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“Everyone Lost Their Minds”: The Great ‘Barbie’ Backlash-Backlash

In Bo Burnham’s brilliant, pandemic-fueled Netflix special Inside, there’s a lyric that often comes to mind during media outrage news cycles. It’s from the song “That Funny Feeling” — a rundown of dystopic sentiments about modern life — and goes like this: “The backlash to the backlash to the thing that’s just begun.”

In this case, the “thing that’s just begun” was Barbie receiving eight Oscar nominations on Tuesday. Writer-director Greta Gerwig and star Margot Robbie were nominated for writing and producing, respectively, with the movie’s screenplay and best picture nods. But Robbie wasn’t nominated for best actress and Gerwig was not nominated for best director.

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The backlash was the online outrage over those snubs, with everyone from star Ryan Gosling to Hillary Clinton expressing their strong disappointment at the Academy’s voting (Clinton trying to push the hashtag “#HillaryBarbie” was probably the most unintentionally amusing reaction). Most entertainment outlets covered the backlash, including us.

Then, right on schedule, came the backlash to the backlash: essays in respectable and progressive publications arguing, essentially, “Actually, wait, hold on a minute, this is fine.”

The New York Times helped lead the charge with “Barbie Is Bad. There, I Said It,” an essay that seemed rather nervous and defensive about having a potentially heretical non-Times-y opinion, yet nonetheless made a solid case for the blowback being overwrought: “Every time a woman fails to win an accolade doesn’t mean failure for womanhood. Surely women aren’t so pitiable as to need a participation certificate every time we try. We’re well beyond the point where a female artist can’t be criticized on the merits and can’t be expected to handle it as well as any man.” And as for the film, “There were no actual stakes, no plot to follow in any real or pretend world that remotely made sense. In lieu of genuine laughs, there were only winking ha-has at a single joke improbably stretched into a feature-length movie,” and that “For those who hailed it, there was a manic quality to the Barbie enthusiasm, less an ‘I enjoyed’ and more of an ‘I endorse.'”

Slate headlined an essay with “Everyone Has Lost Their Minds Over Barbie‘s Snubs,” which opined, “What do people think Oscars are awarded for? Most Inspiring Message? Biggest Box-Office Smash? Film That I Have Seen?” and “I can’t believe this needs saying, but here I go: It is not a nomination for the character of Ken over the character of Barbie. It is not a nomination for men being better than women,” and “Just because a film is primarily ‘about feminism,’ as we seem to have decided is the party line about Barbie … that does not mean that the women involved in making it automatically deserve awards” and “there is no need to go to bat for Barbie to win more Oscars than the large number it is already nominated for. It is not a feminist issue that two vastly successful and acclaimed women did not get nominated for some additional awards. And it’s certainly not worthy of the attention of a former U.S. secretary of state.”

THR had its own take, examining the reaction through the lens of representation, with “BarbieGate: Why All Oscars Snubs Are Not Created Equal,” pointing out, “One irony of the backlash to the Barbie snubs is that it has attempted to pit women against women. (Barbie Land would never!)” and “Furthermore, an increasing chorus online is pointing out a second irony: Despite Barbie’s own onscreen diversity and inclusiveness, the obsession over its awards snubs is an example of white feminism at its worst, in which slights toward two white women are centered at the expense of acknowledging women of color both nominated (such as Lily Gladstone and America Ferrera) and not (such as Past Lives star Greta Lee).”

The Daily Beast argued, “The Barbie Oscar Snubs Made the Internet Lose Its Mind,” and noted, “If you have been on social media the last few days, you would have thought that the Academy gave Oppenheimer a bouquet of roses and left a flaming brown bag of poo at Barbie director Greta Gerwig’s door … the level to which it’s seemed to break everyone’s brains is astounding,” and “It’s even more ludicrous and, frankly, dismissive when America Ferrera scored her first acting nomination in Best Supporting Actress. She likely won that nod because of her performance of a monologue about feminism that became a lighting rod at the water cooler. In order to make these arguments about the misogynistic snubs, people are pretending that Ferrera and her recognition doesn’t exist.”

While an MSNBC columnist stated that Barbie backlash has “lost that plot,” as the film should have not been nominated for anything at all (arguing the movie was “a two-hour toy commercial backed by Mattel that, by its very nature, could never offer us radical ideas about feminism and power in society”). Also, that “outrage over Barbie has helped obscure the good news that more female directors received best picture nominations this year than ever before” and “Despite what today’s fervent fandoms seem to take as an article of faith, no film ‘deserves’ any kind of special recognition any more than your favorite color or your favorite food deserves special recognition as my favorites.”

And finally there was The View‘s Whoopi Goldberg, proclaiming, “[Saying somebody was snubbed] assumes someone else shouldn’t be in there. There are no snubs. That’s what you have to keep in mind: Not everybody gets a prize, and it is subjective. Movies are subjective. The movies you love may not be loved by the people who are voting.”

So, you all got that? These snubs are not snubs. Snubs don’t even exist! The word snub might not be a word. Are the Oscars even real?

All that’s left now is to see whether this controversy rolls into the (less common) third wave of backlash — the backlash to the backlash to the backlash — which, in this case, probably goes something like: “Who cares about Barbie‘s Oscar noms? Why are people talking about this?”

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