As you may have heard, the big toy news this coming holiday season is the release of Hello Barbie, a desperate effort by Mattel to make the once-popular doll relevant again beyond its current core market: 3-6 year old girls and middle aged women who collect the dolls in special editions dressed as fictional characters. (The dolls, not the women, although possibly both.)
The reason Mattel is willing to put its future firmly on the petite plastic shoulders of Hello Barbie is that she is a talking doll. Now, if you’re of my generation, you may have the image of a string coming out of the doll’s back, and you pull it to make the doll say “Hello, my name is Barbie.”
That is why our generation is often referred to as “old.” Or “technological idiots.”
You see, this new microchipped and app-based Barbie doesn’t just talk. She has actual conversations. She is positively verbose, not to mention much more articulate than most of the kids who will be playing with her…and many of their parents. Your daughter can ask her questions, and Barbie can answer. It is almost as if Mattel has made a perfectly-proportioned doll version of Siri to address your daughter’s queries about body-image issues.
According to a cover story in The New York Times Magazine, Barbie even remembers previous conversions so that she doesn’t ask your daughter how her dead grandmother is doing.
The programmers of Hello Barbie have built in over 8,000 lines of dialogue and have taken great pains to ensure that Barbie never says the wrong thing. For instance, if a girl asks ‘‘Do you believe in God?’’ Barbie might say ‘‘I think a person’s beliefs are very personal to them.’’ If a girl talks to Barbie about being bullied, Barbie might advise her to speak to an adult. In other words, Hello Barbie is the doll version of an After School Special.
Nevertheless, it goes without saying that many people are up in arms about this, if their arms are posable. Everyone from child psychologists to parent groups to clergy to privacy advocates are already petitioning Mattel to cancel its release of the $75 doll.
In an effort to assuage the concerns of everyone who would like to say goodbye to Hello Barbie before she even arrives, I have obtained classified audiotapes of Barbie’s conversations with various test subjects during product trials:
GIRL: Barbie, I’m doing really awful at math.
BARBIE: Oh, I know. It’s hard, isn’t it? Especially for girls. I don’t even know why they even try to teach math to girls. And you’ll never use most of that stuff in real life anyway.
BARBIE: Merry Christmas, Miriam.
MIRIAM: But I’m Jewish, Barbie. We don’t celebrate Christmas.
BARBIE: Oh, that’s too bad, Miriam. You don’t get to have a tree or sing carols or anything. You just have those weird toppy things.
GIRL: Barbie, you know that high school girl I told you about?
BARBIE: I remember. Joanna, right? The bitchy Goth?
GIRL: Yeah, that’s her. Well, she offered me some weed yesterday. Should I try it?
BARBIE: It’s not schwag, is it? Frankly, Joanna sounds like the kind of girl who would offer you schwag. I think you should start with a good sativa strain, like Haze Berry or Royal Madre.
BARBIE: Is there anything you really wish for, Ashley?
ASHLEY: Well, Barbie, I wish we could stop all wars and that I can become a research biologist and cure cancer.
BARBIE: That’s nice, Ashley. But is there anything you really wish for from Mattel? Like an American Girl Doll? Or the fun family card game, Uno?
ASHLEY: Well, I suppose I’d like one of those $100 Haunted Beauty™ Zombie Bride™ Barbie® Dolls.
BARBIE: Good choice, Ashley. Can you tell me what sort of credit card your mom has?
That last conversation may reinforce concerns that some conversations with Hello Barbie could lead to certain recommendations that…well, let us say, might be in Mattel’s best interests. But Barbie wouldn’t do that, would she? And, besides, that’s a silly thing to worry about when you consider that all their conversations will be stored in a cloud somewhere, and we know how secure that is. In fact, according to The New York Post, Mattel will advise parents to wipe the accompanying app clean if the doll is ever given away. Also, it might be a good idea if your daughter denies Barbie’s request to provide a Social Security number.
It seems clear to me that any profits Mattel will make on Hello Barbie will be more than erased by the many and varied lawsuits that will begin rolling in soon after the November launch. It makes me wonder if, among the 8,000 lines of dialog programmed into Hello Barbie, there’s something along the lines of, “Oh, s**t!”
See you soon.