A Utah artist has won a legal battle with the Mattel Corporation over the right to use Barbie for the purpose of artistic expression.
The artist, Tom Forsythe, has created images of Barbie in suggestive poses and in various compromised situations, such as posing in a blender or spinning in a rotisserie. A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Mattel’s copyright infringement suit, saying Forsythe had a First Amendment right to parody the doll. In addition, the court ordered Mattel to pay the artist over $1.8 million in legal fees and court costs.
As someone in the parody business, I applaud this decision. I’m not sure what I think about Mr. Forsythe’s particular social commentary, but I think it is vitally important to both protect artistic expression, especially as it relates to political protest (including political parody), and to fight back against the rampant corporate exploitation of licensing and copyright.
As a cultural icon, Barbie has been one of the major target on the activist radar screen for some time. Certainly, she has been a rallying point around which to advocate for healthier models of female identity and more enlightened attitudes about body image and the objectification of self.
Barbie, however, pulls for other associations that also make her a valuable political metaphor. Beyond sex object, she also does a great job standing in for attributes such as American consumerism, narcissism and xenophobia. As a result, she makes a perfect (if not, rather easy) vehicle to highlight truly unattractive and inherently “not-simple” social issues.
Politically-appropriated Barbie’s are everywhere. One adaption of the doll I keep running into again and again, however, is Simon Tyszko’s Suicide Bomber Barbie. Without delving into a political analysis, I would only say she couldn’t be more right for the times.
(And, dare I add: have you ever seen her more dressed to kill?)
(image: Simon Tyszko’s “theculture.net“)