yes I'm doing Barbie discourse three weeks too late
It is strange, it seems like the rebuttal to "no man is an island" has been "well then I will build an island of therapy around myself so I can float alone and unencumbered by the filthy fleshy needs of relationships."
Also, telling young men that they are "enough" and just need to embrace their inner selves seems like a recipe for shouting "NO, NOT LIKE THAT, STOP!!!!!" in about three years. Basically every culture tries to figure out how to get young men to sublimate their weird, horny, competitive drives into prosocial action. Telling them to go where their feelings take them seems like a bad idea (I say this having been a teenage boy).
I love this. Today, everyone tells us not to prioritize marriage and family. You have plenty of time. Career comes first. If you get married "young" (under 30) you're missing out on mandatory fun.
But we really don't have unlimited time (especially women who want kids) so it's unhelpful to tell people dating should be their last priority. Most of us will never write Hollywood movies or save the world -- we have dumb office or service jobs, and our happiness comes from our family, friends, and kids.
In a certain demographic, the worst thing a woman can do is pass up a career opportunity "for a man" (or woman in my case). However, I quit academia to stay with my partner, and it was the best thing I ever did. If I had moved away for an academic job, I wouldn't have my wife and child. They make me much happier than any career I could have.
Really enjoyed this write up. I think it hits at some of the uncomfortable truths that the progressive movement sometimes runs up against: Media can tell you that things like romantic relationships and physical fitness and financial success aren't required to be happy (or "Kenough"), but at the end of the day, pretty much everyone wants these things and is happier once they've achieved them
This line just rocked me: “the only way towards progress is towards each other.” There is a title for your next book, Freddie.
A lot of this overlaps with (and is intentionally commenting on) the response to the toxic "incel" phenomenon and perpetual trend pieces on male loneliness. The usual answer is that men need to "work on themselves" instead of being entitled to other's affection. But how many people saying that would be perfectly fine never receiving love? How many meet this ideal of emotional self-sufficiency before entering a relationship? And how many really don't see our social success as a reflection, in some sense, of one's character?
Individualism is the ultimate end of divide and conquer. The more divided the better.
Great essay. It very much speaks to things that I'm pondering now. I think you've hit on that which is missing in so much of modern society, lack of connection and lack of love. There is beauty and wonderful things to see and experience alone, I hike and ride alone. I'm building a retaining wall behind my house alone and that's fine. But I have a husband of thirty years, six kids and friends. If you took away my human connections I doubt I would live very long. There just wouldn't be any point.
I'm 66. This degradation of love and connection hasn't always been this way. (Could it be that it's hard to sell stuff to people who are happy, and human connection is what fundamentally makes people happy?)
Feminism isn't the culprit. When I watched Barbie all I could think was "this message is 50 years too late." Things that were true in the 1950s aren't true now. If you're a doormat of a woman it's because you choose to be. The soliloquy to Ken struck me as completely hollow. If you're a woman and you feel like that, it's all on you.
Like most movies I watch today, I found the cinematography excellent, the casting great, the music great but the substance totally lacking. I fell asleep. The message, whatever it is, was nothing to me.
I "found" myself decades ago, primarily as a mother, wife and teacher, all of the things that are supposed to make you powerless. That couldn't be further from the truth. I think that's why repressive regimes always subjugate and attack women first.
I was, shallowly, super bummed that the movie's conclusion was that Barbie & Ken must part ways, as opposed to being that Barbie & Ken learn to, like... I don't know, see *each other* fully as people. Still a fun movie, I just felt primed for that emotional beat and was a little "aww, darn" when I didn't get it, since both actors had so thoroughly charmed me by that point.
I agree with your take; "I am Kenough" just felt like a boring conclusion by comparison. Especially when Barbie's self-actualization did at least gesture at her wanting to know all the depth and interconnectedness of human life. Barbie gets a full grasp of age and death and fear and joy and fulfillment, Ken gets... Instagram therapy? Ah well. Okay. Those are equally desirable, I suppose.
Another wise piece.
I haven't seen Barbie, so I can't speak to its particular message, but as an observer of this "individualistic" bent IRL, which you appropriately describe, I think that one piece is missing. The individualistic bent has gone so far off the deep end that people only recognize other individuals in relation to themselves, meaning the entirety of the human race only exists to validate *me*. And while *I* have a right to be an individual and express that individuality to its utmost, you do not have the same, especially if it conflicts with my vision of myself.
So I actually think the vision of not needing anyone is more healthy than the individualistic streak we're seeing where the entire world has to validate "me." One is quite libertarian. The other is narcissistic and sociopathic.
But I agree that we need relationships to ground us and give us meaning and suggesting otherwise is to end up with a society of self-centered children who never mature into fully functioning adults.
I would say that there is very much love (sisterly) at the end of Frozen and and Moana (family). I couldn't agree more that the worship of the self is at the center of our culture, and that this is the source of tremendous existential pain that is refracted through a thousand frozen fractals all around (to butcher the reference). I love the spirit of this post, but somewhat disagree that the Barbie movie fully embraced the premise that we are self-contained ecosystems of "enoughness."
I left the movie feeling, basically, that the movie promoted the important idea that the "patriarchy" doesn't just need to be dismantled for the benefits of a (re)-emerging "matriarchy," or any such thing, but rather that the system commonly referred to as "patriarchy" serves neither men nor women, but perhaps only the moguls in the board room.
I liked the movie so much precisely because there was some muddiness, because it touched on these things without wrapping them up too clearly.
I thought The Lion King had the best romantic love story thread among the Disney movies. She went and found him, boned him on the first date, told him to get his shit together, and fought hyenas alongside him. Yeah, he still got to be the one to climb up Patriarchy Rock, it being the early 90s, but we all knew where the real power was.
I get what you're saying here, but I think you're confusing individualism with narcissism.
While you're obviously right with your "no man is an island" schtick, true individualism (for better AND worse) not only favors the one over the many, but it does so in a pretty fair way. Meaning your successes and failures are both of your own making, and not somebody else's fault.
These days modern progressives seem to value the individual only when it comes to the successes and positives. If there is a negative or failure to be had, it's 'society's' fault...usually in the form of some institutionalized oppressive matrix or some crap. They are only doing the fun half of individualism, and not the hard accountability part. It's really just self-absorption run amok.
Conservatives have this too mind you, they just tend to package it in a different bag: traditional religion. Good is a choice to follow god, and bad is because you listened to that little devil on your shoulder.
Speaking of Disney, another good example is the live-action Mulan vs the animated original. The original eschewed making romance the primary arc of Mulan's story, but it still retained a communal message because Mulan did it all for her family and returns to her home life after defeating the Huns (and she gets the hot guy too, but only as a side quest).
In contrast, the live-action version ends with her presumably accepting the emperor's offer to join his elite guard to be a "leader," because even if the hero did it for his/her family instead of some love interest, that still wouldn't be enough to satisfy the supposedly proper goal of individual achievement and glory.
Dependence -> Independence -> Interdependence.
A portion of communitarianism is needed to reach a rich interdependence that can benefit everyone. As much as we can enjoy our individual freedoms, those of us that dive into community find the rewards for ourselves can be quite rich.
I was lucky enough to be born into a family that still lives next to each other (6 dwellings in a row), in a community where everyone knows each other, resources are shared quite a bit, and helping each other out is part of daily life. I've seen that fray over the years, to no benefit.
Freddie's observation about only being left with conservative individualism and social justice individualism struck me as quite incisive. By not valuing community, both turned me off.
I found the intersection of communitarians on the left and right was always my home.
Enjoying the Substack app’s audio interpretation of the Kenough neologism. “No one is Kee-no-ugg.”
Misfire. The joke of the movie is the tongue-in-cheek imaginary that utopia is a 180-degree inversion of patriarchy. Ken is the image of men filling the role that women play in "our patriarchy": as purely ornamental, as adjuncts to society's prime movers. Convincing him he is "Kenough" is getting him to understand that he has the minimum individuality necessary to transcend that role, not that only his personhood matters. To the contrary, the movie presents as utopia a society so consummately communitarian that the entire population shares two names, one for men and one for women.
Personally, the degree to which the movie avoided therapy-speak and wellness culture was one of the reasons I liked it.