Barbie’s Bath and Jacuzzi Playsets

The Jacuzzi was a cinematic trope once deployed as reliably as frantic Japanese tourists or a homeless man inadvertently witnessing the film’s entire plot. Playboys and villains toasted stiff-haired women in high-cut swimsuits, and good men climbed into the bubbles to be hoodwinked and lead astray. Mattel Inc. responded to the trend by manufacturing an unending stream of bathtubs, showers, and hot tubs for its Barbie Playsets range. There was Barbie Sweet Roses Beauty Bath, Barbie Living Pretty Beauty Bath, Barbie’s Bubbling Spa; endless variations on a single theme.

In 1982 the National Broadcasting Association had cast-off its children’s ad guidelines and discontinued the limits on the number of commercials that could air. At last, advertisers were no longer prevented from hammering a sales message or the use of the words “only,” and “just” before the price. The next year N. W. Ayer[1] took over the Mattel account.

Barbie dolls reclined in a bubble bath or perched rigidly on the edge of a Jacuzzi in metallic bathing suits while the camera roamed over their plastic, foam-kissed legs. The salaciousness was in contrast to the girls in the playset commercials, who spoke in babyish tones as they manipulated their avatars.

There was never any suggestion that Barbie would be joined in her bubbly spa or glass shower by a Ken doll, but Mattel Inc. skirted a fine line in a time when the Moral Majority was leading I Love America rallies. The playset campaigns managed to be simultaneously wildly inappropriate and chaste. The excessively wholesome behavior of the little girls served as a silent rebuke to viewers:  How dare you see something else in this ad: it is you who is the sicko.

Barbie Bubble Bath (1981)

 

“You girls ready?”

A hapless dad pushed open the bedroom door while his daughter held out her hand.

“Don’t come in Dad! Barbie’s taking a bubble bath!”

Thick bubbles protected Magic Curl Barbie’s modesty, a challenge crews would grapple with when shooting Barbie in the shower.

“This is the Barbie Bubble Bath!” the narrator said, in a voice so syrupy she could conduct a fake phone poll in a brutal South Carolina primary dirty tricks campaign. “You have to put it together!”

The presentation of the accessories occurs at the denouement of the ads. The 1981 playset came with a bottle of bubbles, a fingernail-sized comb and hairbrush, a plastic chair, and a vanity.[2] Barbie was dressed in a yellow ballgown for the father’s return.

“Doesn’t Barbie look pretty Dad?”

“Maybe I should try a Barbie Bubble Bath!”

“Maybe you should stop being such a creep dad,” someone commented below the video.

It was not for nothing that James Michener called the 1980s the Ugly Decade.

Barbie’s Bubbling Spa (1983)

An arch commentary on systems of power and the cinematic gaze, this commercial upended the traditional structure of a Jacuzzi scene, whereby the women existed as nameless, swimsuited wallpaper to a good ol’ boy carrying a cowboy hat and a magnum of champagne.
“Oh Barbie what a beautiful spa! Do I hear… Bubbles?”
Two girls glided the dolls towards the octagon-shaped playset–Barbie legs could move back and forth but no one ever bothered, not even on the commercials.[3] The dolls slid into the water, alone together. The camera lingered on the bubbles coursing across their stiff legs. A girl flicked a plastic beach ball into the Jacuzzi, her eyes wild with excitement. Barbie’s creator understood that little girls didn’t want to pretend to be mommies. They wanted to be bigger girls. The benign, babyish play in the commercials belied that children did not always play gently with their Barbies. The dolls hunted each other down in the Dream Car and judo kicked their rivals over pink staircases. They turned the Dream House into a bordello, where they vied ruthlessly for the attentions of the lone Ken.

Barbie Glamour Bath and Shower (1985)

“We girls are taking a bubble bath. Right Barbie?”
Briefly, a close-up of Barbie’s odd face filled the screen, her rictus grin and dilated pupils framed by bubbles. Large plastic diamond studs were jammed into holes in the side of the head. YouTube comments below the video point out that one of the child actors in the commercial is Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, that the doll’s legs look huge, that water ruined the nylon hair and made the plastic stiff, that the girls in the commercial are giggling while they watch Barbie shower.

“Soaking up beauty by the hour/ Then with a flip, we can shampoo/ In the shower!”

Playsets embraced the era’s vulgar rococo Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous aesthetic. Bathtubs and spas became increasingly ornate as the eighties progressed. By mid-decade Barbie’s bath was perched on a platform, with a pink swan’s head faucet. The toys were manufactured in Taiwan until operations were moved to China in 1987.

Mattel says a Barbie is sold every three seconds, which is 10.5 million dolls a year. These polyvinyl chloride, polypropylene, and ethylene-vinyl acetate ladies and their accouterments are with us still. The Bubbling Spa, and the Fountain Pool, and the Tropical Splash Barbie Pool ‘n Spa. Workin’ Out Barbie, Medieval Lady Barbie, and teen Barbie Midge, pregnant with a little plastic fetus called Nikki. Shedding particles of cadmium and lead, festering in landfills and travelling the world in the Great Pacific garbage patch, velveteen rabbits who never became real.

[1] N. W Ayers came up with the slogans “Be all that you can be” for the Unites States Army and “Diamonds are forever” for De Beers.

[2] Toys from the 1970s and 80s are notoriously high in lead. Some more recent Mattel recall and safety alerts:  “Barbie Dream Kitty Condo™ Playset Affected Part: Kitty,” “Barbie Dream Puppy House™ Playset, Affected Part: Puppy.”

[3] Not even the adult who three decades later who would post a six-minute long video of a Barbie pretending to drink a glass of champagne,  play with a rubber duck, and take selfies in a bubble bath. The video has been viewed over 1. 2 million times on YouTube.

Advertisements

Maury

Maury Screenshot

She shops for menswear. Black pants and dark sweaters, also black, or the grey of hot fresh asphalt. Fleece (“too casual”) is verboten. He is partial to fine cable knit sweaters with zip-necks. She found a black V-neck cardigan and paired it with a glazed grey shirt, which he loved. He is unafraid of turtlenecks. It’s a neutral style of dressing, like a mime’s, or a stagehand who rearranges the props in between the scenes of a play.

He rolls the sleeves up his forearms during tapings. The wardrobe assistant thinks it’s an unconscious gesture. He shows his flesh to his guests to reassure them, somehow. He wears eyeglasses to deliver the results of the paternity and lie detector tests. It adds a certain gravitas, but also– he’s seventy-four years old and he needs them. People forget because he’s so unbelievably spry.

He never knows the results of the tests beforehand. This ensures that his reactions are absolutely fresh. He pauses to savor the moment before he delivers his catchphrase. “You are the father!” or, “You are not the father!”, depending. He affects a southern accent of varying intensities.

The wardrobe assistant would like to see him take more chances with his eyewear. He prefers rimless glasses, with clear arms. She got him into some heavier black Yves Saint Laurent frames. He grimaced and said, “People used to wear glasses like this because they had to,” but put them on for the show.

He wears sensible shoes to mine primordial urges. He’s up and down the whole show to greet people. He has issued an edict against pointy-toed loafers. His black shoes have rubber soles and good support so he can chase the hysterical guests backstage. Man or woman, he cups their cheeks in his palms to cajole them with the Maury Treatment.

Beggin’ by Madcon blasts before he comes out to start taping. It’s always something lively; Sexy and I Know It; Don’t Stop the Party. The audience goes berserk when Maury walks onstage. The guests can hear the music in the green room. They’re so hyped up some of them start pumping their fists.

The shirts and sweaters go straight to the cleaners at the end of the day, because he sweats foundation onto the collars. The pants are usually fine, if someone goes over them with a garment steamer. This is one of the wardrobe assistant’s responsibilities.

Whenever her job comes up at social gatherings, it becomes a big topic of conversation. People can be so judgmental. There’s always someone who rather proudly informs her that the show she works on is trash.

Official Royal Itinerary for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II’s State Banquet for Babies

Screenshot (1513)Two months prior to the banquet, invitations are mailed to six hundred exceptional babies on the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As with all royal events, the guests are generally babies who have made valuable contributions to society or charitable organizations. The babies arrive privately at Heathrow Airport, where they are greeted by the Lord-in-Waiting on behalf of the Queen. The gold and red state landau, outfitted with car seats, is driven up the Mall, escorted by the Household Cavalry. Their arrival at Buckingham Palace is heralded by a 21-gun salute. Inside, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth will invite her guests to the picture gallery to view an exhibition from the Royal Collection of paintings featuring babies.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second loves babies. She appreciates their ineffable qualities, the remote mystery of their thoughts and dreams. The babies’ state banquet celebrates the Averyness of Avery; the divine sagacity of Jaden; the transcendent Thomasness of Thomas.

The babies will assemble in the White Drawing Room for a reception with the speaker of the House of Commons, who will deliver a short address, Babies Equipping the European Union for the 21st Century. Queen Elizabeth will circulate, giving guests an opportunity to meet personally with Her Majesty. Her Royal Highness’ questions might include: “Aren’t you a lovely baby?”, “How long have you been a baby?”, “Is this your first visit to Britain?” and “Do you enjoy being a baby?”

The Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales will play a selection including Old MacDonald Had A Farm, C is for Cookie, I Love Trash, One of These Things Is Not Like the Others and Johannes Brahms’ Op. 49, No. 4. Footmen will circulate, discreetly changing diapers as required.

Babies will be carried into the ballroom in pairs. The table will be set with 18th century porcelain, the 4,000 piece Grand Service tableware purchased by George IV, BPA-free Philips Avent bottles with anti-colic valves, and Medela Calma Breastmilk Bottles, with a choice of medium and slow flow teats. The menu will include savory Aptamil formula, lobster mousse, mashed cocotte potatoes, and roasted loin of Balmoral venison puree.

In a toast dating back to the reign of Queen Victoria, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth will begin the banquet by asking, “Are you going to show me your Big Mouth? Big Mouth!” Yeoman Warders dressed in red and gold Tudor uniforms will be on hand to burp guests in between courses. Her Majesty will indicate the meal is over by inserting her pinkie finger into the side of her Lord-in-Waiting’s mouth.

Diners will be attired in evening dress (white tie) with decorations, or national dress. Babies are advised to bring at least two identical changes of clothes. It is requested that they refrain from scratching, kicking, or head butting the footmen and Yeoman Warders. Gilt-edged cots are available for naps. Guests succumbing to bouts of unexplained hysteria will be escorted to the Green Drawing Room, where they will be invited to view an exhibition of presents given to His Royal Highness Prince George on the occasion of his christening.

At the end of the meal twelve pipers will process around the hall playing The People in Your Neighbourhood and guests will retire for handmade petits fours and coffee in the State Rooms, where the Queen will present the babies with silver-framed photographs of herself and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Kim Philby in Beirut

Image

Avenue des Français, Beirut, 1950s.

General Gamal Abdel Nasser once told his CIA contact Miles Copeland, ‘I picture Beirut as being one big night club.’ In the late 1950s, Copeland and his family lived in the hills overlooking the city. Copeland was keeping an eye on Kim Philby, who had just been cleared in another internal investigation by MI6.

Philby was sent to Beirut by the SIS to monitor political events. He had never been completely free of suspicion after his friend’s defections in 1951. His cover was his work as a stringer for the The Economist and the Observer. He lived in a fifth floor flat on the Rue Kantari with Jackie, a pet fox trained by her master to drink whiskey and use the toilet.

Philby was newly widowed. ‘A wonderful escape,’ he told the correspondent Richard Beeston. He spent a lot of time in the bar of the Normandie Hotel on the Avenue des Français, drinking gin with his sources and writing messages like, ‘Deeper in love than ever, my darling… xxx from your Kim’ on small pieces of paper he extricated from his cigarette boxes.

The tiny love notes were for Eleanor Brewer, ‘a rangy, steady-drinking American who looked tough and sophisticated.’ Eleanor was married to Kim’s friend Sam Pope Brewer from The New York Times.

Kim’s face was bloated and his cornflower blue eyes were glassy and red. ‘Slowly deteriorating and losing confidence in himself,’ was the verdict of Kim’s father, the explorer, author, and cartographer Sheik Abdullah, who’d changed his name from Harry St. John Philby upon his conversion to Islam. Sheik Abdullah thought the rumours about his son being the third man were a load of nonsense.

Sheik Abdullah–who had not divorced Kim’s mother–had moved to Beirut with his second wife and toddler sons after falling foul of the House of Saud. He’d become a celebrity in Britain after mapping the 350-mile Empty Quarter of the Saudi Interior, the largest body of sand in the world. The Daily Mail‘s Anthony Dave Brown often watched the spy and his septuagenarian father–‘potbellied and satanic-looking’– carousing at the Lido and the Kit Kat Club.

It was Sheik Abdullah who’d encouraged his son to confront Eleanor’s husband. Sam Pope Brewer was nonplussed when Philby told his friend that Eleanor wanted a divorce so she could marry him.

‘Well, that sounds like the best solution,’ he said. “What do you make of the situation in Iraq?’