The Rainbow Flag or a Gimmicky Toy? Given Marketing Tactics, Some Won’t Know the Difference

(Disclosure:  This post appears in shorter, different form in a private social media post.)

In June, I temporarily removed the rainbow icon from my Twitter profile.  It was Pride Month, and in theory that was one of the best times to keep it visible.

I removed it after a day of window shopping in Downtown San Francisco.  Clothing stores in particular were displaying the rainbow as the proverbial toy hammer that a toddler plays with: everything in the house required hammering.

After seeing the glut of color that was meant to make people like me feel welcome — and spend more money — for one month, I felt confused and cynical.  A unicorn was lactose intolerant, and had left a flatulent stream of color in its wake.  That can happen to any of us, but the lactose intolerant unicorn had struck during Pride Month.  Many people wait until December, because of the egg nog thing.  Red and green are everywhere at that time of year.

Now toy manufacturer Mattel has released an October-themed Barbie, to coincide with Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead.  This holiday, observed in Mexico, is intended to show respect for people who have predeceased their loved ones.  There are symbols and actions related to the holiday which may not register immediately with people outside the culture, so being introduced to this solemn time with a Barbie Doll is neither enlightening nor appropriate.  Young girls will be asking for Halloween Barbie, which doesn’t exist.

(Another Disclosure:  I have a recurring anorexic condition, and don’t see much in Barbie other than an unrealistic view of women that may encourage young girls to make themselves ill while pursuing the so-called perfect body.) 

Please click the link at the end of this post to read Sandra E. Garcia’s article on this topic on the New York Times site.

I was born in 1960, and was oblivious to the Woodstock Festival.  As an adult, I remembered very little of the social and political atmosphere of that time.

When the twentieth anniversary of Woodstock was observed in 1989, I was fascinated.  I read books about 1960s political activism, and began listening to music I had missed before taking up contemporary pop and rock in 1973.  Although I was insulated from 1960s counterculture when it was active, I learned as much as possible later.  The information was easy to find, and I maintained enough perspective to understand that I was learning history, and not experiencing the era personally.

Many people won’t have the time or the inclination to do that with holidays that are observed outside their immediate four walls.  Too easily, cultural differences are reduced to Barbie Doll status.  The LGBTQ rainbow has been cheapened by marketing, although the LGBTQ movement has made real progress during the same time window.  The movement has beaten the odds, so to speak.

There’s a big difference in the ways society will react to the rainbow thing and Día de Muertos Barbie.  In spite of excesses in the manner of using the rainbow to sell clothing, candy and whatever else during June, many people are realistic about LGBTQ people in their own backyard, so to speak.  Family members and friends have come out to them, and that encourages more progress than even the most appealing symbol.

Día de Muertos is a day of remembrance which generally is misunderstood by people north of Mexico.  It is one culture’s tradition of showing respect, and few people in the United States even know anyone who has extensive knowledge of the event.  It will remain misunderstood, and at the very least people outside of Mexico should be suspicious of marketing.  Be aware of what you don’t know.

When my parents were still living, we never had an honest discussion about my bisexuality.  However, they knew I was available to answer general questions about LGBTQ issues.  I can’t guess what they knew about Día de Muertos because I never heard them mention it.  They knew something about retailing, though, and if they were here to see this new Barbie they’d know it was just another business project.  Some people won’t.

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