Last month, after a week of bidding I acquired one Earring Magic Ken doll. Mattel’s best selling Ken doll.
I know what you might be thinking. Thomas you are an adult, why on earth are you buying a Ken doll? And moreover why is that relevant to your blog?
Disregarding the fact, that I still have several Barbies from when I was a young lass. Earring Magic Ken is special, because he was inadvertently designed off of queer rave fashion of the early 1990s. Specifically, he’s wearing a cock ring as a necklace, which was a known queer fashion statement at the time.
After reaching out to their audience of young children Mattel learned they would like a new Ken doll to be cooler and more hip. So they went out looking for what was cool and as it happened the queer fashion worming its way into the mainstream was what they picked up as cool. Columnist Dan Savage wrote an article in 1993, the year the doll came out, detailing a really excellent explanation of what was going on. I would highly recommend it as reading for anyone interested in learning more.
“Cock rings exploded (ouch!)—as vest zipper pulls, as key rings, as bracelets; rubber ones, leather ones, chain ones. But the thick chrome variety, the Classic Coke of cock rings, was and is most often worn as a pendant,” (Savage).
In 2017, Savage said in an article by Bryan Young, that he thought the “Earring Magic Ken incident [was] more of an amusing cultural blip than some kind of important moment, noting that neither the doll nor the hubbub is well-known today,” and that he didn’t think that a gay man under 40 would know about it. Well, it’s 2019 and I’m 25, so here we are.
Now I’m a queer historian so I am well aware that I’m an outlier here, because I seek out this kind of stuff. However, I discovered Earring Magic Ken through a decently popular post on Tumblr. A post which currently has over 270,000 notes. That’s no small amount of people and I’m sure many of them, like myself, are on the younger side of things. With projects like Making Queer History and books like “Queer, There and Everywhere” emerging, younger members of the LGBTQ community are getting more and more access to their history. As a result, fascinating tidbits like Earring Magic Ken are resurfacing.
The Tumblr post does admittedly have some misinformation attached to it. There’s a reblog that says that there was no corresponding Barbie for Earring Magic Ken. There were two actually, a blonde and a brunette Barbie as well as a Midge doll, they just didn’t sell particularly well opposite Ken, who flew off the shelves.
Below, I have linked two different iterations of the Tumblr post, as well as a link to the Dan Savage article, the Bryan Young article and a few others.
Tumblr Post (the one with the bit of misinformation): https://transmanreno.tumblr.com/post/170000579996/gay-son-of-a-pastor-shoptiludropdead
Dan Savage article: https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/ken-comes-out/Content?oid=882402
Bryan Young article: https://money.howstuffworks.com/barbie-earring-magic-ken-gay-icon-1993.htm
The Man Behind the Doll article: http://manbehindthedoll.com/mbtd_earring.htm