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Rant #98
(published September 5, 2002)
Ruth Handler: Death Of A Tit Man
by Terence S. Hawkins

When I heard that Ruth Handler, Barbie's creator, went to Jesus, I like every other red blooded American man over a certain age shed a manly tear.

Hold on there, hoss, you say. Manly tear? Manly tear? Don't know about you, Pilgrim, but where I come from men— which in these parts is sort of the root of manly— don't get that worked up about dolls.

You don't? Hmm. Well, let's take a little stroll down Mammary Lane. Back when you were about, oh, I don't know, eight or so. Let's say 1964. You wake up on a Saturday morning about dawn and the folks are still asleep so you creep into the living room and open the secret drawer where you know those special magazines bachelor Uncle John gave your father stay. Keep an ear cocked for a suddenly opened bedroom door and slide out the drawer. Pull out the first specimen and open it to where it naturally opens and unfold the Big Picture. What do you see?

Easy. A blonde with enormous hoots suspended in defiance of gravity over an entirely featureless crotch.

Now. Creep into your younger sister's toybox and pull out her favorite plaything. Slip her out of her sequined Marilyn Monroe sheath. Stand her up. Raise her cleverly articulated arms over her head. What do you see?

A blonde with enormous hoots suspended in defiance of gravity over an entirely featureless crotch.

Scary, isn't it? By the way, is it just me or does anyone else see an uncanny coincidence in the fact that Hef's longest-running Playmate squeeze was named . . . Barbi Benton?

The recent demise of Barbi's— pardon, Barbie's— mom has given rise to a fresh re-evaluation of her uberdaughter's effects on an entire generation. "Critics said the doll gave girls misguided goals, whether for their careers or for their own physical development." (New York Times, 4/29/02)

Screw that. What about the goals young boys had of young girls' bodies?

Seriously. What reasonable lad, informed by Barbie and the 1964 Playboy— mutually consistent, by the way— could have expected a) that a breast was anything other than a Big Rock Candy Mountain jutting shakelessly over a plain of rib; and b) that the Unimagined Territory Further South was anything other than what it appeared to be— tabula rasa, literally, a clean slate.

Leave that aside, and spare me your imaginings of what my adolescent discoveries must have been. Suffice it to say that I evaded the fate of John Ruskin, who believed that women resembled Greek statues and thus was so shocked by the discovery of his bride's pubic hair that they immediately separated and he spent the rest of his life yanking the hank while thinking about Athena.

Be that as it may. There is still something to be said about the Vagina Monologueists' discomfiture with the harsh fact that they grew up with the notion that the ideal of feminine beauty, were she but five and a half feet tall, would have had a twelve inch waist, four foot legs, and a pair of Zeppelins which when passing overhead would have thrown a small town into total eclipse.

Well, sisters, I can sympathize. Remember GI Joe? Yes, just a few years after Mattel tapped into your dreams of adult objectification Hasbro heard the distant strains of Ballad of the Green Berets and gave boys something with which to feel shitty about themselves. Oh, not immediately. At first, Joe looked almost, well, human. Olympian, but still within the range of potential achievement if you did every last pushup Coach Broda asked for. Soon, however, the steroids bit in and Joe's biceps swelled so huge that you feared that one would burst and spew out the Mini-Joe gestating within.

And then, of course, it all got really, well, gay. As Joe got bigger his hair got shorter and his clothes got ripped and he grew a close-cropped beard and maybe memory's playing me false here but I seem to imagine a red bandana hanging out of a back pocket as he and Ken gyrated wildly to the pumping strains of "YMCA."

But wait. I get ahead of myself. The thing about Barbie and Joe as I got a little bit older and graduated to a slightly better class of stroke mag was that they were able to lend themselves to my burgeoning fantasy life. At first it was limited to taking a ball point pen to the tips of Barbie's otherworldly mammaries and festooning them with indigo nipples. Shortly thereafter I decorated her featureless nether region with a bush in the same hue that nearly reached her nonexistent navel.

Later still came the little tableaux vivants that my friends and I, reincarnated eighteenth-century pornographers, set up with Barbie and Ken and Skipper and Joe. First simple missionaries that left us helpless with laughter; later, elaborate daisy chains that we left for eventual discovery by younger sisters. It takes little imagination to picture youthful versions of the present denizens of Castro and the West Village discovering themselves through the avatars of Ken kneeling at Joe's Glory Foxhole.

But I digress. Today everything became clear to me. Barbie pythoness MG Lord, interviewed on NPR, revealed that Ruth Handler had been expelled from Mattel after the Securities and Exchange Commission took umbrage to what it uncharitably described as "mail fraud."

But Ruth Handler went on to another career, and another fortune. Designing mastectomy prosthesis.

Yes, true to herself, and true to her daughter, Barbie's mom was a tit man to the end.

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