde hair, that is. When you see someone with long blonde hair from far away, you think, like, babe. When you look close up and they have like half a face . . . .” Whatever.

Trying to think of other Jewish babes in the media without much success, we kept circling back to Barbra in The Owl and the Pussycat, where she wears the mod bra with hands on it. The up-and-coming supermodel Shalom might be a breakthrough, we thought, only to learn that she is neither from Israel nor Jewish: “My parents were hippies,” she disclosed in a blurb on the occasion of her first Cosmo cover, revealing herself as another faux Jew. “The weird thing,” continued my recently blonde interlocutor, “is how blondeness totally changes your arbitrary self-identification issues. Like I was watching Charlie’s Angels and now I identify with the blonde, Farrah—I’m no longer Sabrina! It’s so liberating.” With blonde radar up, you begin to see “there’s hardly a natural blonde in the media. You know Pamela Anderson in Baywatch—I saw a picture of her from high school-dyed blonde!” Ohmigod. Now we were outing the dyed blondes. We imagined a world of dyed blondes, a glamour nation, like Denmark in World War II, when the king foiled the Nazis by having the whole country sport yellow armbands, contaminating the ID code, ingeniously marking everyone a potent faux.

In his “Nomad Thought” essay Gilles Deleuze refers to Nietzsche’s task of transmitting “something that does not allow itself to be codified—to transmit it to a new body—to invent a body, that can receive it and spill it forth.” [Cutaway: Jewish Barbie stops in her tracks, on her way uptown to Barney’s.] This new body could seem monstrous according to recognizable codes [Jewish Barbie frowns] but it’s a philosophically healthy contamination [then she smiles, sort of]. Nietzsche was calling out to the philosophers of the future, the new philosophical flesh , like something out of Videodrome, addressing and thereby creating an audience of nomad rogue readers who would practice “legitimate misreading,” making monsters out of what we read through the distorting lens of desire, thus moving the culture forward to spawn new and strange conjunctions, the metabolic products of reading as contamination, rather than reproducing codes faded by familiarity and thus sterilized into prepackaged “identities” and stuff we’ve already known and labeled.

While no one should find their “identity” ready-made in a text, strong misreading can create strange new life, or at least potentials. Deleuze describes a career “misreading” Western thinkers from Spinoza, Leibniz, and Kant to Nietzsche and Bergson: “I imagined myself approaching an author from behind and giving him a child that would indeed be his but would nonetheless be monstrous.” Finding in these philosophical big guys the genealogy of his own nomad agenda, Deleuze had his way with them, legitimately misreading them to articulate his concept of “deterritorialized” thought, transmitting “intensity” rather than “identity.” It’s true that finding the Jewish Barbie files is an act of monstrosity—the monstrosity of reading. This is a good, not a scary, thing, as Jewish Barbie would learn in a seminar entitled “I’m O.K., I’m Nietzsche,” available to philosophically discriminating shoppers in a parallel universe near you.

Rhonda Lieberman returns to J. Morgan Puett, 140 Wooster St., NYC, for encore office hours as writer/manicurist-in-residence on April 1. The “Swedish-American Love Connection” (a video introduction service for “quality” art students) that she coorganized with Stig Sjolund opens on April 5 at Norrkopings Konstmuseum, Norrkoping, Sweden.