Corny or cute? California lawmakers use ‘Barbie’ for political points

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HAILEY BRANSON-POTTS | LA TIMES COLUMNISTS

Barbie can be anything she wants to be: astronaut, mom, teacher, doctor, princess, president.

She also can, apparently, be a mascot for a whole range of political causes.

Call it corny or cute, but California politicians in recent days have jumped aboard the hot pink bandwagon on the heels — stiletto, of course — of all the “Barbie” movie hype.

“Not only was this iconic character created in Malibu, California, but Barbie also embraces many of the values that make California the Golden State,” Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted.

In a GIF-infused Twitter thread, the Democratic governor — who has touted the “California way” as what he considers an antidote to red state policies — noted that Barbie has more than 200 jobs and that the Golden State “has more scientists, researchers, professional sports teams, engineers and Nobel laureates than any other state.”

She’s also a righteous surfer, the governor pointed out. And she is a “climate champion” who drives an electric vehicle. (Yes, Mattel, an El Segundo-based company, really does make a lavender-colored electric convertible for Barbie dolls, complete with a charging station.)

Buzz over this weekend’s dual openings of “Barbie,” the PG-13 comedy directed by Greta Gerwig, and “Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s R-rated historical biopic about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, has, well, broken the internet, as the kids say.

Cue the “Barbenheimer” memes.

“Barbie” just had the biggest opening weekend of 2023, raking in $155 million in the U.S. and Canada and scoring the best domestic debut of all time for a title directed by a woman.

“Oppenheimer” opened in second place, earning $80.5 million.

The openings have been a bright spot for a film industry roiled by labor strikes by writers and actors. And they have been talked about, it seems, by just about everyone.

With all the hype, maybe it was inevitable that politicians would try to use the ever-malleable Barbie to score political points.

In a TikTok video posted last week, state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) rode a Bay Area Rapid Transit train in a pair of hot pink stilettos

“Wake up, babe, new public transportation Barbie just dropped,” he wrote.

“Did someone say BARTbie?”

The California State Assembly Democratic Caucus posted a TikTok featuring its members as Barbies and Kens. The caption read: “This Barbie is dedicated to serving the constituents of California.”

In recent days, multitudes of Twitter users tried to guess whether each of their U.S. senators would watch “Barbie” or “Oppenheimer” first.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) tweeted a photo of himself and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on Capitol Hill, leaning in, apparently deep in conversation.

“Deciding if we should get tickets for ‘Oppenheimer’ or ‘Barbie’ this weekend. Which do you think we should see first?” he tweeted late last week with a pair of eyeball emojis.

California’s other Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein — who has been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent months over her age, health and ability to carry out the duties of her job — has not publicly weighed in on the “Barbie” vs. “Oppenheimer” debate.

She, or someone from her staff, did tweet late last week that she was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tony Bennett.”

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from Bakersfield, last week started a bipartisan movie night in the Capitol for members of Congress. It kicked off with a screening — not of “Barbie” or “Oppenheimer,” but Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film “Lincoln.”

“What about Barbie? We demand a Barbie showing for members,” tweeted Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach) with an emoji of fingernails being painted.

He had previously shared a tweet featuring him in a fake Barbie poster with the words: “This Ken is the first LGBTQ+ immigrant in Congress.”

And he got in a Twitter jab over a photo of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and his wife dressed in pink, attending a “Barbie” premiere.

Garcia quote-tweeted the photo with the words: “Oh, look, it’s White Nationalist Ken.”

In a Twitter direct message to The Times on Sunday, Garcia said he had spent the weekend at Comic-Con in San Diego, where he was photographed on the picket lines with striking members of the Screen Actors Guild.

“But I’m going to see ‘Barbie’ tomorrow!” he wrote.

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