Found this today at the neighborhood 99-cent store, in the Bronx just across the Harlem River from Upper Manhattan. Have no idea what it means. It was mixed with a pile of other pink backpacks decorated with the identical Barbie face, but without the headscarf. The secular Barbies had the same plucked eyebrows, lipsticky lips and hyperMaybelline eyes. But no verbiage surrounded them — not a word. Meanwhile, Muslim Barbie, as you see here, is trapped in a sea of “Are you happy?”
Are you happy? What kind of thing is that to say to whomever little girls these backpacks are meant for?
Are you happy about wearing the head scarf? About being Muslim? Being Muslim in New York? In America?
And what if you’re not happy? Then what?
Hmm, maybe I’m just having one of those weekends. But what really got me was, this backpack was Made in China. To me, there’s something about 99-cent Asian shlock that seems mystically insightful when it comes to 21st-century American culture.
Consider this World Trade Center tchotchke, picked up back in 2000, in a similar 99-cent-style store. Look at those plastic coins on the bottom. Shake them and they blizzard around the buildings — including holy St. Paul’s Chapel — as natural and ethereal as weather. The idea of people in Shanghai using the WTC and filthy lucre to make a snow-globe statement about America seemed hip and ironic. I took the thing home and put it on the shelf with my Santa Muerte, Mexican “diablo” statuettes, and an old, family mezuzah.
Then, not a year later, some guys in planes made the same statement. It was like the Chinese were seers. Or something.
This makes my timbers a little shivery about the Muslim Barbie backpack, though I could just be nuts.
But if you have any ideas about its meaning, do tell. In fact, I’d be glad to pass my purchase on to you (postage paid!) in exchange for some inspired words. I’m keeping the snow globe, though.