Poor Ken: only girls will play with him!

Twisty Faster has an absolutely spot-on analysis of the problem with boys making movies for boys–a.k.a. modern Hollywood and the crapola movies it makes (h/t to commenter MsMcD.)  It’s hard for me to excerpt without giving away her punchline, but it involves her listening to a recent interview with (in her words) “two Hollywood dudes who had something to do with making ‘Toy Story 3.’  The Hollywood dudes start[ed] talking about ‘getting to the emotional truth of the characters.’ I have, with my usual painstaking attention to detail, transcribed the portion of the interview in which they reveal how they went about getting to the “emotional truth” of a Ken doll character:”

Hollywood Dude #1: I don’t know if you had any Ken dolls when you were growing up; I certainly didn’t. But my friends’ little sisters did and we made endless fun of Ken. Ken’s just a-a-a whipping boy […] We thought, well what does it feel like to be a guy who’s a girl’s toy? You’re a guy, but you’re only played with by little girls. And then further, he’s just an accessory to Barbie. You know he doesn’t carry equal weight to, with Barbie, he’s really no more important than a pair of shoes or a belt or a purse to her, and we knew that he would have to have a complex.

A-HAHAhahaha!!!  Now that’s a “world upside down” moment:  men as accessories to women, or even as toys for them!  Little girls as the Untouchables of the playground!  Yet another movie that’s all about exploring men’s subjectivity and men’s emotions!!!  Well, you know what Twisty will do with that, but to quote the brilliant entirety of her post would be plagiarism, and this is a respectable ranch so we can’t do that here.  Please, for the love of Dog, click here and read.

Aside:  if you’re looking for a good movie that will entertain everyone from 7 to 70 (and beyond) that turns on a female human (and a male horse), you can’t do better than Secretariat.  I was charmed by the telling of the famous (forgive the term) Cinderella story as well as by the film’s focus on the determination of Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery Tweedy and her midlife transformation from Denver housewife to legend of modern sports history.  Diane Lane is charming and convincing as Tweedy (and wears the period clothes very well), and John Malkovitch is hilarious as the trainer she hires for the horse.  (The movie is marred by Malkovitch’s attempts to speak French and mime a French Canadian accent–the “Foghorn Leghorn” problem of fake-o Hollywood accents.)  A significant sub-plot involves the inconvenience to Tweedy’s family as she takes a major role in running her parents’ stables and in preparing Secretariat for his Triple Crown victory, but it’s lovely in the end how her husband and her children come to appreciate and respect her in a new way because she has the courage of her convictions and develops a life outside of them. 

And of course, little girls love horses, don’t they?

0 thoughts on “Poor Ken: only girls will play with him!

  1. John might not come off as a native French-speaker, but he certainly has gone farther that learning a couple token words for a role. Have you seen the French mini-series Napoléon? Malkovich plays Talleyrand brilliantly! That said, I read Twisty’s post before I went to see Secretariat and was pleased when it passed the Bechel test.


  2. I’ve heard harsh criticism of Secretariat, along the lines of “Imagine: insanely wealthy, beautiful blue-blood woman with a huge horse ranch somehow triumphs!!” That, and the lack of people of color as fully-realized characters. Perhaps films can only feature one disenfranchised group at a time, and that in the least threatening way possible.


  3. The presentation of Ken in TS3 also smacked of anti-queerness. Because Ken is Barbie’s accessory, so also is his masculinity (or supposed lack of it) constantly mocked. Boys who have an interest in “girl things” (which are already devalued) are suspect, pitiable, or in need of punishment.


  4. KC–the author of that review seems to believe that there was only one experience of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and that Americans all had the same experience he did so any representation of another experience is dishonest. I was only 1-4 years old in 1969-73, but I can say that my experience of those years was very different from his. The author seems angry that the filmmakers chose not to portray his version of 1969-73, which is an odd demand to make of a movie which is, after all, about the kind of psychotic world of thoroughbred horse-racing.

    This review reads to me like just another version of liberal concern-trolling and privilege-policing whenever we’re talking about women’s experiences. I saw this on that thread at Tenured Radical a few weeks ago, when many commenters wanted only to talk about the “privilege” inherent in attending a women’s college, rather than the value of women’s-only education. Now, in one instance when there’s a big hollywood movie centered around a woman’s life (alongside a horse, of course), this d00d movie reviewer is all of a sudden concerned about the privilege she has as the heir to a horse farm. Funny how he missed all of the feminist points the filmmaker made when Chenery started spending more time away from her family–and the tension that caused in her marriage. I guess because she had one kind of privilege, it’s totally worthless to talk about the sexist assumptions she had to fight against, first in her family and then in the thoroughbred horse world in pursing the triple crown.

    I’d love to see this guy’s review of The Social Network. Was it all about how white supremicist it was to set a movie at Harvard University? Did he complain about the representation of women only as sluts who don’t want to date Mark Zuckerberg? Does the filmmaker complain about how his invention of FaceBook really isn’t all that impressive because, after all, he grew up in privilege as the son of a dentist? My guess is that it doesn’t look like that at all.

    How many people of color are in The Social Network? (I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know.) I’m totally on board with Hollywood never making another movie about a privileged white person again–but that means no more privileged d00ds, too, and somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.


  5. I haven’t seen the movie, but the review was so over-the-top that I wanted to get the perspective of someone who had seen it. Thanks. I’ve read in various places about the misogyny in The Social Network, which is one of the reasons I don’t want to see it. I find it harder and harder to get interested in Hollywood films anymore, simply because they usually strike me as over-simplified constructions that use tired techniques in order to play on the emotions of the audience.

    That said, I’ve always been a sucker for sports movies, so I will probably relent and see Secretariat if for no reason other than the racing sequences.


  6. I don’t want to make it sound like Secretariat is the greatest movie evah. But if you like sports movies, I think you’ll enjoy it. (Even though you probably know the outcome. I did too, and it was still exciting.)


  7. Oh, thanks for the link to Twisty’s site. That was worthwhile!

    Along these lines, I must give another hat tip to Roger Ebert’s rebuttal of the Salon review of “Secretariat”: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/10/secretariat_was_not_a_christia.html

    I was an avid Secretariat fan as a youngster and I still have the big coffee table book that my doting parents gifted me the Christmas after his Triple Crown victory. I’ve passed the love on for Big Red to my teenager who’s pining for a chance to see the movie (maybe after we finish the interior painting that’s holding us up at the moment). Sure, the movie Secretariats have nothing on the real thing (the one in the posters makes me cringe because he has a short, weak neck with a rough head), but the story is gripping!


  8. That was a good, and funny, and punchy, and hard-hitting, and apt, review of the presumed review of The Social Network, Historiann. (Which I havn’t seen either). You didn’t miss much of the 1960s from 1-4. Most of the good stuff, and some of the bad stuff, was all over by the spring of 1968. Alas. It was less and less “Woodstock,” and more and more “Altamont,” after that.


  9. I wanted to see Secretariat, but it left the theatre near me too quickly. I ended up seeing RED instead – have you seen it? It’s a good antidote to filmmakers like the ones quoted. I wrote about it a bit on my blog. There are more main male characters than female, as always, but the movie does a much better job of integrating female characters into the entire film (as both good guys and bad guys) than most action films. And of the two members of the main couple, the man does most of the angsting and talking about the relationship by far. Also, the assassination attempt-scenes were really cool. (What can I say, I like explosions in my action movies. Helen Mirren with more weapons than I can even attempt to name? Awesome.)


  10. YAY!! More feminists liking RED. I thought it was awesome(Helen Mirren, Submachine Gun!?!? You had me hello, baby).

    And even though it does the whole “heroic man must kidnap woman for her own good” thing, the movie didn’t play it as something cute & sweet, but as something she SHOULD be mad about, and she even got to rescue herself(and had to be rescued again, you really shouldn’t call the police when on the run from the CIA, but like she was supposed to know that).

    And there was awesome diversity amongst the female cast, silly goofy n00b, experienced, yet warm hearted, assasin, and cold-blooded, single minded administrator, and it gave examples of women choosing their careers over “Love!” No one was cookie cutter or a stereotype.

    All the ageist characters get their just desserts too! Plus Richard Dreyfuss is making hand over fist now that he’s got that Cheney impersonation down.


  11. @GayProf, NotoriousPhD – Everything anti-girl is also anti-gay and vice versa.
    The very existence of gay guys threatens to make all men into honorary women. Gay-hate is woman-hate.


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