How ‘Barbie’s’ Depiction of What It Means to Be Human Shows Hollywood’s Fear of AI
In the beginning, God made man and woman in His image, and it was good. Then Barbie stepped in and showed us what God did wrong.
The 2023 “Barbie” movie kicks generations of family ideals to the curb. The film opens to little girls playing with baby dolls in a dark sky barren wasteland. The narrator proclaims that, while there is nothing especially wrong with little girls who like to play mom with their dolls, being a mother can be quite boring. And after all, little girls should want more than to grow up and be a mother.
That’s how Barbie enters the scene — a doll with all the potential a baby does not have — to show little girls to dream they can be more than just what straight, white, male toy manufacturers have told them they can be. Barbie is a doctor and a pilot and a captain and all the things a mother doesn’t have the time to be. The purpose of human biology is not to have children, but to prove that women can do all the same things as men, right? So little girls, wanting more for their lives, literally turn the tables.
With dark skies and thunder in the background, little girls holding their dolls begin to kick over kids’ ironing boards, destroy playsets of tea pots and plates, and smash their babies into the ground until they are shattered into pieces. The traditional family is now destroyed. And what is to take its place?
In the movie, Barbie wrestles with some interesting ideas about the traditional family that Hollywood has attempted to dismantle, all of which pertain to the daily human experience. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a man? Should women seek to be more than mothers or not? Why do I have random thoughts about sudden and unexpected death? What was I made for? And so on. Barbie does not know what she was made for, and now she’s searching far and wide to discover what it means to be a human. But the question she poses opens a can of questions Hollywood seems unable to answer.
Hollywood cannot define a woman, it cannot define a man, it cannot define human, and yet it is terrified of the implications of something inhuman taking the place of the family norm it sought to destroy. The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) has long been a topic explored in media — inhuman things longing to be human. From the old tale of “Pinocchio” who just wanted to be a real boy to the “Star Wars” robot C-3PO having a conscience and friendships reminiscent of human relationships, it isn’t a new concept.
Even other recent movies like “Mission Impossible 7” explore this idea, as the main villain is sentient AI. But “Barbie” shows an inhuman creation that is sentient, and forces us to ask questions about what it means to be human. The closer we get to the reality of artificial sentience, the more terrifying that becomes. What will happen if sentient artificial intelligence begins to ask itself what it means to be human? What are the implications of this?
The fear of that question has already shown itself in the screen writers’ union strike about the current lack of job security. Does AI have the potential to eliminate the need for many of the jobs in the industry? Perhaps. Hollywood is not wrong to worry about the future impact of AI, but they only have themselves to blame for the problem. They helped initiate the breakdown of the definition of human. They helped to change the moral ideals and religious undertones of the media that have helped depreciate the value of “human.” They’re finally asking the question of what it means to be human. But it scares them to think that it may be possible for AI to replicate humans in a way that erases the necessity of people in the industry altogether.
“Barbie,” in a bizarre way, shows the fear Hollywood has of AI through the questions it poses about what it means to be human. Does part of defining what it means to be human mean we must define what it means to be a woman? To be a man? To be part of a family? The answer is, of course, yes. It is not possible to separate being human from human biology. But perhaps fear is a good thing here. It will force those in Hollywood to acknowledge the damage of deconstructing everything traditionally human.
In the beginning, God made Adam and Eve in His image and for His purpose. Unlike Barbie, we are not comprised solely of material components. As Barbie laments that she does not know what she was made for, Christians can see the truth: we have an eternal destiny, and no other creation is like us.
As such, no creation devised by human hands — plastic or technical — can ever truly be human. So, while Hollywood may fear for their jobs, and the films they are producing reflect that, Christians have no such thing to fear. For what is of this earth is temporary and fleeting, and we know the things that carry eternal weight.
Maggie Copeland is an intern at Family Research Council.