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Technically, he has no official age

Jennifer Hassan

THE WASHINGTON POST – Life in plastic isn’t always fantastic. Just ask 42-year-old Ryan Gosling, who, after landing the role of Ken in the new Barbie movie, has faced claims he is too “ancient” to play the doll.

The Internet is already obsessed with the first live-action Barbie movie, thanks to trailers released ahead of the Warner Bros. film’s debut next month. (The Washington Post has previously described the trailers as “fever-dream-like.”) But the promotional material has already prompted some critics to use the hashtag #NotMyKen to express their disappointment in Gosling’s casting, writing on social media that he is too old to play the part of the chiseled doll with perfect hair.

“I can’t be the only one that thinks Ryan gosling looks old to play Ken,” read one of many tweets questioning the star’s age. “Ryan Gosling looks old and washed out in this to me. I think it’d have made more sense with someone younger at this point,” read another, while a third said: “that’s so sad that man is ancient”.

Gosling responded to the criticism in an interview with GQ magazine, saying: “If people don’t want to play with my Ken, there are many other Kens to play with.” He also joked that for decades nobody has ever particularly cared about Ken, who is really known only as Barbie’s boyfriend and the guy who works at the beach. “It is funny… this kind of clutching-your-pearls idea of, like, #NotMyKen. Like you ever thought about Ken before this?”

Technically, Ken has no official age (he is a doll, after all) although he was first introduced as Barbie’s boyfriend on March 11, 1961, which means he has been around for 62 years. (Barbie was created in 1959, which would make her 64.)

But experts say the backlash Gosling faced also highlights that ageism, something that female actors frequently face, impacts men in the industry, too – and that stars playing iconic Barbie characters may have particularly tough expectations to live up to.

Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in ‘Barbie’. PHOTO: WARNER BROS PICTURES

“It’s interesting to see this conversation happening” over Ryan Gosling, associate professor of advertising and branding at London School of Film, Media and Design Dennis Olsen said in an interview. The issue of age has been an “ongoing conversation” centred around women for a long time, and “fresh faces are regularly required by some studios and producers in order to, what they assume, ensure desirability”, he said.

“Age impacts both men and women in different ways. Men have more opportunities but the roles they are allowed to play narrow down,” Olsen added, with older men in the film industry often cast as “mentors or experts” while older women no longer play “sexy” roles but “quirky” or “evil” type characters.

Audiences may have had particular expectations of what Ken would look like given their association of the doll with childhood, as Barbie and Ken are a couple who represent “eternal youth” and “embody childhood” to many, Olsen said, though he added that some of the backlash has also been centered around the fact that there is a 10-year age gap between the two actors playing Barbie and Ken.

The fact that Barbie and Ken show up in 2023 played by Gosling, 42, and Margot Robbie, 32, could be a bit of a wake up call for some viewers who may also be feeling a little old themselves. Experts say that the film isn’t actually geared at children, but nostalgic adults who will go and see the film in a nod to their childhood.

Producers are probably seeking to capitalize on millennials who remember once playing with one of America’s most iconic couples. And so far, nostalgia seems to sell – the trailers released to promote the film have been watched by millions, with the second trailer alone racking up 20 million views.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the Barbie movie has sparked a debate about ageism and on-screen representation, given the brand itself has long been scrutinised over whether it promotes unrealistic beauty standards. The Barbie doll was long criticised for its unrealistic proportions, and for initially not representing different ethnicities – although Mattel has since introduced more diverse dolls, and sought to brand Barbie as a symbol of female achievement and empowerment.

The film appears to poke its own fun at the Barbie brand – the trailer says the film is for Barbie fans but also haters, and, at one point in the trailer, Barbie expresses horror at her heels touching the ground – a nod to how classic Barbie dolls’ feet aren’t shaped like normal feet.

The Gosling age debate is one that Olsen hopes will shine a light on ageism, which he described as “a real problem” everyone will face at some point.

“The incident draws attention to a bigger problem that is still very much prevailing in the film industry, which is how actors are being treated because of age,” he said.

“We are so systematically discriminating against people getting older though we all will experience that at some point and hope that it doesn’t happen to us.”

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