A Cooler, Queerer, Ken
Date: Fri, 9 Jul 93 16:43:12 PDT
Subject: A Cooler, Queerer, Ken
[This is originally from _The Stranger_ (Seattle, WA). Also see:
Forwarded-by: vangogh.CS.Berkeley.EDU!bostic (Keith Bostic)
Reprinted without permission from NUCITY of 18 June thru 1 July '93.
A Cooler, Queerer, Ken
-- by Don Savage
"We're not in the business of putting cock rings into the hands of little
- Lisa McKendall, Manager of Marketing and Communications, Mattel Toys.
Mattel's new Ken doll is on the market. New Ken is getting almost as
much press as New Coke did. Since his introduction at a toy convention in
New York City in February, Ken's been everywhere, including the front page
of the New York Times Arts and Leisure section. Why the hoopla? Ken's
first piercing (his left ear) and his two-tone "greased lightning" hair-do.
But an important part of Earring Magic Ken's new wardrobe has been
overlooked by the straight media - Ken's cock ring. Hanging around Ken's
neck, on a metallic silver thread, is what ten out of ten fags at a glance
will tell you is a cock ring.
Mattel Toys, in the person of Lisa McKendall, denies the ring around
Ken's neck is a cock ring. "Absolutely not," she said. "It's a necklace.
It holds charms he can share with Barbie. C'mon, this is a doll designed
for little girls; something like that would be entirely inappropriate."
Okay, Lisa, let's call it a necklace. Queers have been wearing cock rings
as necklaces for years.
When they're not fashion statements, cock rings are worn around the base
of your cock, or your close-personal-friend's cock if you don't have one of
your own. Slip one on when you're soft; once you're hard, it traps blood in
the penis, increasing sensation and prolonging orgasm. From a utilitarian
point of view, that's an absolute good, a win/win scenario.
Chrome cock rings, like Ken's, were long worn by the leather crowd on the
shoulders of their biker jackets (left for top, right for bottom). In the
waning years of our long national nightmare (aka the Reagan-Bush years),
younger gay-boy-activist-types with brand-new leather jackets took to
wearing cock rings on whichever side looked best or, to the horror of the
leather crowd, on both sides. Tops? Bottoms? Versatile? Clueless? Who
knew? Then newly-minted sex-positive dykes started wearing them - cocks or
not, they didn't want to miss out on any of the sex-positive accessorizing.
Cock rings exploded (ouch!) - as vest zipper pulls, as key rings, as
bracelets; rubber ones, leather ones, chain mail. But the thick chrome
variety, the Classic Coke of cock rings, was and is most often worn as a
necklace. Chrome cock ring necklaces became de rigeur rave wear. For about
a year, every gay boy at a rave was wearing at least one - these cock rings
were often pressed into service later in the evening, to help totally
tweaked raver keep up what the X was pulling down.
On closer inspection, Ken's entire "Earring Magic" outfit looks like
three-year-old rave wear. A Gaultier purple faux-leather vest, a
straight-out-of-International-Male purple mesh shirt, black jeans and shoes.
It would seem Mattel's crack Ken redesign team spent a weekend in LA or New
York, dashing from rave to rave, taking notes and polaroids.
Ken's redesign was prompted by the advice of little girls who play with
him. "two years ago we did a survey," Lisa McKendall said. "We asked girls
if Barbie should get a new boyfriend or stick with Ken. They wanted her to
stay with Ken, but wanted Ken to look a little cooler." And what's cool in
the USA right now? What's hip? Queers are.
Turn on MTV and watch the seven-foot-tall drag queen (we're all praying
she isn't a one-hit wonder) strut her fine stuff for the heartland. Lesbian
comics on Arsenio (how far he's come! - thank you, Queer Nation). Gay and
Lesbian activists in the Oval Office chatting with the president. A live
feed of the Queer March on Washington running on C-Span.
Suddenly, it's hip to be queer. The little girls of our great nation
wanted a hipper Ken, and Mattel gave them a hip Ken. A queer Ken.
"Ken and Barbie both reflect mainstream society, reflect what little
girls see in their world," said my pal Lisa, who was getting awfully testy
about my line of questioning. "what they see their dads, brothers, and
uncles wearing, they want Ken to wear.
As nice as Lisa is (which isn't very), I'm not sure I buy her line of
reasoning. How many dads out there are running around with cock rings
dangling from chains around their necks? How many mesh shirts does
International Male sell to the James and Wards of our great nation? What
the little girls were seeing, and telling Mattel was cool, wasn't what their
relation were wearing - unless they had hip-queer relatives - but the
homoerotic fashions and imagery they were seeing on MTV, what they saw
Madonna's dancers wearing in her concerts and films and, as it happens, what
ACT UP/Queer Nation fags and dykes were wearing to demos and raves.
When you've made it into the aisles of Toys"R"Us, your moment has arrived
- remember the sudden appearance of African-American Barbie-style dolls
after the full impact of their civil rights movement began to be felt?
Queer Ken is the high-water mark of, depending on your point of view, either
queer infiltration into popular culture or the thoughtless appropriation of
queer culture by heterosexuals. Lisa seemed genuinely unaware of the
origins of Ken's "necklace" - and it's highly doubtful that Mattel's design
teams were lurking at queer raves. Queer imagery has so permeated our
culture that from rock stars (Axl Rose and his leather chaps) to toy
designers, mainstream America isn't even aware when it's adopting queer
fashions and mores. Or when they're putting cock rings, even little plastic
ones, into the hands of little girls.
Earring Magic Ken is available at Toys"R"Us stores in the 'burbs. He's
made in China, costs $10.99 and comes with a set of people-sized earrings
you can wear around the house or out to the bars. Thile Ken now has a cock
ring, he still doesn't have a cock.
"Traditionally, Ken doesn't sell as well as Barbie. Ken's a girl's
toy..." said Lisa. Mattel may be surprised how well Cock Ring Magic Ken
sells - queers are snapping up the new Ken. I got mine.
© 1993 Peter Langston