That Barbie ad starring a boy wasn't created to 'challenge gender norms'
Mattel is being praised for putting its first-ever boy in a Barbie commercial, but there's more to the story
The online world collectively lost its mind this week over the fact that a little boy was starring in a Barbie commercial for the first time ever.
"Mattel squashes stereotypes," "Barbie laughs in the face of gender norms," and "A trailblazing little boy is in a Barbie commercial for the first time" screamed headlines as a YouTube video showing three young children playing with dolls went viral early this week.
For those who have yet to see the spot, its seven-year-old male star winks adorably, laughs with his two female friends, and helps Barbie answer her phone.
"SO fierce!" he says to the camera as he hands the doll her tiny designer purse.
Thousands on Twitter hailed Mattel's attempt to "rebrand" Barbie with the ad, holding up the boy's inclusion as a sign that the company had finally responded to years worth of criticism over the toy's impact on gender identity in children.
"With the coming holiday season likely to provoke another debate over gender-specific toys, Mattel appears to have preemptively put down its stake for gender neutrality," reads a Washington Post article published Tuesday. "The gender-bending commercial is all part of a larger conversation about whether boys and girls truly prefer the toys that they have historically been known to prefer, or if they are simply conditioned to do so."
"The Moschino Barbie boy doesn't care," the piece continues, referring to the child's apparent attitude towards the debate. "He seems happy enough to have a 'fierce' doll in his hands."
yaaassss <a href="https://twitter.com/Barbie">@Barbie</a> killing it with breaking down gender norms w/ this awesome spot 💁👏 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/fierce?src=hash">#fierce</a> <a href="https://t.co/JaRysQxGQk">https://t.co/JaRysQxGQk</a>—@travisWfreeman
A boy is in a Barbie commercial for the 1st time. I don't usually praise Barbie efforts but LOVE THIS. <a href="https://t.co/1fTS2H64JS">https://t.co/1fTS2H64JS</a> via <a href="https://twitter.com/mashable">@mashable</a>—@tina__ibarra
New hero alert:! The boy in this barbie commercial - fierce gender fluid kids are here to stay! via <a href="https://twitter.com/Gawker">@Gawker</a> <a href="https://t.co/cRdcdxohLm">https://t.co/cRdcdxohLm</a>—@penwritings
So excited were bloggers, social media users, and even news reporters by the ad that almost nobody noticed the upload date of the video they'd been sharing since Monday – or that it hadn't actually been published by Mattel at all.
While the iconic toy brand did have a role in the video's creation, it is not a Barbie commercial, nor was it ever intended to be.
The 30-second-long Moschino Barbie! spot was concepted and directed by fashion designer Jeremy Scott, Moschino's creative director.
Mattel had collaborated with the Italian fashion house to produce a limited-edition line of clothing and a corresponding $150 US doll, both of which were unveiled at the end of October.
According to Vogue, all 700 of the limited edition Moschino Barbie dolls were sold within one hour of their release on Nov. 9.
You can find some of them selling on Ebay for up to $900.
The video that went viral week was uploaded to Moschino's YouTube channel on Oct. 30, and had less than 100,000 views until Nov. 16 when it spiked to almost one million.
Three days later, it's now been watched 2.3 million times.
While it's hard to tell why, exactly, the video started trending now, LGBT news outlet The Advocate was the first to report on the ad in a story Sunday that got more than 36,000 shares.
From there, it spread to outlets like Entertainment Weekly, Buzzfeed, CNN and eventually CBS and FOX affiliates across the United States.
Mattel responds to the hype
BBC News reported on the commercial Wednesday after reaching out to Mattel – and the contents of that piece effectively crushed the hopes of everyone who'd hoped to see the little boy Barbie ad on TV.
Both Mattel and Scott sent the BBC statements to clarify that it was, essentially, a parody (or, as Scott called it, a "fauxmercial.")
"This video parodies iconic Barbie commercials from the 1980's starring a young Jeremy Scott look alike," said Mattel, noting that Scott was in charge of the project's creative elements.
Scott also suggested that the boy in the commercial was inspired by himself as a kid.
"When I dreamt up the concept for the Moschino Barbie fauxmercial, I felt it was natural to have a little boy representing for all the little boys like myself who played with Barbies growing up," he wrote. "Barbie was more than a toy, she was a muse for me."
Ain't that the truth. Scott, 42, has demonstrated a love for and solid knowledge of Barbie throughout the course of his directorship at Moschino.
The fashion house and the toy company have had great success with their collaborations in the past, and both seem happy about how well the commercial is being received.
Mattel's statement touched on the discussions its ad had inspired online, but called the message a "celebration" of boys and girls alike, as opposed to a way to "challenge" gender norms or "break-down" stereotypes.
"The video celebrates how boys and girls alike play with Barbie," said Mattel to BBC News. "It's all about self-expression, fashion, imagination and storytelling."
It's also about shopping, let's not forget.
The <a href="https://twitter.com/Moschino">@Moschino</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Barbie?src=hash">#Barbie</a> dolls are here! Shop your local retailers before it's too late! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ItsMoschinoBarbie?src=hash">#ItsMoschinoBarbie</a> <a href="https://t.co/oGNsWzfzOO">pic.twitter.com/oGNsWzfzOO</a>—@Barbie