Mattel's Ken doll turns 50 this week.
For many little girls who grew up with "Ken Carson of Willow, Wisconsin," he always seemed an enigma. He's usually described as Barbie's other half, but for reasons which are obvious even to 9 year olds, he seems too asexual to be up to the task. Their relationship has always seemed like something else, more like Angelina Jolie's deal with her brother than a bona fide boyfriend/girlfriend thing.
Still you can't help but admire Ken. Dude has been through the wringer. He and Barbie (who is two years his senior) met while shooting a commercial in 1961. For him at least, it was love at first sight, but for obvious reasons -- even to 9 year olds -- they never consummated their relationship.
Their love affair lasted nearly 45 years until, like aging-super-model-desperately-clinging-to-her-youth that she is, Barbie tossed him aside for the much younger Aussie hottie named Blaine.
This seems like a particularly cruel blow considering how long he put up with her carousing through various midlife crises such as her Harley-Davidson Barbie, Florida Vacation Barbie, Sunsational Barbie and Disco Barbie phases. Based on the creased forehead and suitcases beneath his eyes, it's obvious he tried to keep up.
The lines on his face also tell the story of Ken's own spate of identity crises. He's been Hispanic and he's been African-American. He's been a pale male and a hardcore tanner. He's gained and lost weight many, many times, alternating between the body of an athlete and the body of a mathalete. He's worn a fedora, short shorts and a one piece jump suit, yet he didn't wear underwear until he was almost 10.
He's a two time Olympian who has drifted from job to job as an airline pilot, business man and actor to name just a few of dozen careers. He's vainly referred to himself as Exercise Ken and Dream Date Ken and in one particularly confusing episode, he became Earring Magic Ken.
His latest gig is as the star of his own Internet reality show. Perhaps this is a desperate bid to stay relevant to the cool kids, something he seems to have struggled with his entire life. Until red-headed Allen hit the scene in 1964, he had no friends other than Barbie. Then, in an Oprah-like moment he was reunited with Tommy, a brother he didn't even know existed until 1997. Along the way, he's had a series of wingmen name Steve, Todd, Derek, Curtis and Steven. Yet it appears he's never able to sustain a close relationship for very long.
His hairline, now receding, tells its own tale. What started out as a short cropped crew cut that alternated between Bieber blonde and Jonas brown, subtly transitioned into a plastic-fantastic painted on do because his original hair prematurely fell out when wet. As for facial and body hair, it's always been applied with either paint or magic marker. The 1996, Cool Shavin' Ken discovered his beard would change colors or disappear when shaving cream and water was applied.
So Happy Birthday Ken! You've lived the life and fought the good fight. Yes, it took its toll and yes, it shows a little on your face. But 2011 is shaping up to be your year. You've reached the half century mark and you're still kickin it old school. On Valentine's Day, Barbie took you back. Plus, the new Sweet Talkin' Ken doll allows its owner to record their voice, and then repeats back the words in a deeper register. Could it be you've finally grown a pair after all?