Barbie has made a comeback during COVID. In 2020, sales reached USD 1.35 billion. That's more or less equivalent to 100,000 horror movie tickets, or 50,000 copies of a haunted house thriller. Just shows doesn't it? When it comes to the creep out factor, Barbie dolls rule!
Alright, maybe Barbie doll sales hit the roof because home-schooling parents needed to distract their stuck-at-home kids with a classic toy that could be dressed and undressed to reflect everything the kids aspired to be. Maybe, they were important props to stimulate imaginative role- play and to elicit enlightened questions on gender and race. Maybe... But it's a difficult scenario to imagine for someone like myself, with my Barbie doll traumatized childhood.
I blame it on my parents, who were tempted by the very reasonable prices of the new detached houses on hilly land straight up the road from the Botanic Gardens. Who, being unsuperstitious Western educated Catholics, pooh-poohed the notion that it would be a very bad idea to take over land previously occupied by a Hakka cemetery. Who being adults with rational senses, never noticed the unhappy spirits hovering over the house that now occupied their previous resting place.
My sister's and my Barbie dolls were the most obvious manifestations of the spirits. We had an enviable collection of them -- grown-up and teenage Barbies, Midges and Kens, each with at least two changes of clothes and many accessories. Prior to moving into the new house, we'd enjoyed dressing the dolls up, making up stories about them and staging long rambling plays with them. When we moved into the new house though, this was no longer true.
We were careful girls who would put our dolls and their clothes away carefully, in the assigned cupboard, when we were done. Slowly however, we began to notice missing accessories, then missing dolls. Perhaps, our mother said, the new cleaner who came in daily had been tempted, and seeing how many toys we had, taken one or two home for her children. We were told to be charitable. To turn a blind eye. Which we did, until one day, one of the missing Barbies fell on our mother's head as she opened her wardrobe door. It was stark naked! So much for thinking bad thoughs about the cleaner, the doll seemed to say.
Afterward, every week or so, we would discover Barbie's around the house. Sometimes, it would be a single doll, skulking in a cupboard. Usually though, they'd be sprawled on the garage roof attached to the front balcony. They'd always be naked. And the ones on the garage roof would have their arms and legs bent at unnatural angles, as if they'd been flung there from the balcony. It was all very disconcerting, because whether it was ghosts or someone very sick, whoever or whatever was reponsible for the mayhem was there in...the...house.
Our mother got the house blessed, for a second time. She sent the very few Barbie dolls we had left to the Salvation Army. After my father had a nightmare about half the land in front of our house being acquired for road-widening, we moved. The new place sat adjacent to a huge piece of land with an abandoned house. But there were no ghosts, only a fifteen foot long python which our driver ran over and killed.
I felt quite safe, except at night, when sometimes I'd dream of Barbie dolls traipsing through the garden.
I feel quite safe, except sometimes when I read the financial news in the middle of a pandemic, and see Barbies making a come-back.
Oh, the poor children...