Expert: Barbie’s Constant Reinvention Close to Madonna’s

Since her debut on March 9, 1959, Barbie’s come a long way, baby, according to a Texas Tech University history expert on pop-culture and 20th century America. For better or for worse, very few toys have had the impact that the Mattel-made doll has had on American culture. The toy and pop icon Madonna have found the secret to longevity and relevance: Constant reinvention.

Pitch

Since her debut on March 9, 1959, Barbie’s come a long way, baby, according to a Texas Tech University history expert on pop-culture and 20th century America. For better or for worse, very few toys have had the impact that the Mattel-made doll has had on American culture. The toy and pop icon Madonna have found the secret to longevity and relevance: Constant reinvention.

 

Expert

Richard B. Verrone, Ph.D. instructor, Department of History, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-3744, or richard.verrone@ttu.edu.

 

Talking Points

  • The doll probably vies with G.I. Joe for the No. 1 spot of the most iconic toy in American history.
  • While it’s true that the doll experienced some serious backlash for teaching negative, subordinate stereotypes to girls during the feminist movement in the ’60s and ’70s, marketers began to realize Barbie had to grow with the changing social landscape if they wanted to keep her relevant and on store shelves.
  • Madonna serves as a real-life example of how a pop culture icon survives in the same manner as Barbie has. As talented as Madonna is as an artist, she has to reinvent herself on a consistent basis to stay relevant to different generations of listeners. Madonna has proven, like Barbie, that reinvention in pop culture is possible and can be successful.


Quotes

  • “In the past 50 years, Barbie has evolved in a multitude of ways. It’s interesting to observe from a cultural and social point of view. She’s someone who has constantly reinvented herself very much like Madonna has during her career. Barbie and Madonna, like all pop icons who seek to stay relevant, change with the times.”
  • “For both icons, one of the easiest examples is to examine their changing fashion. Another example is how their roles in society evolved. Mattel wants Barbie to sell, so she needed to break out of her shell as a simple, blond dress-up doll in order to appeal to as many consumers as possible over generations. Likewise, Madonna changed over time to appeal to as many people as possible. Both had to appeal to many people over time to stay relevant for their own reasons, be they commercial or musical, and both found massive success.”