Desperate to reverse two years of plummeting sales, Mattel is rolling out the new, interactive “Hello Barbie” this holiday season. We’ve seen some bad Barbie makeovers before. There was Mexican Barbie who came dressed in a stereotypical, lacey pink fiesta getup. There was (I’m not making this up) African-American Oreo Fun Barbie. My personal favorite was dog-walking Barbie who scooped up her pet’s poop until the poop-scoop was recalled as a choking hazard.
Now we have Hello Barbie, a talking, WiFi-enabled doll that can converse with your child. So what’s the problem with Hello Barbie?
1. Hello Barbie is a robot.
Conversing with a tiny blonde robot that utters pre-programmed responses is a really really lousy way for kids to spend their time. Kids thrive on imaginative play and real-life interactions with adults and peers. Hello Barbie offers neither.
Child development experts are already up in arms over what a pathetic substitute Hello Barbie is for imaginative play that stimulates creativity and accelerates verbal and cognitive development. I’m sure they’re right but, at a more gut level, I truly can’t imagine anything lonelier and more dehumanizing than a young child spending her time confiding in a piece of plastic whose artificial responses have been algorithmically programmed by a multinational corporation. Honestly, I’d rather my kid watch TV then talk to Hello Barbie — at least when he’s watching TV, he knows he’s alone rather than being duped into engaging in a phony interaction.
2. Hello Barbie is a spy.
When an unsuspecting child chats up Hello Barbie, their conversation is recorded and transmitted to a software company for analysis. Mattel insists that the data will not be used for marketing, but privacy experts aren’t buying it, and neither am I. Let’s be real: Hello Barbie is Big Data’s BFF.
3. Hello Barbie was made in a sweatshop.
Because it’s cheaper to have Thai workers assemble Barbie dolls, Mattel shuttered all of its US factories and now outsources Barbie manufacturing to dodgy contractors charged with workers’ rights abuses. I wrote to Mattel asking where Hello Barbie is made but didn’t receive a reply. I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that Hello Barbie, like Mute Barbie and other Mattel toys, is made in a factory in the global south by workers who don’t earn enough in a year to buy so much as a Barbie poop scoop.
4. Hello Barbie could be dangerous.
Though the jury is out on how much wireless exposure is safe for children, I’m not anxious to add another WiFi-enabled device to my child’s life. Kids are already exposed to unprecedented levels of wireless radiation from multiple wireless routers, cellular communications antennae, cell phones and other gadgets. Until there’s a consensus among scientists (who aren’t on the telecommunications industry payroll) that the cumulative exposure of all this wireless radiation is safe, Hello Barbie will have to find somewhere else to unpack her WiFi-enabled makeup kit.
5. Hello Barbie is still Barbie.
Hello Barbie is still the same anorexic yet busty fashion plate we know and hate. As humorist Lani Diane Rich said, “[I]f Barbie was a real woman with those proportions, she’d have to carry her kidneys in her purse.” In an age when half of teenaged girls have eating disorders, the last thing pre-adolescents need to be bingeing on is Barbie body shaming.
So there you have it, the company whose iconic doll gender-conditioned generations of girls to cultivate their feminine wiles is now poised to socialize the next generation via artificial intelligence. Hell no.