Life in plastic, it’s fantastic

Photo of Mahika Singhal

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I’m a blonde, bimbo girl in a fantasy world

At the cerebral age of nine, I had my first interaction with the U.S. through the “I Kissed a Girl” music video.

Katy Perry was wearing a bedazzled gold dress and a necklace with the word “KATY” written on it in a sultry font. She was holding a puppy in one hand and a teddy bear in the other. She was twisting in and out of lustrous satin sheets and mouthing the lyrics through puckered, bubblegum pink lips.

But more importantly, she was singing about kissing girls. I remember being flabbergasted. I couldn’t tell if she was being comical or satirical or had in fact, kissed a girl. How would that even be possible?

That experience summarizes how I came to think about America for the majority of my life.

It seemed like the Barbie Dreamhouse, a Mattel-made fictitious land. It had a population comprising entirely of the perfect, famous and rich: of blue-eyed, blonde-haired Barbies and Kens. It housed the intoxicating sins of lust, greed and pride acted out in acceptable promiscuity and navel gazing.

It was an animation of reality, all so far removed from life as I knew it in India, where we could not be too daring after dusk. Where we should accomodate around the predatory, male gaze to not end up as another rape statistic. Where we could definitely not kiss girls, much less admit to it.

Imagination, life is your creation

Everything in the U.S. seemed to be fun. Work could be play.

On YouTube, you could have a rap battle with your brother or film Target hauls and become a millionaire. On Parks and Recreation, your incompetency as a government official could be an endearing quirk. On McDonald’s advertisements, you could somehow stuff burgers with more than the buns’ geometry could scientifically hold.

An orange caricature could hurl insults at everyone and still become the leader of the world.

A parody of the laws of power and wealth, it was all so disjoint from the kind of work and labor I had seen in India. Of choosing between one out of five career choices for street credit with the neighbors’ council of life decisions. Of workers living and dying with their heads down. Of just trying to keep the lights on and pay the taxes.

And so, the American Dreamhouse continued to materialize in my mind, a perfectly preserved globe of sprinkling snow, twinkling lights and eyes, free from crippling suffering.

On this premise, the race to enter the Dreamhouse began in my high school. We all hired overpriced college counselors, created gimmick organizations for our activities lists, and retook the SATs until we achieved a satisfactory score.

All of this was to convince colleges we were already actualized, when in fact, all of us wanted to actualise into the character of our vainest daydreams in America. This was the person we truly were, hidden under the gritty texture of our country. If we could scrape through to an acceptance letter, we would touch plastic from the Dreamhouse. We would be found in the reflection of a glass office on Wall Street or a paparazzi’s lens in L.A.

Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please
I can act like a star, I can beg on my knees

It took coming to Berkeley to realize that the narrative mainstream media had been feeding me was all wrong.

Although the Dreamhouse does exist, it’s only home to the 1%, of Barbies and Kens, protected in their luxury and freedom of expression by systemic discrimination and capitalist structures. Most of the country is still scratching at the outside of the inflammable plastic, pleading lawmakers for basic rights.

With every political and media interaction I had at Cal, the Dreamhouse vaporized more. I tapped through hours worth of infographics in the post-George Floyd Instagram awakening. I watched somber speeches by late-night hosts on the latest school shooting. I read scholarly papers about the Native American land we occupy.

The final nail in the coffin of the Dreamhouse was pursuing journalism. I became surrounded by frustrated and fearless citizens who were abundantly concerned with which stories to tell, and how to tell them.

The volume of the American mime theater I had been watching all my life was turned up to full blast. I could now hear the discussion, dissent and disobedience. And the overwhelming sound hit me to reality.

The Dreamhouse still levitates over the ground, and a white light emanates from it. Instead of being blinded by it, however, I have started asking why that is.

We have the unique opportunities of Gen-Z-dominated decentralized media and our collective doobie-smoking flower power. We could spam Mattel’s phone lines, ask them where they even got their plastic material from and how come it holds up so sturdy. We should agitate on Barbie’s lawn until she can’t groom her poodle there anymore. We could make Ken pay the parking tickets on his sports car. We should smash the Dreamhouse to bits and distribute the tiny, shiny plastic pieces amongst everyone.

Oh, I’m having so much fun!

Well, Barbie, we’re just getting started.

Mahika Singhal writes the Friday column on being a person of color at UC Berkeley. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.