I recently saw two films back to back that both reveal how America has gone from a country of confidence, common sense, and humor to one of bitterness, academic theory, and resentment.
The films are Barbie, the billion-dollar juggernaut that is the talk of the globe, and The Fabulous Baker Boys, a great 1989 movie about two brothers (played by Beau and Jeff Bridges) who are professional piano players and decide to bring on a singer for their act. (This film played at a movie theater I worked at in the 1980s, and I still return to it). The singer, Susie Diamond, (Michelle Pfeiffer), is, like Barbie (Margot Robbie), blonde and attractive. Yet, whereas Susie Diamond appears fully formed and self-assured, Barbie is a cipher who has to absorb the rancor of modern feminism to become self-actualized. In the end, Barbie becomes a resentful, dictatorial narcissist who shuts men completely out of her life.
From Susie Diamond to Barbie, there has been a massive shift in the culture. In the Baker Boys scene where Diamond gets the gig , it’s quite surprising to modern ears how self-assured she is. When the Baker Boys try to dismiss her because she is late, she ignores them and then slyly asks, “So, where’s the winner?” She then says she expected the place to be “more glamorous” and states that she “had an intuition” she would get the job. She sings, hits a home run, and changes the lives of the two small-time entertainers.
This is a strong, intelligent, street-smart, and wise female protagonist who is also not a Mary Sue, a character found in modern films (Rey in Star Wars) who does everything flawlessly and doesn’t need a man. As Diamond shows at the end of the film, she does, in fact, need a man. He is just going to have to work for her, something that Ken is willing to do for Barbie, all to no avail. This is why some male reviewers are calling Ken the “tragic hero” of Barbie.
As Barbie goes through her reeducation camp, the tone shifts to that of resentment — toward men, toward capitalism, toward anyone who criticizes any woman for any reason. Resentment, which has been studied by philosophers from Nietzsche to John Paul II, was summed up well by Irish scholar Patrick Masterson in an essay in the journal Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review:
Resentment is the repeated experiencing and reliving of hostile emotional response reactions against someone else. It is not a mere recollection of a one-off hostile emotion and the particular event which occasioned it. It is a re-experiencing and renewal of the emotion itself which gradually pervades the core of the personality and becomes a generalized field of suppressed wrath, hostility and hatred largely independent of the ego’s activity and inspiring numerous specific hostile intentions.
Resentment is the mother’s milk of the modern Left and the foundation of the celebrated lecture in Barbie from actress America Ferrara: “It is literally impossible to be a woman,” she tells Barbie. “You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.”
The irony is that it isn’t men who think women are never good enough or are somehow “doing it wrong.” Most of the men I know think women are amazing and are thrilled just to be in their company. Women are our girlfriends, co-workers, bosses, and literary and athletic heroes.
The most negative account I have read in recent years about male misogyny was an essay in the gay magazine The Advocate, written by a woman who was treated horribly by a director. “We unknowingly excuse gay men of their misogynistic tendencies,” Monica Rodman wrote, “especially when it comes to verbiage (‘bitch,’ ‘girl,’ etc.). And the more we are unaware, the longer we allow misogyny to exist among those whom we’ve long thought to be our brothers in arms.”
In his 1979 work The Culture of Narcissism, social scientist Christopher Lasch argued that the human personality had transformed over the course of the later 20th century. We have gone from a generally well-adjusted people to a society full of rage and resentment. Lasch argued that in the healthy development of infants, it is crucial that children experience the reduction of feelings of omnipotence and helplessness, the kind of imbalance that has our culture seeing women as simultaneously goddesses who can do it all and totally helpless if they receive a slight insult. Lasch argued that parents, community, and “transitional objects” — toys such as Barbie dolls, games, pets — introduce the concept of limits. Barbie is supposed to make children feel less godlike.
Resentment might feel good, but, despite what Barbie says, it’s not a good plan for happiness. In his essay “The Spiritual Practice Against Resentment,” Lasch cites Martin Luther King Jr. as ”the last liberal hero” who could both fight for social justice and keep resentment at bay. King applied the insight that ”spiritual discipline against resentment’’ meant discriminating ”between the evils of a social system and the individuals who are involved in it.’’
Of course, King was talking about a truly evil system of government-backed racism, not the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team getting paid less than men. In The Fabulous Baker Boys, Susie Diamond was able to demand more because she put more people in the seats than the men could by themselves, not because of “equity.”
Journalist Joseph Coates once noted that when resentment is not kept at bay, “the victims of injustice become oppressors in their turn.” He added that “when King tried to take his movement north, it sputtered out into the politics of resentment he had formerly condemned, leaving his followers only the self-righteous role of ‘privileged victims.’”
Privileged victims: Welcome to Barbie World.
Mark Judge is an award-winning journalist and the author of The Devil’s Triangle: Mark Judge vs. the New American Stasi . He is also the author of God and Man at Georgetown Prep, Damn Senators, and A Tremor of Bliss.