Born in 1959 and called Barbara Millicent Roberts, she is the oldest of seven brothers: Skipper, Tutti, Todd, Stacie, Shelly and Krissy Roberts. Young and attractive blond girl, always being engaged to Ken Carson (very charming as well), met on a TV set in 1961. They were never married and stopped their relationship in 2004, after more than forty years. She has been single for a while, except for a brief relationship with Blaine, a surfer, for then get together again with the old boyfriend.
Yes, we are talking about the most beloved toy doll ever: Barbie.
But, can a plastic girl tell us something about the relationship between science and society? Something that is usually considered nothing more than a toy may hide many curiosities …
Mars and Barbie
Barbie Mars Explorer, a new astronaut doll, was released the last 5 August, in time to celebrate the first year on Mars of the famous NASA rover, Curiosity.
For this project, Mattel consulted a NASA team to ensure the right look to the doll. Barbie was, therefore, equipped with oxygen tanks, helmet, boots and space suit. Obviously all pink colored! Out of the package, appears Curiosity along with an invitation to visit Women@NASA for more information.
In her life Barbie carried out more than 130 different professions. This is not the first time that she arrives in space. The blonde doll wore the first space suit in 1965, four years before Armstrong landed on the moon and eighteen years before Sally Ride, the first American woman who flew in the space. Moreover, Barbie has been an astronaut also in 1985 and went to Space Camp in 1998.
Mattel declared “Barbie continues to represent a model for girls … The brand launched a series of dolls focusing on occupations usually poorly represented by women, in particular those known as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)”.
Is it just marketing? And why a space agency resorts to the most famous Toy Stores to promote dialogue between scientists, children and their families? Maybe, they discovered the power of toys.
There are many examples. In year 2008, NASA captured the attention of many Americans thanks to Buzz Lightyear – the famous space ranger and protagonist of the movie ‘Toy Story’- sent on the International Space Station for a year and a half. Or again, with Barbie Geek and Chic in 2010 Mattel started a major collaboration with the American association representing women graduates in engineering.
However, sometimes the story changes direction. In fact, it can happen that people complain with the toymaker who neglects science and, in particular, when ethical, scientific and environmental issues are involved. In these cases the role of society is fundamental, even when talking about toys.
It is June 2011 when Ken Carson – Barbie’s boyfriend – discovers a terrible secret: Barbie is taking part in the Indonesian rainforest destruction. A video-shock released by Greenpeace reveals Mattel economic connections with Asia Pulp and Paper, a company that works without respecting the Forest Stewardship Council requirements (the brand that certifies forests).
Greenpeace investigations, in addition to many data and certificates of the company- and also Disney, Hasbro and Lego – show that the toy packaging comes from rainforests. Within a few days the video-shock becomes one of the most viewed on YouTube and it is translated into twenty languages??, including Italian, Chinese and Arabic.
Activists cover the headquarters of Mattel in El Segundo, California, with a giant poster: on the top an angry Ken saying “Barbie, it’s over, I don’t hang out with girls involved in deforestation”.
Citizens from all over the world send hundreds of mails to Mattel. Barby’s Facebook page is temporarily closed because saturated of messages. However, despite this situation, Mattel does not take any official position on the Indonesian issue.
More or less at the same time, another global toy corporation, Lego, dramatically reduces the amount of packaging used, verifying that the paper used comes from certified forests and increasing recycling.
Finally, in October 2011, Mattel announces a corporate strategy for paper procurement that respects the rainforests as well, putting an end to a rather unconventional environmentalist issue.