By: Yesenia Rodriguez
“Barbie has had a number of careers in her 55 years — flight attendant, veterinarian, astronaut, even president (in this case, even fast food employee!) Her latest role however, is raising eyebrows.” -McKenna Huffingtonpost
Imagine walking through a museum admiring pieces of art, when suddenly you see Barbie and Ken propped up as exhibits. These aren’t just your typical Barbie and Ken, they are dressed up as the Virgin Mary and a crucified Jesus Christ. Argentinian artists Pool Paolini and Marianela Perelli, have recently stirred up a controversy all over the world with their spin on the classic Barbie and Ken dolls. They have decorated the dolls to not only look like the Virgin Mary or Jesus, but also various religious figures from many different religions and have named the collection, Plastic Religion. Several offended groups have spoken out about their displeasure with the artists’ pieces.The show they had planned for their pieces was even cancelled due to threats they received from the public. Meanwhile, others see nothing offensive in the depictions and believe the artists are simply celebrating the diverse religions in a creative way. Nonetheless, the media on Plastic Religion was dominated by infuriated religious groups and few articles with supportive tones that consequently impacted the growing anger toward the depictions.
One of the few supportive articles written by Assistant Professor Spencer Dew in Religious studies for University of Chicago Divinity school, was very much different than other articles. The fact that it was written by somebody who is studying religion gave it a bias, and gives the author credibility in his analysis on the issue. It provided an educated analysis that touched on a deeper meaning of the word “plastic” and used the artists’ native culture as a motive for the use of plastic dolls to interpret religion. Like many other articles on this issue, the author explained general information on the artists and their responses to those who were offended by their work. He delved into the issue of the name “plastic religion” explaining that the word plastic can bring offense if thought of in a disposable way. However, it can also be referred to as pliable: “When we speak of the “plastic,” we are speaking of something with which we can engage in infinite and creative ways.” The author of this article analyzes the theme of the artists’ work carefully and comes to the conclusion that the artists didn’t mean to offend anyone and were simply incorporating the creativity from their native country’s practices into their work. This article presented the issue in a way that demonstrated a deep understanding of the use of plastic as a symbol which made his argument seem valid.
Another article also defended the artists motives as being creative. It was written by a christian woman named Bethany Ramos on SheKnows. She believed the Barbie and Ken religious depictions were not a big deal. She portrayed the project in a positive light, saying that they could be a useful tool for parents to teach their children more about their own religion and others beliefs. Her statements became much more powerful when she admitted she was a Christian herself. The majority of the articles in the media spoke of infuriated religious people and this woman’s article was a breath of fresh air. She demonstrated to readers that you can be religious and not be offended by what the artists created. She explained that art was about taking risks and not being afraid to express yourself and everything people are afraid to talk about. “Art is controversial. All press is good press. Artists are allowed to use any medium and interpretation they would like to tackle difficult subjects, including religion and politics. ”
She talked about a statement she had taken from an Italian website that was backed by Italian Bishops, where they spoke of how offensive the dolls were. The statement has been published in most all articles regarding the dolls. Articles on Huffington Post, Religion News Service, both my Josephine McKenna and another article on Opposing Views by Emily smith to name a few, all essentially said the same thing and emphasized the outrage in the religious community. The articles all wrote, “The bishops’ website invites parents to explain to their children why a doll is not always a gift and to help to deconstruct “the fictitious role” presented and the true stories behind the dolls.” Instead of using their statement to perpetuate the anger towards the dolls from Catholics like most other articles did, the Christian woman used their statement in a way that brought a positive light to the issue, and inspired readers to use the dolls as a tool to better educate our children on the importance of learning about other religions. Similarly, a Catholic woman named Kathy Schiffer wrote on Pantheos ,“I am bemused, but not offended. I imagine Catholic children treasuring these figures and reenacting Bible stories in the playroom.” Again, being religious and defending the artists’ work has a very strong impact on the way people perceive the issue. It demonstrates that not all those who are religious find the Barbie dolls offensive as that is what most other articles focus on.
While most articles included information on the Catholic outrage through the Italian Bishops statement, there was an article written by Komonews that didn’t even mention this. Instead they focused on the artists’ defense against the outrage they had caused. “…He and Perelli chose the popular fashion doll for the project because “religion always represents Virgins with the most beautiful women; today the most beautiful woman is Barbie.” This was the first article I had seen where the artists reasoning for using Barbie as their medium, and their personal religious backgrounds were discussed and given emphasis. It turned out the artists themselves are religious but the majority of articles focused on the outrage of the religious communities rather than on where the artists were coming from. In this article, the artists’ point of view came to light and we are able to gain a better understanding of why the artists chose the medium they did and aren’t painted like the “bad guys” as they are in the majority of articles.
An article written by Oliver Wheaton for Metro.co.uk gave a slight tone of displease with the dolls. He presented the information like many other articles did however, one line in his writing gave the impression that he believed the artists’ motives were not to be creative in their medium but rather, to offend religious groups. “Although the artists clearly intended to provoke outrage at their pieces(…)” a line like this was not present in any other article. This line is simply an opinion as he does not have a clear supporting statement from the artists saying themselves that their goal was to cause outrage. For example, Josephine McKenna for Huffington post simply stated in an article that the pair of artists “stressed they did not intend to offend any religion.” Back to Wheaton’s article, he went on to explain that the artists claimed to not mean to offend anyone but his earlier statement discredited this one about the artists’ apologies. That one single line had set the tone for the whole article. Another article that set it’s whole tone with merely a glimpse at it’s title was USAToday’s article entitled: “Barbie doll fashioned as the Virgin Mary? Heck no!” This article was written in the exact same fashion as the article by Komonews with a mention of the artists’ own religion and reasoning for using Barbie. However the headline changes the tone of the article and gives the impression that all those defenses from the artists don’t matter, as what they have created is outrageous. After reading the title, one can no longer take the discussion of the artists reasons into consideration.
Meanwhile, Beautifuldecay’s article by Leslie Tane presented what the artists thought about the media influencing people’s impressions about their work. “The true message of our work was mutilated by magazines and television. That’s a shame. The media is killing our art.” This article really hit the heart of the issue. It explained just like many other articles, that people were blaming them for being offensive towards devouts everywhere with their artwork. People are being bombarded with articles and stories in the news about how infuriated Catholic and other religious groups feel toward the dolls without having had a chance to listen to the artists reasoning first. By the time they do read about the artists’ reasons, they already have the impression in mind that the artists have offended many religious groups and can no longer form an untainted opinion.
The media overall gave the same tidbits of information regarding Plastic Religion. Articles that spoke about infuriated religious groups saturated the media and gave the public the first impression that the artwork was offensive without taking note of the creator’s reasoning behind their choice of medium. The media essentially added fuel to the fire of controversy by flooding the news with articles that spoke of the negatives of the project, and overshadowing the positive sides consequently leading to the public’s inability to truly think about the Barbie depictions with a blank slate.
Spencer Dew,” Plastic Religious Art: Playful to Some, Offensive to Others,” The University of Chicago Divinity School, 10/9/2014(http://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/plastic-religious-art-playful-some-offensive-others-spencer-dew)
Josephine McKenna, “Art Show With Barbie And Ken As The Virgin Mary And Jesus Outrages Bishops,” HuffingtonPost, 9/24/2014(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/24/barbie-ken-mary-jesus_n_5877646.html)
Bethany Ramos, “Catholics are angry about Barbie’s new career choice,” Sheknows, 10/1/2014(http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/1052503/catholics-angry-about-barbie-virgin-mary-ken-jesus-dolls)
Oliver Wheaton, “Barbie-fication of Kali is wrong’: Outrage at Argentinian artists Marianela Perelli and Pool Paolini’s Barbie doll of Hindu God in The Plastic Religion exhibition,” Metro News, 9/27/2014(http://metro.co.uk/2014/09/27/barbie-fication-of-kali-is-wrong-outrage-at-artists-barbie-doll-of-hindu-god-4883933/)
Associated Press, “Provocative ‘Holy Barbie’ exhibit pulled amid outrage,” Komonews, 10/11/2014(http://www.komonews.com/news/offbeat/Provocative-Holy-Barbie-exhibit-pulled-amid-outrage-278901391.html)
Associated Press, “Barbie doll fashioned as the Virgin Mary? Heck no!” USAToday, 10/11/2014 (http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2014/10/11/provocative-argentine-exhibit-of-barbies-is-pulled/17090083/)
Kathy Schiffer, “Barbie and Ken Meet Mary, Jesus, and the Difunta Correa,” Pantheos, 9/23/2014(http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kathyschiffer/2014/09/barbie-and-ken-meet-mary-jesus-and-the-difunta-correa/)
Leslie Tane, “Cotroversial Exhibit of Religious Barbie Dolls Cancelled Due to Death Threats,” Beautiful/Decay,10/14/2014(http://beautifuldecay.com/2014/10/14/controversial-religious-barbie-dolls/)
Emily Smith “Italian Bishops Outraged by Art Show Featuring Barbie Doll As Virgin Mary, Ken as Jesus,” Opposing Views, 9/25/2014(http://www.opposingviews.com/i/religion/italian-bishops-outraged-art-show-featuring-barbie-doll-virgin-mary-ken-jesus-photo)
Josephine McKenna, “Barbie as the Virgin Mary? Ken as Jesus? Italian Catholics Are Not Amused, Religion News Service, 9/24/21014(http://www.religionnews.com/2014/09/24/barbie-virgin-mary-ken-jesus-italian-catholics-amused/)
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/214495265/”>Thomas Hawk</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>