Barbie Liberation Organization Favorite 


Dec 1 2003



New York Times, DAVID FIRESTONE, Published: December 31, 1993
Your son tears the wrapping paper off his fierce new "Talking Duke" G. I. Joe doll and eagerly presses the talk button. Out comes a painfully chirpy voice that sounds astonishingly like Barbie's saying, "Let's go shopping!"
Does your son:
A) Furiously vaporize the doll with his own phaser rifle?
B) Go shopping with Joe?
C) Say: "Mom, I suspect we're the lucky victims of an elaborate nationwide publicity stunt designed to ridicule sexual stereotyping in children's toys. This barbaric little action figure you gave me may turn out to be a valuable collector's item."
If the answer is C, your son may be a collector's item himself, for he has correctly divined the latest socially conscious news media prank to hit the nation's toy stores. Painstaking Alterations
For the last several months, a group of performance artists based in the East Village of Manhattan has been buying Talking Dukes and "Teen Talk" Barbies, which cost $40 to $50 each, painstakingly swapping their voice boxes and then, with the aid of cohorts, replacing dolls on the shelves of toy stores in at least two states.
The group, which asserts it has surgically altered 300 dolls, says its aim is to startle the public into thinking about the Stone Age-world view that the dolls reflect.
The result is a mutant colony of Barbies-on-steroids who roar things like "Attack!" "Vengeance is mine!" and "Eat lead, Cobra!" The emasculated G. I. Joe's, meanwhile, twitter, "Will we ever have enough clothes?" and "Let's plan our dream wedding!"
Included with each doll is a leaflet from the group, claiming credit and calling itself, appropriately enough, the Barbie Liberation Organization. The leaflets list the group's telephone number, as well as those of television stations and newspapers in the area where the doll was purchased. Buyers who agree with the group's anti-sexist, anti-violent agenda are urged in the leaflet to call these news organizations.
A B.L.O. spokesman, responding to a message left on the group's answering machine and identifying himself as "G. I. Joe," said: "Obviously, our goal is to get media attention. We are trying to make a statement about the way toys can encourage negative behavior in children, particularly given rising acts of violence and sexism."
It is impossible to verify the group's assertion of sabotaging 300 dolls, because the only confirmed alterations so far have been about a dozen that turned up in Albany, San Diego and Walnut Creek, Calif., where consumers have called local papers or television stations and described their surprise at learning of their dolls' little secrets. Amazement at One Store
There have been no reports of the dolls turning up in New York City, although the B.L.O. spokesman said six dolls had been placed at F.A.O. Schwarz last August. Kate Notman, a spokeswoman for the Fifth Avenue toy store, was amazed to hear her store had been selected, saying no customer had reported finding anything unusual. The store is sold out of Teen Talk Barbies, but it had several unaltered G. I. Joe's on the shelf.
Officials of several local toy stores said they did not know whether the action violated product-tampering laws, but they said they did not plan to press charges.
One bellicose Barbie, brought by a messenger from the group to a reporter, shouted orders to her troops, as promised, and made blood-curdling attack noises.
The spokesman "G.I. Joe" said his group is a loose network of artists, parents, feminists and anti-war advocates who coalesced in anger last year when a version of the talking Barbie complained that "math class is hard." After educational groups complained about the remark, Mattel pulled it from Barbie's repertoire, but the obsession with clothing, shopping and weddings remained. Once the talking-war doll came on the market this year, grunting bloody murder, the group realized the potential for mischief. Corrective surgery began in the fall. A Good Chuckle
Wayne Charness, a vice president of Hasbro Inc., said G.I. Joe's corporate creator had gotten a good chuckle out of the prank, but doubted it would affect the company's ability to sell millions of the dolls each year.
"We think it's kind of ridiculous," Mr. Charness said. "G.I. Joe and Barbie have been around for decades and are a part of Americana."
Mattel's offices were closed, and a spokesman did not return calls.
For all of the B.L.O.'s protestations against violence, the group's own guerrilla tactics have not won it many allies, even among like-minded children's advocates.
"I've got a very strong negative feeling about terrorist acts against children, no matter how noble the motives," said Joanne Oppenheim, president of the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, a quarterly publication that reviews toys, books and videos for children and is opposed to war products. "It's a cheap shot, and it's unfair to the kids."

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