You begin to see Ken’s influence everywhere


Greg Beato reflects on 50 years of Ken @ The Smart Set.
As Harley-Davidson Ken #2, Barbie’s perennial boy toy is presented with a scruffy beard and a stand of old-growth chest hair that would make Tom Selleck proud. His leather and denim duds are accessorized with testeronic man-bling: a heavy-duty Harley belt buckle and a dangling wallet chain. On his left forearm, his tough plastic flesh has been permanently ornamented with a “Born to ride” tattoo. Harley-Davidson Ken Doll #2 is aimed at collectors and the ladies love him. “What I would not have given to have this bad-to-the-bone sexy Ken when I was growing up!!” enthuses one at Amazon. “My Barbie’s [sic] are all falling over themselves trying to get next to this bad boy,” exclaims another. And yet it turns out that even rugged, undomesticated Ken — Ken at his most virile, redolent of leather and gasoline and lusting for the open road — is not quite as autonomous as he looks. “Although he cannot stand unsupported, he is fully jointed and easy to pose,” Amazon’s official description of the product advises.Unable to stand alone, readily compliant — such is the fate of Barbie’s perpetual plus-one. Fifty years ago, on March 11, 1961, Mattel introduced to Ken to the world. With his trim crewcut, stiff carriage, and vacant but beseeching eyes, he looked like an earnest All-American zombie ready to do Barbie’s bidding. A half-century later, he’s even more servile, devolving into Sweet Talking Ken, an incarnation Mattel describes as the “ultimate boyfriend for every occasion.” With a built-in voice recorder and microphone, Ken possesses the power of speech — but he can only say “whatever you want him to say.”read more