Life in Plastic

In 1997, the Danish bubblegum pop band Aqua released a song called "Barbie Girl" ("I'm a Barbie Girl / in a Barbie world / life in plastic / it's fantastic...") which quickly became an international hit.

In September, Mattel filed suit against MCA, Aqua's American label, claiming that the song not only infringed upon Mattel's trademarks but contained lyrics which inappropriately "associate sexual and other unsavory themes with Mattel's Barbie products."

MCA responded by filing a countersuit alleging defamation -- and threatening to introduce expert testimony that Mattel had based Barbie on a German "sexpot" doll called Lilli which had been marketed to adults in the 1950s: "Mattel's idea in 1959," MCA claimed, was to sell "a grown-up sex doll to little girls by dolling it up in designer clothes. What Aqua has done in 'Barbie Girl' is not to make Barbie into a 'sex object' but to point out... that she has been one all along."

[Both suits were dismissed. Nobody, the judge explained, would have assumed that Mattel had authorised the lyrics: "Nor, upon hearing Janis Joplin croon 'Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz,' would we suspect that she and the car maker had entered into a joint venture."]

[The German edition of Men's Health once published several photographs of Ken and Barbie in "improper... explicit and offensive positions" and posted animated Barbie images on its Website -- prompting Mattel to file suit, accusing the magazine of damaging Barbie's "wholesome and aspirational" image... Mark Napier was also ordered by Mattel to close his "Distorted Barbie" website, featuring such "repressed real-world Barbies" as "Kate Moss Barbie" and "Fat and Ugly Barbie". Napier's solution? He simply blurred his Barbie images and replaced each instance of her name with the word "$arbie"!]

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