Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Kennedy Assassination: The Experience of an Irish Catholic Immigrant by Tara Doherty

My grandmother was cleaning her porch windows that Friday in November of 1963. A neighbor bounded out of his house with the news, running along the string of Philadelphia row homes until he arrived at my grandmother’s front windows.Media

“Margaret! He’s been shot. President Kennedy was shot,” he exclaimed. To her disbelief, she turned on her TV only to face a matching uncertainty. Over fifty years later, she recalls the deep gravity of the situation, the momentary ambiguity of the state of the nation’s President. She watched with hands shaking until shortly after President John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead.

She didn’t vote for Kennedy, although her immediate memory suggested otherwise. “Of course I voted for him,” she answered. A moment lapsed until she remembered that she couldn’t have voted for the Irish Catholic Democrat from Boston as much as she might have to. 1963 marked her ninth year as an Irish American immigrant, and she had not yet gained citizenship. Still, she spoke of Kennedy with a certain tenderness; he wasn’t just America’s president. He was a president of her people: Irish Catholic immigrants.

Catholic“They got it terribly hard, and they were terribly good Catholics. I’m not saying the president and the wife, but the president’s mother Rose. She went to mass every morning,” she said. She remembered that his grandparents emigrated from County Limerick of Bruff in western Ireland; her family back in Donegal loved him as if he were their own leader. For her and other Irish Catholic immigrants, Kennedy represented the tie between Ireland and America and offered a hope of success in the land of opportunity.

My grandmother was 34 years old the day of the assassination. Her husband was at work, and she spent her days at home taking care of her two young children. Though she emigrated nine years prior, her home was decorated with memories of Ireland. Irish flags, pictures of relatives, a painting of the Irish countryside above her mantle – she placed Catholic paraphernalia on every open surface, every wall so as to keep God and her country close to her heart. Yet, somewhere amongst her collections of home, she kept pictures of President Kennedy, dozens of pictures of an American man that she couldn’t have even voted for. Of these pictures, she most recalls a picture of Kennedy that portrayed him with the divine.

“Oh yeah. It was taken with him. It was a holy picture. They put Jesus or God next to John in the picture. I had one of them, but I don’t know what happened to them,” she said. In her eyes, the Kennedy family was a nice family, a family struck by tragedy and forever martyrs to America. When asked about the assassination, she most engaged with Jackie’s experience.

Dress“The sad thing about it was his wife, Jackie, standing next to the vice president… and her skirt was covered with blood. She held the president’s head when he was in the car and she kept it on – she wanted the whole world to see what they went through, and she was right to do it. And to see her face – she was in another world; she was in shock. I’ll never forget. It was the worst weekend. Jackie was the same age as me, same month, same year,” she said. Like many Americans struck by the tragedy, she identified with the Kennedy family. She saw herself as Jackie, her young children as the Jackie’s children; the assassination didn’t only mean a loss of a nation’s leader, it was a personal loss of a family made personable to Americans.

My grandmother spoke of President Kennedy in her strong Irish brogue decades after his assassination with an almost palpable nostalgia. The young president was a symbol of hope and success in America for Irish Catholic immigrants, a figure that represented success for those seeking it in an unfamiliar country. The Kennedy legacy has lived on in the hearts of those of that time as an embodiment of family and tragedy in American history.

Tagged , , ,

Camelot Wannabes by Olivia Baranowski

FireplaceThe story:

My grandparents were engaged November in 1963 and planned to be married the following summer in June of 1964.  My grandmother, Sarah, worked at the Curtis Publishing Company located in Old City and my grandfather, Robert, was a full time graduate student at Temple University.  They first saw the President when he was visiting Philadelphia during those early years in the 1960s.  They waited along Frankford Avenue with friends and cheered and waved American flags as he drove down the avenue in his motorcade.  He was campaigning for his election, the same as he was when he was assassinated.  My grandmother humorously compared the spectacle to the way Philadelphia was when the Pope recently visited back in September.

The day JFK was killed my grandmother was at work and my grandfather was at his parents’ home studying for an exam.  My grandmother and the rest of her coworkers stood around the small black-and-white television in the lobby of the building for what seemed like hours.  Everyone watched the news and no one spoke, she said, everyone was in shock.  My grandfather was listening to the radio while he was studying and the music was interrupted with the announcement, and he gathered his family around the radio to listen to what the radio hosts were reporting.  He recalled feeling confused because the radio hosts didn’t seem to have much information.  Later that evening, my grandmother went over to my grandfather’s house to help him study for his exam, but they couldn’t concentrate on the material.  It was hard for them to fathom what had happened that day.  They said everyone they knew and our family members were in shock.  Temple canceled their classes the next day.

Why They Loved Him:

My grandmother loved fashion.  She had all the big name magazines and was a frequent shopper at her local fabric store where she would buy fabric to make her own dresses and skirts.  She loved Jackie Kennedy.  My grandmother was someone that saw her as a fashion icon.  She loved seeing when new pictures of Jackie were released so she could remake what she was wearing or gain her own inspiration form the images.  My grandmother made a black skirt and black silk camisole when JFK was killed.

Because of the way the Kennedys were portrayed during his presidency, my grandparents thought of them as the perfect family.  They were engaged; they wanted a family to be exactly like the Kennedys.  They were beautiful and healthy and seemed to have had it all.  My grandfather jokingly mentioned how even he was taken back by JFK’s handsome appearance and how much better he looked standing next to Nixon.  This is something that my grandparents look back on fondly; they have said that they didn’t pay attention to scandal news when it came out.

My grandparents wanted to create their own Camelot in their West Philadelphia row home.  It is interesting to hear their story and compare it to the way the Kennedys are viewed today.  They look back with such nostalgia, they think nothing is wrong with the family or listen to the rumors and conspiracy theories.  They take real politics out of the mix and look at the family for what they were, a family.  My grandparents’ memory of the Kennedys today is so pure that I think many people should forget any negative judgement of the family and remember the tragic event that caused a wife to lose her husband and children to lose their father.  In the end, that is what made my grandmother so emotionally upset about the assassination.  My grandparents appreciate the legacy left behind and still honored by the Kennedy family.

Note on Photo: The cross over the fireplace was replaced with this picture of the President during the Camelot era.  Pictured here: my grandmother’s younger sister (my Great Aunt Mary-Anne, dress made by my grandmother) on her way to her high school’s prom, overlooked by JFK.

Tagged , ,

My Father and the Death of JFK by Oliver Shortridge


qCaptureMy father, Thomas J. Shortridge, was born on March 14, 1947 in Anderson, Indiana. Before he turned twenty, many significant events of this country’s history occurred; America’s first man in space, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the passing of the Civil Rights Act, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy was a major shock to the nation. Seventeen days after the assassination, Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy compared the presidency of her late husband to Camelot, a metaphor for the positivity his time in office seemed to generate.[1] My father was only sixteen at the time, a sophomore at Bedford High School in his hometown of Bedford, Indiana. On the afternoon of Friday November 22, 1963, my father was in his history class, when his school’s principal came over the loudspeaker to announce the death of President Kennedy.[2]

sAlmost immediately after announcing the death of the President, cheering could be heard from the more conservative students and faculty. This angered the principal, who returned to the loudspeaker, and admonished the entire school. My father doesn’t quite remember the exact wording the principal used, but they were along the lines of “How dare you! That man was President of the United States and you should be mourning his loss!”[3] Those cheering were quickly silenced by the realization of the seriousness of the situation.

Despite being too young to vote in 1963, at the time, my father identified as a Republican, much like the rest of his family. However, my father was not among those who cheered the death of President Kennedy, rather, he was simply in shock of what had transpired. Additionally, unlike other Republicans in his hometown, my father had a favorable view of Kennedy. In fact, during the 1960 election, my father played a prank on his older brother, in which he put a Kennedy bumper sticker on his brother’s car. His older brother has always been a fairly conservative person politically. Upon seeing the bumper sticker on the back of his car, in my father’s own words, “he was pissed,” and made my father not only remove the sticker, but the adhesive residue it left behind.[4]

As with the rest of the country, the assassination of John F. Kennedy left a lasting impact on my father. Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson, who would end up being one of my father’s least favorite presidents. Like the vast majority of his friends and family, my father supported civil rights and approved of President Johnson’s push of the Civil Rights Act. On the other hand, my Johnson’s same determination when it came to the Vietnam War soured my father’s views on him, as many of his friends fought in the war and did not return (my father was exempted due to a heart defect). My father also disliked Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphry, causing him to begrudgingly vote for Richard Nixon in 1968, as he disliked Nixon slightly less prior to Watergate.[5]

tCaptureToday, my father is no longer a Republican, by the end of the 1960s, my father was left with bad taste in his mouth from conservativism in general, that he became a Democrat by the time he left Indiana to attend MIT. In hindsight, my father was never a conservative person, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy was his first step in realizing that.

[1] Brigance, Linda C. “For One Brief Shining Moment: Choosing to Remember Camelot.” Studies in Popular Culture 25, no. 3 (April 2003): 1-12. Accessed March 31, 2016.

[2] Shortridge, Thomas J. “Interview of My Father.” Interview by author. March 31, 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

Tagged , ,

Jackie Kennedy Onassis: The Queen of Camelot by Deidre Rowe

The Kennedys may be America’s royal family, but the woman who lies behind myth is Jacqueline Kennedy.JKO

Jackie was born to John Vernou Bouvier III and Janet Norton Lee in July of 1929. She grew in a quite wealthy family due to her father’s career as a stockbroker. She spent a good amount of her childhood in Manhattan and the Hamptons on Long Island at her family’s estate. She later attended Vassar College for two years and spent her junior year in France. Upon coming back to the states, she transferred to George Washington University where she got a Bachelor’s degree in the Arts in French literature. She met her future husband, John Fritzgard Kennedy in May of 1952 at a dinner party.

Jackie was what peanut butter is to jelly to John. These two were the young wealthy family that were starting their married lives in the eye of the political public. But is she the Queen of Camelot? I think that the idea of her queen-like demeanor comes from her poise and elegance. In for “One Brief Shining Moment: Choosing to Remember Camelot,” written by Linda Czuba Brigance, Brigance describes how a Chicago Sun Times article stated that Jackie Onassis was “the closest thing we have to American royalty” (Brigance 6). This speaks to how Americans view royalty. As a young person born way after the Kennedy era in the sixties, I am still shock in how we as people still find Jackie O. to be so amazing. However, as much as I want to be against it, I just can not.

For me she embodies everything that a first lady should be. She was smart, thoughtful, and has a caring glow that surrounded her. On top of that all, she dressed to the nines. The Chanel suit will forever be the “Jackie O” suit. I also think that is why our current first lady sticks out in my mind as well. Michelle Obama is a well educated lady who had the need to “do something” during her time severing as our first lady; just like Jackie O.


Britannica Academic, s. v. “Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,” accessed March 31, 2016,

Brigance, Linda Czuba. 2003. “For One Brief Shining Moment: Choosing to Remember Camelot”. Studies in Popular Culture 25 (3). Popular Culture Association in the South: 1–12.

Tagged , ,

John F. Kennedy and the Modern Media Myth by John Fahey

John F. Kennedy was the man on the forefront of what we see now as the modern presidential campaign.

Admittedly, I don’t know a whole lot about John F. Kennedy. I know his family was a big family of politicians, his religion was questioned when he was campaigning to become president, and he was tragically murdered during his term as president. When I think of JFK, what comes to my mind in the most prevalent manner is his status as a media icon, not an “American” icon.

jfkdebateIt’s easy to mention the famous presidential debate between him and Richard Nixon in 1960, which accompanies that legendary story that everyone hearing the debate on the radio thought Nixon won, while everyone seeing it on television thought Kennedy won. What I think we don’t do is consider that debate within the context of the time and what that thinking truly means. Kennedy was a master of crafting his image. Because television began to become a major component of life in general at the time, he knew that his life would be watched more closely than others, and instead of “acting normal,” Kennedy chose to play to that audience. This is done so commonly now, but it was revolutionary in its time. He used modern media strategically to reach out to audiences and appear more desirable to people nationwide. This gave him an edge and appeal that Nixon just didn’t have.

As someone who not only has an incredible amount of exposure to media, but also someone who wants to work in some sort of media in the future, Kennedy’s image is fascinating to me. He was all over the place. He wasn’t a presidential candidate, he was a celebrity running for president. His face was on merchandise, there was a film made about his fight for the primary against Hubert H. Humphrey, and Frank Sinatra jfksinatraeven changed the lyrics of one of his songs to be about him. His media conglomerate was massive in the budding days of the media itself.

“TV is an image medium,” writes broadcast historian J. Fred MacDonald on his website. “It thrives on pictures, attractive personalities, action, and lightness. It was no coincidence that early television popularized the flamboyance of wrestlers like Gorgeous George and the compelling movement of roller derby.” What’s interesting to me is that this same sentiment is true right now. Kennedy’s media image was so incredibly ahead of its time. Ronald Reagan ran twenty years after Kennedy did, and his television image during his campaign is less lauded than Kennedy’s is even though Reagan was an actor. That’s preposterous.

When Jackie Kennedy compared the family to Camelot, she was further playing on media and the public’s perception.  “The popular media and the general public seized upon Camelot to represent the Kennedy era, even though the values associated with the myth are incompatible with the reality of Kennedy’s life.” (Brigance 2). Even though those values may not be representative of the true feelings of the time, this was not said accidentally. She likely said this knowing full well the public would make the connection, that they would embrace this crafted image, an image created in the same way that John F. Kennedy create his own image in the media. Except after his death, Jackie Kennedy was doing it for the whole family.

Nowadays, media is a major part of presidential campaigns. It’s how every common person takes in news and information. Many people only see modern candidates only through television and computers. New forms of media, such as social media, allow for easier construction of narrative and image. However, it’s fascinating to me that Kennedy was able to do this in an era where that was unheard of, and would continue to be unheard of for a long while.

 Works Cited:

Brigance, Linda Czuba. “For One Brief Shining Moment: Choosing to Remember Camelot”. Studies in Popular Culture 25.3 (2003): 1–12. Web.

Macdonald, J. Fred. “Television and the Red Menace: The Video Road to Viet Nam.” John F. Kennedy and Television. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Tagged , ,

JFK and Camelot by Bryant Harris

ST-C209-1-62                                      4 July 1962 Address at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, 11:42AM Please credit "Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston"

ST-C209-1-62 4 July 1962; Address at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, 11:42AM
Photo credit “Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston”

John F. Kennedy is one of the most profiled figures in American history. The democratic president was in control of the country during some of the most stress-inducing periods in the history of the United States. Amid domestic issues such as tensions of racial injustice to foreign conflicts like threats of nuclear warfare from the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy’s presidency was certainly one for the ages. The youngest elected president (at age 43) had captured the charm of Americans with his distinct voice, savvy speeches and presentation of the beautiful first family. However, nearly three years after being sworn into office, JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas as he sat alongside his wife, Jacqueline, in his motorcade as they drove past Dealey Plaza. November 22, 1963 will forever be remembered as the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In other words, that day would also be remembered as the day that the American people lost their “Camelot.”


Now, you’re probably wondering how a former president of the United States can be compared to the story of King Arthur and his dreams of a “utopian kingdom.” First of all, the story of Camelot was of King Arthur’s vision of ruling his kingdom free of violence and despair and relying on the virtues of equality and perfection to ensure better living qualities for the people of Camelot (Brigance 3).  Linda Brigance wrote in her article, For One Brief Shining Moment: Choosing to Remember Camelot, about the myth of the icon JFK and how it is perpetuated by those who remember him as much as what he did while he was alive. Following his assassination, the nation was in shock over losing not only a powerful figure but also a man who they believed was their saving grace for the future. Brigance states, “The Camelot myth and its identification with Old World notions of royal lineage had just the script Americans needed,” (Brigance 5). Basically, by focusing on the great things that made the people have faith in Kennedy and honoring him as if he were royalty, Americans’ fear in the wake of the assassination could slowly fade away. Brigance also mentions how subsequent members of the Kennedy family like Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy were seen as the heirs to the “throne” of JFK and to also further the legacy of Camelot (Brigance 6).

However, it mostly seems as though the adoption of Camelot with his association with the Kennedy family was more of a product of Americans suppressing the negativity of Kennedy’s assassination while living in a new kind of world after November 22, 1963. The story of Camelot is a nice way to immortalize and iconize John Kennedy. Amid the chaos of the remainder of the 1960s, America had changed. The people’s perspective had changed. Their only saving grace after JFK was assassinated was the memory of what he did.

Source: Brigance, Linda Czuba. “For One Brief Shining Moment: Choosing to Remember Camelot”. Studies in Popular Culture 25.3 (2003): 1–12. Web.

Tagged , ,

Body Image Barbie: Doing More Harm than Good? by Keira C. Wingert

It seems like the only times I hear about Barbie anymore are in conversations about her body.

We’ve all heard the statistics that claim that Barbie, if she were a real person, would be six feet tall, weigh 100 pounds, and have the hips of a prepubescent boy (Olson, par. 1). Often, people will use these statistics against the Barbie brand as a way of blaming the doll for the prevalence of unhealthy body consciousness among girls and young women. In fact, competitors have been introduced to the market to address this issue, such as the Lammily doll, a Barbie rival proportionate to the body of an average 19-year-old woman. When the concept for the doll was introduced in 2014, it garnered the attention of many adult women, who loved the idea of an average-looking doll whose accessories include acne, scars, and cellulite (yes, really!).barbieombre

In January of this year, perhaps as a response to the Lammily doll’s release and the subsequent backlash against the Barbie brand, Mattel released a new line of Barbies that made headlines and sparked a huge conversation among the doll’s fans amd critics alike. This new line of Barbies features dolls with petite, curvy, and tall bodies—a revolutionary move for a brand that has featured only one (inhuman) body type since its conception in 1959 (Pearson & Mullins, 230).

One might think that the introduction of this line of dolls would be the be-all and end-all of conversations over Barbie’s body, but in reality, it may do more harm than good. The new curvy Barbie doll doesn’t fit into the clothes of the petite, tall, and classic Barbie dolls, which begs the question:  when two little girls are playing with their dolls together, what will bring more awareness to the doll’s body type than the realization that a curvy Barbie doll cannot wear the same clothes as a petite one?


Perhaps by giving Barbie three new looks, we could be diminishing children’s self-confidence rather than boosting it. In constantly turning the conversation to Barbie’s body rather than the wealth of careers, friends, and achievements her character seems to have, we are, in turn, sending the message to young girls that a woman’s body is more important than her personality or accomplishments. According to unofficial Barbie “biographer” M.G. Lord, Barbie is a toy “designed by women for women to teach women what—for better or worse—is expected of them by society” (Lord, 8). (Interestingly enough, artist Nickolay Lamm, a man, created the Lammily doll). Barbie can be a doctor, an artist, a surfer, a teacher, a babysitter, and more, and yet all anyone seems to care about is how she looks. In only focusing on her body, we are making it clear to little girls what is expected of them by society.

This is not to say that representing body diversity is unimportant or harmful, but why should we needlessly make children more frustratingly aware of the differences between women’s bodies when they themselves are hardly aware of their own bodies? Barbie isn’t the one telling girls to focus on their bodies from a young age; we are. If we want that to change, we have to stop turning the conversation toward Barbie’s measurements and instead focus on how Barbie can inspire girls to strive for something other than aesthetic beauty.


Lord, M.G. Forever Barbie:  The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll. New York:  Morrow, 1994. Print.

Olsen, Samantha. “Why Are Barbie’s Body Measurements So Unrealistic? Little Girls Aren’t Buying It.” Medical Daily. IBT Media Inc., 31 Dec. 2014. 23 Mar. 2016.

Pearson, Marlys, and Paul R. Mullins. “Domesticating Barbie:  An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3.4 (1999): p. 225-259. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Shriver, Lionel. “Sorry Lammily, Your Dumpy Looks Won’t Fool Many Little Girls.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 21 Nov. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Tagged , , ,

Bridal Barbie and her Matrimonial Delusions by Laura E. Trzaska

wedding1Is Barbie to Blame for the destruction of marriage? The American Psycological Association confirms that today “about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce” (APA, Marriage and Divorce). Little girls across the United States dream about Barbie finally tying the knot with her tried and true boyfriend, Ken. I’m arguing however, that that this power duo isn’t well prepared for everything that comes with the pretty white dress and gold rings.

First of all, before we talk about what marriage means, and what the consequences of failure are, let’s examine the “perfect” All-American” couple. Barbie and her can-do attitude are going places. She’s starting on her way to a healthy body image, and a challenging, prestigious career in the STEM fields… far from her days of homemaker or simple fashion model. She has an extensive library of girlfriends (but also maybe a multiple personality disorder). Ken on the other hand, seems to be lacking in everything but looks. He doesn’t have and buddies to hang out with for “guys night.” There’s no man cave in Barbie’s perfectly pink dream house, and frankly, she’s just too darn busy to give him the attention he needs.Bride

This scenario is a little funny to think about, but is there merit to it? Girls learn how to nurture their relationships with their friends by playing Barbies with them, but the boys aren’t interested. Maybe it’s because their role in her life is pretty lack-luster, and they don’t really want to imagine themselves as a Ken character, because frankly, life sucks for him. According to Lord’s “Forever Barbie” Ken is nothing but another one of Barbie’s accessories (p 11).

The culture of Barbie may be great for friendly relationships, 5 stars on that front, but what is it teaching girls about romantic relationships and marriage? It could be that this neglectful beauty blinds them to the fact that real relationships require an equal partnership. Barbie appears to me to be rather self-centered, and Ken looks like he is nothing more than her hunky assistant. Another issue is that while Barbie has continued to evolve over time, Ken really hasn’t changed, yet there isn’t much of an outcry to diversify and update the Ken collection. Why? Probably because boys don’t respond to Ken and don’t like to play with Barbie and Ken dolls, since they don’t want to be pushed around by some shoe-happy Malibu princess. While Barbie is absolutely an icon of the “all-American girl” Ken is not an icon of American boys.

Ken gives girls an unrealistic expectation of men, just as Barbie of the past gave girls unrealistic expectations of their bodies. If girls learn to expect a “trophy husband” the way Barbie uses her Ken, it’s setting them up to fail in the world of dating and marriage. I’d like to see them engineer a new line of Ken dolls that are more realistic, and have them marketed towards boys. This was boys will be able to communicate a little better on the Barbie front, and they will relate more to Ken. There should also be stories or games that force a “teamwork” theme between Barbie and Ken, in which Barbie isn’t the center of attention, nor does Ken need to “save-the-day”. This would introduce an idea of an equal partnership, and plant a little seed with young girls that relationships require working together.

In her article, “Native American Barbie: The Marketing of Euro-American Desires” Schwarz states that “Toys as a form of material culture are everywhere a source of cultural data” (p3). This silly idea of why Barbie and Ken would make a terrible married couple, at first sounds childish, but it reflects some truthfully troubling things about our society. Most little girls dream about their wedding day from a young age, especially when they have a Barbie to dress up in a little white gown. The current relationship between Ken and Barbie is ill prepared to serve as a model of what a successful marriage would look like. It’s time for Ken to change, and for both him and Barbie to learn the give-and-take of a real world relationship. If they don’t, it’s going to make the concept of marriage more difficult to understand and more likely to further deteriorate.


American Psychological Association (2016). Marriage and Divorce. Retrieved from

Lord, M.G. (2004) Forever Barbie. New York: William Morrow and Company Inc.

Schwarz, Maureen Trudelle (2005) Native American Barbie: The Marketing of Euro-American Desires. Mid-America American Studies Association.

Tagged ,

Barbie: Fashion Model or Role Model? by Christy Weaver

From Barbie’s first appearance on store shelves in 1959, her “chief association was with high fashion” (Pearson & Mullins, 230). Creator Ruth Handler ensured that her original fashion choices were inspired by “Paris fashion shows” (230) and epitomized modern style. Evidently, Barbie was concerned with image from the outset, embodying a marketable version of beauty and culture with every subsequent version of herself. According to archaeologists Marlys Pearson and Paul Mulllins, “Barbie never was designed to be a cipher that could accommodate a vast range of social possibilities or experiences” (256). She was more like a piece of art which produced a clear-cut vision of middle-class womanhood, aiming to achieve mass social appeal.


If we think of Barbie in this way, her cultural missteps become a little easier to bear. For instance, during the late 1960s, Mattel, Inc. made certain that Barbie was absent from any counter-cultural protest or drug-ridden commune. Instead she was busy enjoying “Lunch on the Terrace,” (1966) or a “Music Center Matinee” (1966) (Pearson & Mullins, 244). Although commentators have criticized this era of Barbie for glossing over important historical moments, the doll’s core mission wasn’t to comment on cultural turmoil; it was to be a toy, a beautiful, fashion-forward, profitable toy. The ideas embedded in counter-culture were inherently radical, and Barbie’s brand needed to appeal to a mainstream audience.

A more modern example of Mattel’s questionable Barbie releases was its “Great Eras Collection,” which appeared on shelves from 1993 to 1997 (Milnor 215). The series depicted Barbie as versions of prominent women throughout world history, including Egyptian Queen Barbie and Chinese Empress Barbie (215). Egyptian Queen Barbie wears an “intricately detailed golden headdress with turquoise beading reflect[ing] that she is indeed Egyptian royalty” (“The Great Eras Collection”). Her dress is bold, bright blue, and shiny; again, fashion is a main concern for the doll. Chinese Empress Barbie is equally as stunning. Her costume is highly detailed, featuring faux jade beads and dragon stitchings. On Barbie’s website, Empress Barbie is described as capturing “… the authentic look and feel of the Qing dynasty” (“The Great Eras Collection”). Each of these versions offers a prime example of Mattel concerning itself mostly with Barbie’s looks. In each doll’s description, Barbie’s clothes are the only thing discussed. Her actual historical role is absent entirely, underscoring the argument that Barbie is, in reality, not a teaching tool; she is an attractive commodity.2

In its most recent campaign, however, Mattel has allowed Barbie to encourage her consumers with the mantra “You can be anything” (“You Can Be Anything”). Ads feature young girls filling in the “you can be” blank with words like “President,” “Doctor,” “Ballerina,” and “Game Developer” (“You Can Be Anything”). Although Mattel has encouraged young girls to use Barbie as a tool for personal growth and imagination in the past, this campaign actively promotes the idea that young girls can look to Barbie to show them what’s possible. Barbie now embodies virtually anything, so you can too. This evidence contradicts the notion that Barbie is purely a pretty face to be bought and sold. This campaign, likely demanded by a feminist turn in the toy market, may complicate things for Mattel. Now that Barbie is an active role model, rather than just a fashion model, Mattel will need to be even more careful about what its brand promotes.


Milnor, Kristina. “Barbie as Grecian Goddess and Egyptian Queen: Ancient Women’s History by Mattel.” Helios 32.2 (2005): 215. JSTOR. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Pearson, Marlys, and Paul R. Mullins. “Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology.”International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3.4 (1999): 225-59. Web.

“The Great Eras® Collection.” The Great Eras® Collection. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. “You Can Be Anything.” Mattel, Inc. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Tagged , , , ,

When Icons Collide: Barbie’s Bountiful Meanings by Samantha Smyth

BetsyWhen Mattel released Barbie in 1959 they hardly could have known the plastic doll’s impact. She was revolutionary, she was a career woman who had no man, she was modelled after a buxom German blonde pin-up, and she was now decidedly America. As Pearson and Mullins point out: “Unlike the mass of baby dolls populating toy stores, Barbie was an “adult” doll marketed in a box illustrated with designer fashion sketches of Barbie outfits [. . .]. Barbie’s stylish consumption, idealized labor discipline (i.e., in her modeling “career”), and clean-cut middle-class values found a mass of eager consumers among girls and their parents alike” (230). Barbie’s clean-cut values have ensured her survivability, but also adaptability through the decades.

To go back to Martin Kemp’s ideas on what makes an icons: “An iconic image Libertyis one that has achieved wholly exceptional levels of widespread recognizability and has come to carry a rich series of varied associations for very large numbers of people across time and cultures, such that it has to a greater or lesser degree transgressed the parameters of its initial making, function, context, and meaning (3). Barbie’s recognizability draws people in, whether to critique her or love her. Her varied associations allows for varying interpretations for whoever gazes upon her hard plastic shell.

Since 2002, there has been a group in San Francisco dedicated to Barbie and her image. They deal primarily in altered Barbie. Journalist Chris Cadelago writes of the altered Barbie art show: “At the center of this burgeoning summer institution is Barbie, a kind of three-dimensional blank canvas that allows artists to display their reverence, humor or biting satire. Barbie is used to create stories about contemporary culture, and also used as a yardstick to measure American progress” (SFGate). Because of her blank canvas, Barbie has vaulted so far beyond her initial inception of fashion-maven for young girls to admire in the United States of the ‘50s.

She’s now been mashed together with other worldly icons to create a sort of icon-chimera-hybrid, a super icon (if you want to think like that).

Mattel has certainly capitalized on Barbie’s adaptability. Using blank canvas Barbie as inspiration, here are some of Barbie’s mashed iconic iterations using our classes’ syllabus as the framework:


Released in 1997, Patriot Barbie and Colonial Barbie are the closest we get to a Betsy Ross figure. The Barbie Collection describes Patriot Barbie as: “Lovely Patriot Barbie® doll brings us back to revolutionary times in her elegant gown and navy military jacket. She wears a navy tricorner hat with a feather and carries a golden liberty bell.” So here we have both the Revolution and another one of our classes’ icons, the Liberty Bell, being memorialized by Barbie herself. BarbieColonial Barbie comes with a “framed” embroidery with an eagle design on it! She also has a book discussing the new nation of 1776. Perhaps this book mentions Betsy’s flag.


Frontier Barbie poses an issue because the Frontier itself is vast, both metaphorically and in actuality. Do we look for Cowboy Barbie? There are countless versions, including an entire collection known as the “Western Fun!” collection. How about Native American Barbie? As Maureen Trudelle Schwarz points out there is many versions of this Barbie, all with their own degree of Cowgirldifficult interpretation and misinterpreted and presented backstories. See above Princess of Navajo Barbie and Way Out West Barbie.


Dorothy was deemed worthy of study in our own class. We had discussed perhaps the ruby red slippers were the iconic image from the Oz world, and Barbie comes equipped with them. In fact, Disney has released multiple versions of the Dorothy doll, all with the slippers, and interestingly Toto as well. For the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, Mattel released an entire series of Oz-inspired dolls commemorating the event. Pictured abovDorothye is the 75th Anniversary Wizard of Oz Dorothy Barbie modelled after Judy Garland.

Interestingly, none of Barbie’s official Disney versions are featured on the Barbie Collection website. This is because Mattel has recently lost its exclusive Disney contract to Hasbro due failing sales and inability to do justice to Disney’s princess brand image ( However, a cursory Google search can bring up hundreds of hits for Barbie and Mickey being used together including 25th anniversary collector’s editions and a Disney Fun! series with Ken.Mickey

Barbie, the ultimate canvas. Her ability to portray anything the designer wants allows her to transcend her original purpose of fashion-doll. My definition of an icon included the addendum of “not without their contradictions,” and Barbie certainly fits this as well. However, her image continues to change and resonate. Her appeal allows her to fit any mold, even though she’s made of hard plastic. Her chameleon-like capability to change to support her surroundings ensures Barbie’s longevity and iconicity.


Images: Pinterest

Martin Kemp, Christ to Coke, 3.

Marlys Pearson and Paul R. Mullin, “Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology,” 230.

Tagged , , , , , , ,