Mike Redwood

Columnist

International Leather Maker


In the summer months, when everyone, including politicians, is on holiday, the press has what is called the “silly season”. Trivial stories make the headlines to counterbalance the generally depressing regular news. Perhaps something similar happens in the Southern Hemisphere, but even a somewhat false moment of levity is welcome these days.

Such situations are relevant for marketeers since consumers provide a glimpse into the underlying contexts for the buying of leather and leather containing products.

For 2023, the focus has been around a movie called Barbie, based on Mattel’s legendary toy doll. The messages are many, not least how toys and other unexpected, branded items can be made into entertaining and profitable films.

Around the post-pandemic world, and with the cost of living rising, streaming at home is slowing, with too many expensive subscriptions required, and experiences are back. Even our little rural cinema is now offering free coffee and biscuits to take into most viewings; and ice cream tubs are selling fast too. Cinema offers a small indulgence that brings consumers into the real world and able to join the conversation with friends in person.

For older people, Barbie is a confusing film, but a bit of fun. Yet a PG-13 rating for “suggestive references” and “brief language” tells us quite a lot about modern society when it really offers parents the perfect chance to have quality conversations with their child.

“Moral” angles extend around the world, devoid of the homogeneity that was expected to result from globalisation in the 1990s. In most countries, Barbie showings have come with parties and dressing but, in others, we have bans and complaints about dismantling the patriarchy, promoting LGBT+ activity or even as a Trojan Horse for corrupt agendas.

Russia has obtained bootlegged copies and spent big sums on dubbing for showing. Although a lot of Russian politicians want Barbie banned, a large section of the population is keen to see it. They are short of fun these days.

Despite its anti-American, anti-Hollywood position and even the government’s saddening move back to patriarchy, Barbie has been big in China. It’s a long shot but, with luck, Barbie might help China realise that its development, economy and government can all benefit from an increasing role being played by the well-educated young women we have been meeting since the start of the century. I have taught them at the University of Bath, and some will be at the ACLE in a few days’ time.

Barbenheimer

Whatever your stance, Barbie has demonstrated its relevance by quickly becoming a US$1 billion movie, and it was not alone. Oppenheimer was launched simultaneously and soon the two were turned into the “Barbenheimer” double feature craze.

Oppenheimer is a complex three-hour film that leaves audiences in silent contemplation. It stays very close to the truth, right down to when President Truman called J Robert Oppenheimer a crybaby when they met and when Oppenheimer suggested restraint in future development of nuclear weapons.

As with Barbie, modern politics could not be held at bay, with complaints in India from some members of the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP that showing Oppenheimer reading a translation from Sanskrit – “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” – as he had done after the first detonation of the bomb, was a “direct assault on religious beliefs of a billion tolerant Hindus”.

In Germany, there was a worry that the big congregations of people spending hours together would kickstart another round of Covid, while in Japan concern was more about putting such a serious work alongside the lighthearted Barbie.

I visited Nagasaki some years ago on holiday and went to the Atomic Bomb Museum. It is a solemn reminder of events on August 9, 1945, when the bomb was detonated and 10% of the city’s population died within the first second. As a consequence, the movie was compelling, the more so because of the determination to stick, as far as possible in three hours, to the truth.

Both movies have given what may be a dead cat bounce to social media, most especially because, in the Barbie movie, Ken proposes that Barbie become his “long-term, long-distance, low-commitment, casual girlfriend”. This created an emotional response with many cinema goers and was linked to the U.S. TV teen drama Euphoria by White House employee Megan Coyne, whose tweet about how she found the line relatable went viral.

There is a message here about gender roles and equality that should not be ignored. Equally, given the loose comments from the President of Russia about his willingness to use nuclear weapons, we cannot look at Oppenheimer as mere history. It is living with us today and we should not forget the demonstration of the power of government-funded research either.

Who knows whether this curious mix of pink and black will save the cinema, but the two films have helped make a few weeks more entertaining, highlighted the increasing role of experiences over goods and given us a window in the world that is worthy of attention. Through this window we will soon learn how the future looks for a worried leather industry as we arrive at ACLE, Shanghai and events beyond.


mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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