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Ep. 3: On "Barbie" and The Allure of Ideology

Listen to this episode on Spotify here, or Apple Podcasts here.

The key points in this "speaking":

  • I see philosophy as a path towards greater freedom. Without philosophical discussion, the frameworks used to organize our lives become invisible, and we begin to think that our cultural ideologies are simply reality. The task of the philosopher is to unpeel those frameworks so people can see there are so many other ways to see and be in the world.

  • Having thought to utilize "Barbie" to supplement a planned discussion on being a woman, I saw the movie and was disappointed. I’m a feminist who did not disagree with any part of its message, and yet I felt it was a wasted opportunity.

  • Is this film doing more harm than good for this conversation?

  • The best way to approach this question, I think, is to analyze some early forms of virtual reality. One of the first forms of virtual reality was the story. A story cannot be found in the empirical world. This is why abortion debates that begin with: “when does life begin” can never find an adequate conclusion: we can find neither beginnings nor endings in the empirical world (referencing my essay that you can find here).

  • The self is also a story, un-found in the empirical world, but a narrative we tell ourselves until we begin to believe it. As long as we live in a world built on stories, having a multiplicity of stories can mean freedom. Art, film, and literature pave news paths of possibility into the world.

  • Ideologies, as opposed to stories, are second-order virtual realities with a domineering logic. A message film participates in an ideology that swallows the story whole.

  • Of course, great art can be political, but a good political film will start with a story and let a message emerge naturally, in all its complexity. A message film will start with a message and then find characters and story-telling elements that fit into its logic.

  • This is a necessarily hierarchical and dominating aesthetic structure— just like patriarchy is inherently dominating, subsuming all other realities under one unifying logic.

  • By being very close to a message film, Barbie participates in the same patriarchal logic that it is trying to critique.

  • I also felt that this film was trying to be brainy rather than trying to be true. This comes from mistaking information for wisdom. You see this in literary novels in America too: they will just throw in a smattering of philosophical references to confer authority on their work, and yet there is so little depth of characters and living philosophy.

  • The job of a great writer, artist, and filmmaker is to capture truth, and they do that with wisdom: not information or knowledge, but a deep-seated knowing of the way things are. And they understand that their intellectual paradigms are useful only as tools of translation, while reality always remains in excess of those frameworks.

  • My critique of this film put most simply is that it felt plastic. It was organized from the top down from ideology to story, which engenders a necessarily dominating relationship towards the story and the viewer.

  • We women need better stories. What women really want is to be seen as human beings. To become full human beings, we do need intellectual paradigm shifts. This shows us how to see the pernicious logic of the patriarchy. But this logic is subtle, not at all like the patriarchy is portrayed in the Barbie movie.

  • It’s like the depiction of evil in films: it does more harm than good when we are shown obvious villains. We want evil to appear this obvious, because it keeps it safely away from us. We use ideology as a mask for our own insecurities.

  • We are all part of the patriarchy and it takes so much work—spiritual, intellectual, psychological— to try to extricate ourselves from these parasitic relations. It’s hard to do that work and it’s much easier to just preach an ideology instead.

  • The goal of the artist is to bring us into direct contact with reality, as free as possible from ideology. When we are in direct contact with reality, we realize that reality can be otherwise.

  • Films that are truly revolutionary are sometimes astonishingly ordinary; that’s what’s so terrifying about them. The most transformative films leave us feeling that the filmmaker has said something utterly new. Even if the story is quite old, the filmmaker has hit on a meaning that has not yet been said.

  • Every great work of art that is fully digested widens the net of your understanding (on a pre-intellectual level). This makes you capable of capturing and experiencing more of reality, widening your sense of possibility and freedom. But "plastic" cannot be digested. A film that is organized by a rigid ideology (like the impermeability of plastic) cannot be fully digested and thus cannot nourish your life.

  • The path of freedom is nuance. Unfreedom is feeling there are only the most obvious set of options: a feeling of inevitability creeps into our lives. This happens due to a scarcity of good stories.

  • If you are brave enough to tell a good story or to live a good story, you will carve paths of freedom for future generations.

  • You can’t just reverse patriarchal logic, because you are still existing in relation to its logic. We need to find something that is neither patriarchy nor matriarchy. We have to find new ways to speak truth into being, like every work of art and each of our lives is made to do.

  • Let's not be plastic. :)


"Beliefs are the plastic of the mind, artificially impermeable, resistant to their natural growth and decomposition. The mind translates the fleshy immanence of reality into ten thousand forms, but the body persists as the ineffable source of language, culture, and reason."

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1 Comment

Thank you for this. You have articulated well my own thought about the movie. Yes, it was "plastic"--rigid and artificial, and ultimately unhealthy at best, toxic at worst.

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