Monday, January 20, 2014

Liposuctioning an obese fake Barbie? There’s actually an app for that?

I am enough of an old tech fogey that I remember when software applications were rather novel.

Before we had applications, when you wanted your computer to do something for you – like add up some numbers or spit out a report – you had to create a program to do it. Once you had gone to the trouble of coding that program, you, of course, wanted to be able to reuse it for slightly different purposes. So you un-hard-coded parts of the program, and put in placeholders for variables that you could change each time you ran the program.

And, of course, since programming was so darned inaccessible to the everyday, run of the mill employee, when you wanted something done – like a calculation or a report – you put in your request to MIS and waited a couple of months for them to take care of it for you.

Anyway, next thing you – and MIS -  know, there were off the shelf applications that did all the stuff – like add up numbers and spit out reports – that your home-grown programs used to do.

I still remember the thrill of using MultiPlan (early spreadsheet) and WordStar (early word processing).

The thing with applications, back in the day, was that they actually did something useful. (More or less.)

Spreadsheets were more efficient than calculators; word processors were more efficient than typewriters.

Then the games began, but that wasn’t anything I was interested in. (Other than Tetris, which I was rather good at. And WordZap. And FreeCell. And Taipei. Other than that…)

But they were still applications. And while they may not have done anything that was actually useful, they were fun. And most of them were at least mildly challenging in terms of eye-hand coordination, logic, strategy, vocabulary.

Then all of a sudden – thanks, Apple! – it was raining apps.

Needless to say, most aren’t especially useful, and most aren’t especially challenging, lacking even the pretense that there’s anything constructive going on.

In fact, most apps now seem to fall into the category of pure, unadulterated time-waster.

They waste time in ways that, in the good old days, someone might have spent doing a paper-based crossword puzzle, or reading the obituaries, or staring out into space and thinking great or not so great thoughts.

So now, instead of taking out your Giant Book O’ Puzzles, or the local rag, or positioning yourself next to a window – the better to stare off into space – you pull out your iPhone and get to work wasting time electronically.

Into this broad category of time wasters, I’d have to toss Plastic Surgery for Barbie, which, rather than being constructive, is rather reconstructive.


The free game, which was labeled as suitable for children aged nine and over, involved making incisions with a scalpel and performing liposuction.

The description on Google described the overweight girl in the game as "ugly".

After performing a variety of procedures on the girl, she is revealed as a much thinner version of her former self and and users can compare her body before and after the surgery. (Source: BBC)

Now, even by time-wasting standards, which are notoriously low, this one’s a pip. Snarky, nasty, mean-spirited, and seeming without redeeming cultural, intellectual, moral, athletic, or any other value. And well worth the price, which I believe was free.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you choose to look at it, “Plastic Surgery for Barbie is no longer available on the App Store and Google Play has taken down its version, known only as Plastic Surgery.”

This after a Twitter-outcry that the app was snarky, nasty, mean-spirited, sexist and just plain bad, especially given that it was targeted at children as young as 9.

In a statement, former British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps) president Nigel Mercer described the Plastic Surgery for Barbie app as "sexist and disturbing".

He said: "This app blatantly and shamelessly uses child-friendly brand names [such as Barbie] to target young, vulnerable children and exposes them to sexist and disturbing rhetoric as the 'game' critiques the body of a cartoon character who does not conform to an unrealistic beauty standard.

"Even more shockingly, the app then encourages children to utilise surgery - going so far as to include images of syringes, scalpels and liposuction cannulas - to 'fix' the patient, who is described as an 'unfortunate girl'.

Well, it’s hard to argue that Nigel Mercer of BAAPS doesn’t have a point.

And yet it’s also hard not to argue that, however rotten and questionable the taste of this “game,” it’s really up to parents to police the games their kids are playing. Or to use this singularly hideous and nasty app to get into a discussion about body image, superficiality, nonsense “standards,” and the downside of botched plastic surgery. Or even non-botched plastic surgery played out over time.

Given me a wrinkly old lady over a plastic-fantastic-o any old day.

Is there anyone out there – other than Joan Rivers herself – who thinks that Joan Rivers actually looks good, and not rather pathetic?

Anyway, while I don’t think the world needs Plastic Surgery for Barbie, if the developer wants to waste her time creating a free time-wasting application, let her. And if people want to download this and waste time performing liposuction on a cartoon, well, have at it.

Yes, it is unfortunate and shameful that anyone would encourage nine year olds to think along liposuction lines – as debased goes, this is right down there – but surely there’s no reason to ban this application.

Let the market – and the parents – take care of this one on their own.

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