Political psychology is a sub-field of political science discipline and it applies what is known about psychology to the study of politics focusing on individuals within a political system. Topics such as terrorism, and ultra-nationalism are commonly studied within political psychology. It is known that political psychology examines political phenomena through social or cognitive theories. The works of Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) have been related to the main aspects of political psychology and they serve as quite useful explanatory research basis for several social scientists.
Gramsci developed the concept of “hegemony” in his book Prison Notebooks (Gramsci 1971). Gramsci underlined that the capitalist state was made up of two overlapping spheres: a political society (ruled by force) and a civil society (ruled by consent). According to Gramsci, the bourgeois hegemony was reproduced through the media actors, universities and religious institutions to manufacture consent.
Gramsci argued that hegemony is not just a matter of coercion but it also involves consent. Movies have a big role in manufacturing consent in a society through shaping, changing and even manipulating the minds of the masses. The movies which portray (historical) events or fictions use certain ideological lenses and rhetorics to create an image of reality based on a specific worldview or value perception.
As our knowledge about the world is shaped by the visual representations in newspapers and television, the role of movies in this process cannot be underestimated. Patrick O’Meara said that “the use of the film is not only a challenging new direction within political science, but also one of vital future relevance and promise” (O’Meara, 1976: 220). Movies can offer interesting perspectives on how we view political, economic and cultural issues. For instance, the Rambo Movie (1985) as one of the series of “return-to-Vietnam” films shows the American warrior hero by depicting the U.S. as “good” while depicting its communist enemies as “evil” who gets defeat.
So much time has passed since we first watched Rambo. Now in 2023 we live in a way different world and following the change in the structure of politics, technology, society and economy, movies are different as well. This article is an attempt to review the Barbie Movie from a political psychology perspective through a compilation of articles written about it. Barbie has been in theaters since July 21st and it has received a huge amount of interest in such a short period of time. Oscar-nominated writer/director Greta Gerwig directed the film while Gerwig’s creative team behind the camera included Oscar-nominated director of photography Rodrigo Prieto.
The film tells the story of Barbie (Margot Robbie), the most popular of all the Barbies in Barbieland, after she begins experiencing an existential crisis. Barbie travels to the real world in order to understand herself and discover her life purpose. Her boyfriend, Ken (Ryan Gosling) accompanies because his own existence depends on Barbie acknowledging him. Both Ken and Barbie discover harsh truths in this journey.
There are lots of reviews and articles covering the Barbie Movie. A basic Google search can offer you dozens of articles but I have chosen three articles to review. The first article was written by Matt Flegenheimer and Marc Tracy published by the New York Times on July 24. The article titled “‘Barbie’ Movie Gives Left and Right Another Battlefront, in Pink” analyzes the Movie from a political point of view. According to the authors, the Movie provided “an opportunity for a bipartisan coalition of commentators and elected officials to see value in its dissection.”
The authors also cited politicians’ social media posts in various parts of the article, one of which is as follows: The office of Gavin Newsom, the state’s Democratic governor wrote in a thread saying that Barbie embraces California values, seeing Barbie as a champion of climate activism, “hitting the roads in her electric vehicle”.
The second article is titled “Let’s Never Stop Questioning What Barbie Is Really About” and it was authored by Lauren Pope for ELLE Magazine. Pope makes a list in an attempt to portray what the Movie is really about. According to Pope the first point is about having an existential crisis. When Barbie asks “Do you guys ever think about dying?” she in fact reveals a problem with the “truth about the universe” is that people die. Barbie is a doll and she never dies. Pope writes that this “supposedly irreconcilable truth seems to be Gerwig’s entry point to dissecting the artifice we’ve built around Barbie as a symbol of idealized femininity.” The other points in Pope’s list include Ken becoming a villain, the inescapable clucth of corporations and feminism.
The third article is titled “Is the ‘Barbie’ Movie the Greatest Biblical Retelling Ever Made?” and it was written by Abigail Weil. Weil in her article analyzes the Barbie Movie from a religious perspective. Weil says that “The source of this story is far older than the mid-century doll; in fact, it goes as far back as the Book of Genesis. “Barbie,” I was thunderstruck to realize, retells the story of the Garden of Eden.” For Weil,the story of Barbie and Ken travelling to world from Barbieland might symbolize Adam and Eve to some degree as the primary conflict of the film is leaving paradise and moving through the imperfect world.
Movies can provide quite original and interesting perspectives on how we view political, social, economic and cultural issues. Barbie Movie, despite being a fictional movie, paints a picture hosting many symbols within itself. Feminism, consumerism, ontological crisis, gender stereotypes all can be found relevant depending on our own worldview.
Flegenheimer, M. and M. Tracy (July 24, 2023). “‘Barbie’ Movie Gives Left and Right Another Battlefront, in Pink” https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/24/us/politics/barbie-movie-newsom-gaetz.html
Gramsci, Antonio (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers.
O’Meara, Patrick (1976) ‘The Use of Full-Length Commercial Films in Political Science Undergraduate Education’, Teaching Political Science 3 (2): 215–221
Pope Lauren (July 24, 2023) “Let’s Never Stop Questioning What Barbie Is Really About”, https://www.elle.com/culture/movies-tv/a44475609/barbie-movie-plot-themes-explained/
Weil Abigail (July 27, 2023) “Is the ‘Barbie’ Movie the Greatest Biblical Retelling Ever Made?”, https://www.heyalma.com/is-the-barbie-movie-the-greatest-biblical-retelling-ever-made/#:~:text=The%20basic%20plot%20of%20%E2%80%9CBarbie,no%20doubt%2C%20by%20a%20woman.