Monday, November 23, 2015

Sympathy for Raquelle

I've been watching a show called Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse lately. And you could say I've thought a little about it. In the same way that Newton thought a little about Calculus. It's a show about Barbie, living but also still a doll, with her family and friends, where every incarnation of the Barbie doll is canon.

The closest this show has to an antagonist is Barbie's frenemy, Raquelle. She, like every other character, seems to be fabulously wealthy with supermodel good looks. And yet, she's always trying to steal Barbie's spotlight (or boyfriend). Why? Isn't a life free of labor enough for her?

Let's begin by examining the object of Raquelle's ire, the very doll herself, Barbie. Barbie has had over 126 careers over her lifetime, and not because she gets fired a lot, she just gets bored. Nothing seems beyond the scope of her purview. Supermodel, racecar driver, even astronaut are just things Barbie did before she got tired of them. She has a network of devoted friends, a brand of clothing shops, impeccable judgement, loving sisters, and apparently the best boyfriend ever created. Despite being filthy rich and talented, Barbie retains her gracious nature, always willing to help a friend (or frenemy) in need. Barbie is the √úbermensch, surpassing the limits of human development, never even deigning to seek reprisal for wrongs done against her. The next stage of humanity, a paragon of valor, ingenuity, and fashion.

Let me ask you something: How do you compete with the √úbermensch? The short answer is: You can't. The rest of Barbie's friends are content being her cronies, ready at her whim to shower her with praise or bask in her glory. All except Raquelle. She's not content with her station in life. She wants more, she needs to surpass everyone's favorite polymath. But that's impossible. Barbie is perfect in every way (except for baking) and Raquelle has few, if any, skills. During Barbie's brief absence due to super fashion heroics, Raquelle was left to fill the void, but failed in every aspect. She can't act, be a runway model, or even advertise perfume.

The only time Raquelle seemed to prevail over Barbie was when Barbie let her. Having a bad hair day, Barbie decided to let Raquelle win for once, but her ever-adoring fandom refused to recognize Raquelle until Barbie faked a compliment. Barbie can't lose, the most Raquelle can hope for is a consolation prize. For poor Raquelle, this isn't close to a fair fight. Barbie's the dealer, and Raquelle knows the house always wins.

If only achievement were enough for Raquelle. When she found her way into an alternate dimension with a dull, self-deprecating Barbie, Raquelle quickly made her way to the top. A profitable boutique, zealous fans, the works. But it wasn't enough. Without the real Barbie to triumph over, it was all for naught. Raquelle doesn't want to be Barbie, she needs to beat Barbie.

So what recourse does she have? Raquelle can't submit herself to the will of Barbie, to her mass of weak-willed sycophants. She's unable to even enjoy simple companionship, Barbie's boyfriend Ken being really the only guy in town apart from Raquelle's brother, Ryan. Thus, bitterness. Scheming. Trying to find the one chink in Barbie's armor, the only specialization the queen has overlooked.

Can you blame her? She has her eyes set on stardom, but is destined for mediocrity. Nothing she tries ever succeeds, so she's stuck, mired in Barbie's gargantuan shadow. She seems full of herself, but it's just a front, a facade to convince herself life is still worth living. She's tired, and angry, and alone. All she wants is someone to acknowledge her existence, to stop looking in a mirror to prove she's real. She can't escape Barbie any more than she can escape her own inadequacy.

We may hate Raquelle. We may scorn and ridicule her. But what she represents is a fundamental part of the human experience. Through her spite and envy, she's the most human character in Malibu. She has foibles, tribulations, and nearly every single one of her enterprises ends in abject failure. Her far-fetched dreams remain unfulfilled, until all that is left is a sneering cynic who only longs for some attention. When we watch Raquelle, who's really looking into a mirror?