Barbienheimer on the Brain: Neutrons, Neurons, and Noxious Cultural Noise

Alison Malisa
5 min readAug 6, 2023


Barbie and Ken Yin & Yang, by Midjourney

After a year of living a glorious year in beautiful Kenya (and not publishing any Medium posts), we arrived in California to an explosion of Barbie pink. Girl-powered parties poured out of mini-vans in cinema parking lots, pink pedicures and t-shirts in tow. While LA billboards boasted the box office sales of “Barbienheimer”, it a cultural crisis of classic American enmity has played out as a billion dollar battle between a war-mongering patriarchy and cotton candy consumption. But with all the rave reviews, I’m left wondering if a critical mass of pink puff isn’t Barbie-bombing the final core of our humanity.


‘Is it going to blow up the world?’

In addition to the many horrors of harnessing nuclear power, scientists wondered about the possibility of an additional doomsday scenario, wherein a critical mass of neutrons triggered by nuclear fission would cause an unintentional chain reaction and destroy the entire planet by igniting all the nitrogen in the atmosphere, all the hydrogen in the oceans, and melt the planet to the core. Phew. No thanks.

‘I believe we did,’ was Oppenheimer’s assessment, and perhaps the pinnacle point of the film in the final scene depicting a conversation with Einstein. What he meant, of course, was the destructive chain reaction of nuclear proliferation and identity-related war-mongering following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The “commies v. capitalists” battle that defined the Cold War was just a small piece of a social enmity crisis centered around identity: us v. them. Enmity has been a primary driver of economic and political control, and embedded itself so deeply in American cultural that we can’t hear the

Noxious Cultural Noise.

Girls v. Boys

Beyond simple Barbie nostalgia and America Ferrera’s well-delivered diatribe on society’s expectations of women, there wasn’t much in the movie that went beyond the genre of vapid pink t-shirts with messages like, “Girls Do Everything Better.” Gender-bending wardrobes and transactresses couldn’t rescue the film from perpetuating a culture that is sinking deeper and deeper into us vs. them narratives, including America’s ever-ratcheting-up rancor of gender-identity politics. (Meaning America the country, not the actress, of course)

In Barbieland, Barbie’s personal fantasy was partly that she aspired to empower a world of happy girls who could be anything they want, and in the process everything: professionally successful and stylish, fun-loving and friendiful, independently wealthy and healthy, and innocently seductive. In her fantasy world where women never got messy or pregnant, it was easy to embellish her fantastic aspirations with the fantastical belief that out there in the real world, Barbie had actually succeeded at empowering women.

To her credit, in some ways, Barbie had played a role in symbolizing a cultural shift. But mostly, she represented a pink parade of puff masking a superficial tweak that plucked women from the lonely confines of domestic slavery and plopped her into the losing competition of wage slavery.

With Will Farrell as the foolishly funny head of Mattel, Inc. even the patriarchy is exposed as nothing more than a tool for pursuing profit. In the real world, female empowerment has been defined by winning at capitalist consumerism, being constrained and appropriately trained by expectations, and having emotional health dismissed as an economic externality. It is plastic empowerment that we have sought, sold, and bought.

And with the direction our culture seems to be taking, the membrane between celluloid and cellulite is frightening thin.

In the movie, Barbie empowerment exists as a place where Girls Rule the World, but with no concern for death, for anyone who is different. They apparently don’t even care about housing access for the entire male population. When Ryan Gosling’s fabulous Ken learns about the powers of patriarchy, men use their charm to easily subvert the president, supreme court, and Nobel laureates into brewskie bearing bimbos. Since they hadn’t actually done anything for or with those pink credentials, it wasn’t suprising subversion of subservience was so easy. After all, have we forgotten that we as people actually need to be of service to others in some way, no matter how small, even for a doll.

I was left underwhelmed by the humor, the lack of identifiable character growth, and lack of any higher wisdom regarding us v. them gender relations beyond a tit for tat. (When the Barbie’s seduce the Kens to regain control of Congress, their only decision seems to be regarding how many positions of power they will allow Kens to hold. Which is apparently based upon how many positions men allow women in the real world!

Female empowerment masked as justice is really retribution and the perpetuation of identity politics. Plastic politics. At what point can we acknowledge the true balance of power is in our brains?


A favorite book of mine is entitled The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe, written by Jeremy Lent. His book focuses on the integration of science and traditional wisdom to explore the nature of consciousness and human existence, so he naturally touches on balancing the brain. The left hemisphere of the brain is often associated with analytical thinking, logical reasoning, and language processing while the right hemisphere is often associated with holistic processing, creativity, and intuitive understanding. These are often also considered male and female qualities, respectively.

The left hemisphere tends to categorize and label experiences, while the right hemisphere perceives the interconnectedness and context of experiences. These two modes of perception influence our sense of self, our relationships, and our understanding of the universe. Modern Western societies have predominantly emphasized left-brain thinking, valuing rationality, efficiency, and individualism. By virtue of its function, this hemisphere also easily overrides the right hemisphere. Much like the Kens easily “brainwashed” the Barbies and seized power. More than a commentary on culture and tired tropes of boys vs. girls, I think this serves as an insightful metaphor for the cognitive function of everyone in our culture (except, perhaps, momentarily for those who went to see Barbie on mushrooms.)

It is far too easy in our dominant global (economic) system to get stuck in a left-brain dominated state of labeling, attachment, posturing, and imbalance. Right-brain domination defines narcisism. And if we’ve recognized an epidemic of narcissism in our culture, it is also time to recognize the pathology of name calling and finger pointing. We are steeped in box-office hits as our primary medium for self reflection and cultural story-telling. As much as we can make it about family fun and affirming friendships, and sexual solidarity is great. Yet if we can also step away from the memes and toward meaning, away from pathalogical blame and toward a deeper purpose, we might begin to seek the stories the right-brain is whispering to our gut.

Finding a balance between the Yin & Yang of our internal Barbie and Ken could be the best way to free ourselves from the defense-attack posturing that is showing up as one of the most serious crises we face. If we can focus on cultural narratives and systems that center interconnectedness, we may be able to recognize that peace, prosperity, regeneration, and wellbeing for all stem from the same source- our perception.



Alison Malisa

EconoWitch||Stirring the pot of Economics Education & Research 4 Peace, Prosperity, Regeneration, and Wellbeing for All. Prosocial||Nature||Salutogenesis