It’s more than a meme. It’s a lifestyle.
Every now and again, conflicting worlds collide. Two things that very much do not belong together overlap against all odds, and it inexplicably works. Such is the case with the cinematic consolidation of Barbie and Oppenheimer, both released to theatres on July 21. Barbenheimer, as it’s known, is an ideological expression of opposites attract. And as it dominates pop culture, the world is better off.
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On paper, these two films have absolutely nothing in common. Barbie is a candy-coated romp following the iconic Mattel doll as she navigates the real world. Oppenheimer is a brooding biopic centred on the man who oversaw the development of the atomic bomb. Marketing for the latter begets serious portraits of the pensive main character puffing on a pipe, while the former serves up hyper-saturated posters of Barbie laughing in a hot pink convertible. In any logical world, these projects — starring Cillian Murphy and Margot Robbie, respectively — have no business coming together. But this isn’t a “logical” place, it’s the internet.
Coined by extremely online fans, Barbenheimer celebrates the two much-anticipated flicks — with duelling themes and contrasting aesthetics — as an epic double feature and unsuspecting fashion collab. Artists have created movie posters that seamlessly merge the universes together. Custom T-shirts are hitting the market, featuring bombs in cartoonish illustrations and two-toned pink and black colour palettes. And the movies are in on it, too. At Oppenheimer’s London premiere, Cillian Murphy confirmed that he would “of course” be seeing Barbie. When giving an interview on the pink carpet, Issa Rae shared her viewing plans: Oppenheimer, then Barbie, then mimosas. It’s not a question of whether you’re seeing Barbie or Oppenheimer. It’s: In what order are you seeing them?
On the red carpet, the films’ fashion couldn’t be more at odds. Barbie painted the world pink through a viral press tour of sparkles, saturation and bubble gum brightness. Oppenheimer has been a subdued sartorial affair, with Murphy’s array of dark suits dubbed the “Anti-Ken.” And yet, Barbenheimer has emerged as the trending aesthetic du jour.
Hot pink and black. Mini-dresses and edgy co-ord sets. Light blush and severe eyeliner. Barbenheimer is not just a buzzword, it’s a magical melding of competing visual narratives. It’s Nicola Coughlin’s campy Met Gala dress. It’s Paris and Nicki Hilton missing each other’s memos on a 2000s red carpet. It’s a tough-looking leather loveseat with a surprisingly pink cushiony interior.
A pervasive myth of personal style is that you have to be consistent. If you stay true to certain aesthetic confinements, that means you know who you are, or so the messaging goes. Barbenheimer — in all its chaotic clashing — requires mix-and-match experimentation. Slip some fishnets on under your sparkly going-out dress. Pair a black cowboy hat with your western Barbie boots. Throw on some chunky Doc Martens to offset your bubblegum bomber jacket. There’s no thematic cohesion, just impossibly good taste.
Sure, a world-threatening explosion and a roller-skating outing have very different stakes. But herein lies the multifaceted beauty of humans. Unlike Barbie, we can’t all be upbeat every day. And who wants to be perennially dressed for the end of times? Barbenheimer, in all its delicious contradictions, allows for that duality. Happy viewing.
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