RETROSPECTIVE: The Best of Barbara

From Here to Eternity

As we all know, the daily grind is just business–and as Michael Corleone put it, ‘All business is personal. ‘I never wanted to be gratuitous, and I tried to be fair, but if I made fun of

something you did, I’m sorry! The role of the critic is a contrary one. I did enjoying raving about stuff. But the ugly truth is awful work makes for a funnier column. I want to thank the many editors who helped me. You know who you are, and you’re probably still waiting for copy. –B.L.

On Madonna (1992): ‘Sex, Madonna’s book, features the material bad girl as self-timing, self-cleaning, fast-heating sex oven. She does reverse the usual trajectory of sex and public figures: Madonna reveals every inch of herself in a way that she controls; she creates the scandal rather than the other way around. But a dog chain and a few nipple rings do not a breakthrough make.’

On Penises (1993): ‘Fifteen years ago, no one said ‘condom’ on TV. Now, with the tabloid talk shows, it’s a veritable round-the-clock penis watch. Of course, Lorena Bobbitt’s story was a media godsend. It illustrated the fierceness of the gender wars. And the way the story ended was a techno-miracle: full resurrection.’

On The Bridges of Madison County (1995): ‘The movie is really about hot sex over 40. Iowa farm wife Meryl Streep and balding-loner-with-fallen-pecs Clint Eastwood develop the most electric passion. If this were advertising in the ’60s, she’d quell those post-Clint feelings of loneliness with big-ticket items. There’s nothing like sublimating the lack of passion in one’s life with the joy a new Amana freezer can bring. If this took place in the ’90s, she’d pack her relaxed-fit jeans and go.’

On Barbie (1997): ‘Equal parts sex, plastic and marketing genius, Barbie is a 12-inch woman of mystery, the only beyond sexualized nearly 40-year-old female I know of who keeps getting new baby sisters. So it’s not a huge shock that in this year’s Barbie collectors’ series, Barbie is hyperfeminine icon Marilyn Monroe. Plasticswise, they didn’t have to break the mold.

On Jackie 0nassis (1994): ‘She was filled with contradictions, but she lived in a schizophrenic time for women. Because of her beauty and her eye and her wealth, she was the fantasy version of each of her roles. She and Marilyn shared the same wide eyes and whispery, little girl voices. It’s ironic that she was the anti-Marilyn–the upper-crusty, nonbosomy, brunette Audrey Hepburn version. In every incarnation, she lived in a war zone of flash bulbs. That’s why the face became a mask; she knew how to hide behind the bone structure and the Mona Lisa smile.’

On Quentin Tarantino (1994): The bad-boy filmmaker is like a pop-culture idiot savant; he has the post-literate ability to mix references to the Pepsi Challenge and Green Acres with plenty of action shots of stickups, rapes and murders.’

On Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson (1995): ‘Yes, Yes, Yes!’ said Lisa Marie Presley, twitching her Elvis lip, assuring an audience of 60 million Prime Time Live viewers that she and her hunka hunka burnin’ husbanoid, Michael Jackson, do the nasty. Michael seemed delighted, although it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking, given his lastest facial incarnation–a Satanic version of Judy Garland mixed with a bit of the Keebler elf.’

On Kathie Lee Gifford (1995): ‘Not only does she juggle a TV talk show, endorsement deals, singing gigs, her own Wal-Mart fashion line and hubby Frank, she’s also creative enough to name her children after Wild West theme parks.’

On Morgan Fairchild, Ivana, Pamela Anderson (1995): ‘Much of pop media culture seems reducible to two routes: Disneyfication or Barbieization. With the Disney version, we prefer the fake commercial representation of the thing to the thing itself. On the road toward Barbiefication, we are so taken by artificially plastic standards of beauty that we surgically alter our human characteristics to look like idealized dolls. (See Morgan Fairchild, Ivana). But talk about plastic (surgery) squared, or where the rubber meets the road: Mattel just introduced Baywatch Barbie. That seems redundant: BWB is based on Pamela Anderson, who each week shows off her athletic prowess and resuscitation talents.

On the Energizer Bunny (1991): ‘There’s a genius in the earnest cornball packaging and unembarrassed, overzealous promotion. It smacks of old-time preacher talk. It offers the illusion of small-town comfort. That’s why the appearance of the interrupting bunny is a continuing surprise and delight.’

On older women (1992): We’re now seeing a new kind of cartoony, post-menopausal stealth in ads: the attack of the manic grannies. In the ongoing struggle between men and women, there’s tremendous social pressure to debimboize ads, and crackpot old ladies are attention-getting replacements who aren’t sexually threatening.’

On Grunge (1993): ‘I was under the impression that grunge was dead and nobody’s wearing flannel in Seattle anymore. But grunge consumerism is a contradiction still in its formative stages. The Lollapalooza tour has become spring break at Daytona Beach for college kids with shaved heads, nose rings and Daddy’s credit cards.’

On Levi’s 501 Blues (1987): ‘Levi’s 501 campaign is the father of that new genre: ‘reality advertising.’ It depends on how you like your reality: Heavily preplanned and staged or just slightly so.’

On Ad Styles (1992): ‘The trends in advertising today offer a complete cultural overview. We get recovery, denial, tabloid confessional, Elvis jokes. Like politicians, advertisers are co-opting and exploiting buzzwords like choice, change and empowerment. Just as politicians use the words to break through to an angry, fed-up electorate, advertisers use them to woo cynical anti-consumers.’

On Male-bashing Angry Professional Women (1995): ‘There’s a new stereotype in advertising involving overwrought women who hit! It picks up where the mad housewife with the rolling pin left off. The truth is that when it comes to violence, women are the ones who end up doing the accommodating while men tend to have trouble with anger. What are you boys so afraid of, anyway?’

On Politics (1992): ‘Something even seamier than usual is afoot when the democratic process becomes damaging to Tammy Wynette. Meanwhile, Gennifer Flowers seems to come straight from Other-Woman Inc. It’s sad that sex scandals hijack attention from economic, educational and healthcare issues. But this is an ad culture, it rejects what’s difficult in favor of any distraction that can be received in familiar TV terms.’

On Reebok International (1989): ‘The Reebok spot is a series of hot shots of women in skintight minidresses and high heels straddling tables and motorcycles. It’s shot and edited to be as hot as anything on the air, and it certainly will be noticed. But it’s about as honest as men playing tennis in G-strings.’

On the ’70s revival (1994): ‘This is the double-kitsch theory of disjuncture: Take something that was hopelessly bad the first time around, use it in a different way, (stripped of one of its essential elements, music) and it becomes so bad it’s hip.’

On Levi’s Loose Jeans (1992): ‘This romanticization of pool hustler culture is topped by the couple’s steamy dance: The tension is all in the slowness and the fit. Clad in Gap denims and fresh white tops, they dress alike, they move alike, and, to paraphrase that immortal Patty Duke Show music, sometimes they even grind alike. You can lose your mind when pool sharks are two of a kind.’

On Marky Mark/Calvin Klein (1992): ‘For better or worse, Marky Mark is a complete ’90s phenomenon: a brash white guy making a stand for youth, anger and black culture. A straight guy who attracts both women and men.’

On Request Jeans (1992): ‘These days in image country, everybody’s looking for the quicker-hipper-upper. In creating ads to sell denim to the under 25 crowd, this usually results in (a) hiring a hot photo-grapher to shoot a portfolio of provocative black-and-white pictures that (b) show an odd number of pouty young models having art-directed sex on location.’

On Levi’s Women’s Dockers (1993): ‘Not only has Dockers introduced a new pleated fashion look to a generation of men but early ads pioneered the pelviscam. In an effort to assure women that the clothing is made for them, we get a mishmash of traditionally feminine images. The only thing not included is the line ‘Made by Levi’s and a team of female gynecologists.’

On Guess Jeans (1996): ‘Guess puts itself on the image map by appropriating American movie myths and discovering unknown models who could be styled to look like stars. Guess now hires movie stars who are happy to play unknowns in ad spots shown on TV that are made to look like fake pulp detective films. Got that?’

Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED