We’re Loving the Barbie Versus Oppenheimer Discourse

We’re Loving the Barbie Versus Oppenheimer Discourse

I’m a Barbie girl, destroyer of worlds



The year is 2008. There are two movies showing simultaneously in theaters: The Dark Knight, and Mamma Mia.


The social media landscape in those days was much less panoptical than it is now, which allowed for more chill coverage by the press, so to speak. The Dark Knight was for predominantly male nerds (many of whom would make a Halloween costume their whole personality for many years), and Mamma Mia was for the girly pops, the titas. Plus, it’s not like the two camps were warring with each other. The general vibe was that two very different movies showing in theaters were symptomatic of a healthy box office.


Fast forward to today. Barbie vs. Oppenheimer (or Barbenheimer, for short). The angelic plasticity of Margot Robbie versus the dead eyes of Cillian Murphy. The hot pink world of Mattel versus the desolate testing zones of Los Alamos, New Mexico. A celebration of womanhood versus…Christopher Nolan again, apparently! The perceived clash of these two films is so vivid in the shared imagination of the chronically online, that each movie acts as the other movie’s marketing.


RELATED: Here’s What The “Barbie” Movie Trailer Has Shown Us So Far


Hopes are high for the success of the Barbie movie—we might owe that to what contemporary discourse calls “The Bimbo Renaissance,” a kind of cultural reclamation of all things girly and unapologetically feminine, with a social justice edge. Barbie functions semiotically as the Ur-Bimbo, the progenitor Bimbo from which all other Bimbos spring forth. It is the toy through which many women are first invited to imagine their womanhood. Bratz girlies, someday you will have your day in the sun.


Framed that way, the Barbie movie is a prime contender to face Oppenheimer, a film that—were it released in any other cultural milieu—be branded as hot Oscar bait. Instead, it joins the ranks of other war movies like 1917, Inglourious Basterds and even 300, which seem precision-produced to appeal to the masculine sensibility. Oppenheimer, a biography on theoretical physicist and father of the atomic bomb J. Robert Oppenheimer, was supposed to be the Tsar Bomba of its genre, the big one to catch Redditors and Batman enjoyers in its blast radius. It doesn’t help though that his infamous “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds” spiel has turned into a meme.


Even as we approach the film’s release, Barbie recently became a magnet of controversy due to the appearance of the nine-dash line, a depiction of China’s territorial claims over the West Philippine Sea. Vietnam wants to ban the movie. The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) considered it. The irony escapes no one that the movie about dolls is shaking up geopolitical discourse more than the World War II movie.


We’re Loving the Barbie Versus Oppenheimer Discourse


RELATED: “Transformers Rise of the Beasts” Is A Satisfying Ride


Some cultural commentators might see this clash as a battle for the soul of cinema, which sounds very cool, but is mistaken. The more simple explanation on Barbenheimer is that we as human beings love duality, whether we’re talking about the meme with the pink house and black house or two movies with extremely divergent aesthetics and vibes. In my humble opinion, the best move is to do it the way Animal Crossing fans and Doom fans did it, with both communities cheering on the release of the other camp’s game. Do what you want. I’m watching both.



Words Jam Pascual

Art Matthew Ian Fetalver

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