Researching a bit for a talk I’ll be giving in MedellÃn (Colombia) next week, I came across the BLO: the Barbie Liberation Organization. A Manhattan-based group formed in 1989? who taking advantage of similarities in the voice hardware of Teen Talk Barbie and the Talking Duke G.I. Joe doll, er, â€œaction figure,â€? they absconded with several hundred of each and performed a stereotype-change operation on the lot.
In the mid 1990s cultural critic Mark Dery wrote: The BLO claims to have performed corrective surgery on 300 Teen Talk Barbies and Talking Duke G.I. Joes—switching their sound chips, repackaging the toys, and returning them to store shelves. Consumers reported their amazement at hearing Barbie bellow, “Eat lead, Cobra!” or “Vengeance is mine!,” while Joe chirped, “Will we ever have enough clothes?” and “Let’s plan our dream wedding!”.
By the creation of this hybrid (and transsexual) product, the BLO was not only disrupting stereotype codes in children minds but also offering a â€œgood mannersâ€? example of collaborative work between rival companies such as Mattel (Barbie producers) and Hasbro (the makers of the action hero).
The BLO was an early reference of culture jamming initiatives that fostered the emergence of shopdropping (also known as reverse-shoplifting) projects later on. I would dare to say that it can be interpreted as the cultural appropriation of reverse engineering, a military strategy often used during WWII to figure out other nationâ€™s technological information; a practice that has continued gaining attention, especially in relation to open-source philosophies.