Barbie collectors

Today’s NY Times has an article about the 22nd Annual National Barbie Doll Collectors Convention in Denver.

Some of the observations will resonate for Philip K. Dick fans; he was definitely on to something in “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.”

“It’s all about projecting themselves onto the Barbie. The most refreshing aspect of this event was hearing the participants acknowledge – even volunteer – that self-analysis. “I can’t afford a Mackie,” Ms. Ballard said.

“I can’t afford a Versace. But my Barbie can. And I can imagine myself wearing it.” No denial at this show. Terms like “vicarious,” “role-playing” and “projection” were tossed about like vinyl replacement parts.”

On the other hand, there were attendees that could afford Mackies and Versaces, but can only enjoy them in a Barbie state of mind.

“If this were a Hollywood movie, Ms. Baumer might be cast as an unfulfilled suburban housewife, fleeing to Denver, where Barbie could block out the emptiness of her existence. But she’s actually a physician and chairman of the family medicine department at the largest public hospital in Fort Worth.

Ms. Alegre is a registered nurse heading up two units at Ventura County Medical Center in California. She flew herself to Denver in her own Beechcraft T-34. And each woman raised children while pursuing her career.

But sometimes, they just want to have fun.

“We were really active in the feminist movement,” Dr. Baumer explained. “But it tended to ignore sexuality, which was kind of silly.” There were very few housewives at this convention. Most were successful professionals – ambitious overachievers eager to slip into four-inch pumps and marabou swing coats, toss back a couple of bonbons and savor the brief heady taste of a blissfully unambitious, Barbie lifestyle.”

Across the country there are housewives that are “closet collectors,” keeping their Barbies hidden in the upper shelves among the sweaters and spare blankets.

“They sneak off from families and husbands to nestle in among the shoe trees, pull down the treasured boxes and compose elaborate dioramas: Barbie facilitating a brainstorming session, Barbie treating trauma victims in the emergency room, Barbie embarking on a mission to outer space.”

There is a large peripheral industry supplementing the Barbie universe. Top designers are commissioned to produce signature gowns to Barbie dimensions, and every year there is a new wedding dress. Mattel is not the only manufacturer anymore. Although they are not licensed for the most part, there are companies that design clothing and accessories to Barbie dimensions for the enthusiast.

Whenever dolls crop up in horror or fantasy, the focus is on the eeriness of the doll itself. However, I find it is the relationship to the doll that is fascinating.

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