Barbies and bombs

Published August 3, 2023

By Lib Campbell

Movies are making a comeback in the great summer blockbusters Barbie and Oppenheimer. We have seen both of them. They could not be more different, but each offers something to think about.

Barbies and Bombs seem an odd couple. Barbieland is all pink and happy. The Barbies in all their iterations rule Barbieland. Even the Kens appear happy. Women are doctors, builders, teachers, judges and everything in between. They are diverse high achievers. All is well until Stereotypical Barbie begins to lose her “mojo.” She decides a trip to the real world  will help her find out what is happening to her. As she drives along in her pink convertible, Ken pops up in the back seat.

Their antics are fun to watch. The story turns as Ken is awakened to patriarchy. Women play lesser roles; men are the leaders, judges, etcetera. Kind of like the world really is. Women make coffee, tend children, have babies and keep the home fires going. Ken takes patriarchy to Barbieland, renaming it “The Kendom.” All the Kens adopt the ideals of patriarchy and the scene sours. The Barbies are brainwashed into subservient roles to the Kens. If this were not so true, it would be funny.

The Barbies set out to restore their place, awakening to how they have been manipulated by patriarchy. As Barbieland is restored, so is the peace.

Reaction to the film has been over the top from some men in congress. One even burned a Barbie in effigy. I guess dolls get to them. The film’s social statement is worth discussing. How are women treated and regarded in the workplace? For too long glass ceilings and misogyny have permeated our culture. Men seem so threatened by strong women. Pity. Maybe equality is their problem.

Oppenheimer tells a different kind of story. Based on the life and work of Robert Oppenheimer, we travel through the visions of his genius, finally finding his passion in the study of quantum physics. His major work was the Manhattan Project developing the first atomic bomb and his personal life was as big a story as the bomb is. He was a womanizer who flirted with Communism. That ultimately caused him to lose his security clearances.

The Manhattan Project began in 1942 and was tested in the desert of New Mexico in 1945. It ended when America dropped atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in August of 1945. President Truman knew it would end the war. Oppenheimer had a great moral dilemma reflecting on his part in creating such a powerful weapon and talked to Truman about nuclear regulation, saying that a force so great should be used for good. If that scene was accurate, whoever made the decision against regulation insured the nuclear arms race. Nations have amassed arsenals of nuclear weapons. Rogue actors in the world, like Putin and Kim threaten their enemies with lethal force that could end civilization.

Oppenheimer was targeted in the McCarthy hearings of 1954, which accused 205 of being communists. The badgering of Oppenheimer was moving; we were caught up in the drama. It’s hard seeing our culture today juxtaposed against the era of the Manhattan project. There are unbridled and unregulated technologies today that continue to threaten a powerless world. Our leaders seem intent on inflicting pain in the world. Too much power in so few hands is a recipe for harm.

Artificial Intelligence is today’s unregulated elephant in the room. The existential threats of both atomic weapons and AI are real. We play God, creating a moral dilemma between invention and discovery that can be used for good as easily as it can be used for evil.

After the movie we needed to go home and process what we had seen. I am still processing.

The Indigo Girls provided the theme song for Barbie. Their lyrics in “Closer I Am to Fine” speak into the issue of the human condition.

“I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains, I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains. We go to the Bible; we go through the workout. We read up on revival, we stand up for the lookout. There’s more than one answer to these questions pointed in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source, the closer I am to fine.”

 We all are seekers of one thing or another. Questions in the middle will yield answers at the end. Still, we hope.

Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader, columnist and host of the blogsite She can be contacted at