Naughty Barbies are legal, declares judge

Click to follow
The Independent US

Tom Forsythe has a thing about Barbie. A sick, twisted thing, if the makers of the world's best-selling doll are to be believed. The artist based in Utah has a portfolio of photographs with names such as Missionary Barbie, in which our all-American heroine lies naked on her back with an electric egg-beater pointing at her crotch, and Barbie Enchiladas, where she is wrapped in a tortilla, slathered in hot sauce.

Forsythe describes his work as satire, a critique "of the Barbie doll and the shallow, consumerist values fostered and perpetuated by it". Mattel, the manufacturer, thinks the photographs are "crudely sexual and violently misogynistic" and has spent two years suing Forsythe for more than $1m for infringement of copyright and a host of other legal sins.

But yesterday, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that the photographs were legitimate parody protected by the freedom of speech provisions of the US constitution. He also rejected Mattel's argument that the images hurt Barbie and Ken doll sales.

In the two years, Mattel has lost every time it has gone to court. On one occasion, the Los Angeles judge, Ronald Lew, upbraided the company for "not having a sense of humour". The company appealed against his finding. "Mattel is very disappointed that Judge Lew failed to take into consideration that consumers do not view Mr Forsythe's photo-graphs as art or as parody and that a substantial number are confused into thinking that Mattel sponsors his goods," a company statement said.

Forsythe has had rave reviews for his shows, critics finding them funny rather than offensive. (A series depicts Barbie fighting for her life in various food-mixers.) He also sells postcard versions.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has backed him, embarrassed Mattel in court by showing that the company did not invent Barbie. The doll was based on a German model called Lilli that the founder of Mattel, Ruth Handler, saw on holiday in Europe in 1957.