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The Barbie Liberation Organization Resurfaces and Punks Mattel Again, This Time In Protest Of Plastic

by Rudy Sanchez on 08/04/2023 | 2 Minute Read

Given the success of the film Barbie and the enormous marketing push behind it, it’s little wonder that brands and organizations not officially associated with the movie are still finding ways to be a part of the conversation.

But one well-intentioned collective of creative activists might have made a misstep in joining the pink fray.

An organization called the Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO) recently released a series of press releases and videos, including one featuring actor Darryl Hannah, which were purportedly from Mattel and public relations firm JPR announcing that all of its toys will be plastic-free by 2030, starting with Barbie. Additionally, they announced a new line of dolls modeled after activists like Greta Thunberg.

The New York Times reached out to Mattel, who described the press releases, websites, and videos as part of a “hoax” and that they had nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, several outlets ran the story, including People, the Washington Times, and Dow Jones Newswires (MarketWatch). All have since removed the reporting from their websites, though the Washington Times published an editor’s note explaining why they removed the original story.

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The BLO is the brainchild of the Yes Men, who use satire and parody to call attention to environmental and social causes while pranking major organizations and corporations such as Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil, Starbucks, McDonald’s, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the UN.

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"We are the [BLO], an underground network of creative activists," the group's mission statement reads. "We challenge malign societal norms and spark conversations that resonate beyond the ordinary. Creativity is our weapon of choice. Through acts of cultural insurgency, we aim to liberate minds and provoke thought. Our covert operations are carefully crafted to disrupt the status quo and inspire others to question the constructs that confine them."

As funny and well-intentioned as the messaging is—we shouldn’t be making and buying so many damn plastic dolls—does it get lost in the current fog of mistrust in the media and disinformation online? Or does the stunt dominate the conversation while Hannah and the BLO fail to spark the actual discourse they wanted, the damage plastic does to the environment?

It's not the first time the BLO has punked Mattel. In 1992, Mattel released a “Teen Talk Barbie” line and came under criticism because some prerecorded lines, such as “math is hard,” perpetuated negative gender stereotypes. The following year, during the holiday season, the BLO, in protest of gender stereotypes in toys, swapped the Barbie and GI Joe talking electronics into the opposite doll lines, repackaged them, and sneakily put them on store shelves in an operation called “Operation Newspeak.”