Barbie's New Career Under Fire

January 11th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

The latest iteration of the classic doll even has the FBI’s attention.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Mattel’s Barbie turned 50 in 2009, and the debate over whether to get your child one of the bodacious dolls has raged on nearly as long. Barbie supporters say the doll, whose more than 108 careers, including Fashion Designer (1960), Surgeon (1973) and Producer (2005) advocate “girl power.” Barbie’s detractors include mommy bloggers, those concerned with body image, and even Iranian officials, who point to her makeup and revealing clothes as destructive Western influences.

But none of Barbie’s careers so far has been as controversial as her role as videographer. A camera, built into the necklace emblazoned on the new Video Girl Barbie’s chest, can take up to 30 minutes of video that can then be downloaded to a computer. Among those least amused by Barbie’s new career: the FBI.

The FBI sent out a Cyber Crime Alert (no longer available online) from its Sacramento Field Office at the end of November, which was then leaked to the public. The doll, warned the FBI, could be used by child predators.

Mattel’s press materials for Video Girl Barbie assert that, “unsuspecting subjects won’t know that Barbie is watching their every move.” The camera is hidden in her necklace, her legs store the batteries, and there’s a tiny LCD on her back along with controls. Videos can be transferred via mini-USB cable and don’t require proprietary software to view or edit. According to the Mattel website, Video Girl, which sells for $49.99, has been nominated for Toy of the Year 2011. "Capture everything from a dolls-eye view and then watch it instantly or upload to your computer,” it advertises. “Talk about making movies in style!"

Like most Barbie controversies, this one caught on like wildfire. The FBI has since said that the document was intended for internal use by law enforcement, not the media, and was apparently sent to news organizations by mistake. For its part, Mattel responded to the outcry in a statement to Reuters that said, “The FBI is not reporting that anything has happened[….]Steve Dupre from the FBI Sacramento field office has confirmed there have been no incidents of this doll being used as anything other than its intent.”

Still, media attention around the doll persists. Wired.com made a comparison video between the Canon 7D and Video Barbie (verdict: Video Barbie isn’t as good as the Canon, “But it’s amazing for what it is”), and now there’s even a Facebook group calling for a boycott.

Over the holidays, however, Video Barbie wasn’t just on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” lists but on kids’ wish lists too. Local media outlets from Tulsa to Sacramento reported that she’d sold out in time for the holidays.

As the mother of a little girl – and possible future Barbie owner – I can say that for the most part, I’m okay with my little one playing with the doll. My own collection included Ballerina Barbie and Aerobics Instructor Barbie, and despite estimates that a real-life Barbie, scaled to human proportions, wouldn’t be able to stand up, I don’t think she scarred me for life. Still I’m ambivalent about Barbie’s new talents. Parents? Weigh in here. Would you buy your kid a Video Girl Barbie, or are you bothered by her new career, too?