What We’re Reading: Debating Barbie and Oppenheimer’s cultural imprint

Medium Staff
Published in
4 min readJul 28, 2023


Hi everybody,

It’s now been a full week since the release of “Barbenheimer,” a pop culture reference to the worldwide opening of two very American films: Barbie and Oppenheimer. The former is a take on the children’s doll that means so much (or so little, depending on your perspective) to the American feminism and global womanism movement. The latter is about the guy responsible for the atom bomb.

Both films resurrect cultural, political, and historical moments that changed the world. And with a global box office of $400+ million for Barbie and $200+ million for Oppenheimer, it’s clear that tons of people in countries as varied as the U.K., China, India, Brazil and Germany are tuning in and contributing millions to the bottom line of both films.

Many of you are also chiming in now that you’ve had time to view and digest the films or their coverage. Here are some pieces that stood out.

Barbie is “wonderfully strange,” and also “political satire, a product placement film that simultaneously praises and criticizes its product, a mother-daughter relationship, an investigation of gender and its presentation, and a road trip film about the quest for identity and purpose,” writes Sahifa Syifa. “It’s an existential dystopia disguised as a child’s fantasy.”

Vivid Maps looks at the Barbenheimer trend across the U.S. And Rachel A Fefer details her mom’s experience attending grad student lectures given by Oppenheimer himself not far from the University of Chicago, where the Manhattan Project’s Met Lab built a nuclear reactor under the UChicago football field.

“You can hate the bomb, as I think we all should, but you can’t hate the science,” writes Fefer. “Mom is horrified by what we did with it, but as she and I were talking about what came from that horror, the list is endless.”

History. Culture. Life-changing creations. I can’t wait to read what you write about next.

See you on Medium.

Adrienne Gibbs
Director of Creator Growth @ Medium

Your Weekend Reads

An Epilogue to My Time Working at Twitter” by Esther Crawford, technologist and former director of Product Management at Twitter

I made peace with the fact that I didn’t have psychological safety at Twitter 2.0 and that meant I could be fired at any moment, and for no reason at all. I watched it happen repeatedly and saw how negatively it impacted team morale. Although I couldn’t change the situation I did my best to shine a light on folks who were doing important work while being an emotionally supportive leader for those who were struggling to adapt to the more brutalist and hardcore culture.

5 Common Words With Literal Goblins Hiding Inside” by Jack Shepherd, crossword puzzle expert and a former Editorial Director of Buzzfeed, in Cellar Door

Halloween is still more than 100 days away, so it’s troublingly early to be turning up the spookiness dial (yes, we have a spookiness dial), but there’s no law I’m aware of that says you can’t talk about goblinwords™ in the summer if you feel the urge, and so here we are.

Image: The Drolatic Dreams of Pantagruel

Barbie, Beauty and Buying” by Liza Donnelly, writer and cartoonist

I may come across as angry here, but I don’t mean to insult anyone. I know its just a movie, entertainment. But these kind of mass market products — Barbie, and now I might argue, the movie — are what have caused so many problems for women over the years. There are some good “messages” in the movie amidst the fun, I love that. If they help some understand, then all the criticism I put forth here may not be important. I haven’t read any reviews yet, so as not to color my thoughts.

Drawing by Liza Donnelly

What Explains the ADHD Explosion?” by Markham Heid, health and science writer, in The Nuance

This begs the question: Is it right to label something a disorder and to treat it with medication if, in the right circumstances, any “impairment” would cease to exist?

Why is Promoting Vigilantism Presented as a Love of Law & Order?” by Guy Nave, Professor at Luther College and writer, in AfroSapiophile

Aldean’s video was rightfully removed from Country Music Television. Aldean’s song is nothing more than a call for vigilantism and it needs to be vehemently rejected rather than celebrated.

An Unprecedented Hearing on Extraterrestrials in the US House of Representatives” by Avi Loeb, Baird Professor of Science and founding director of the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard University

The “Morning in America” anchor of NewsNation, Markie Martin, asked me yesterday: “Avi, you are a Harvard astrophysicist and most of us do not have that education. How do you advise that we interpret the hearing at the US House of Representatives on Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP)?” My reply was simple: “Just pay attention to the factual information presented by the witnesses. Think of yourself as a juror in a courtroom and decide whether to believe the witnesses.”

“Morning in America” interview with anchor, Markie Martin (left) and Avi Loeb (July 25, 2023).

What have you been reading this week? Drop a line in the responses.

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What We’re Reading” is a weekly roundup of insightful stories and perspectives from across Medium. Browse previous editions here.