These are weird times for men named Ken.
Ever since cast photos emerged from Greta Gerwig’s upcoming movie “Barbie,” Ken ― Barbie’s long-time boy toy ― has been the butt of a lot of internet jokes.
Earlier this month, a handful of official posters from the film dropped featuring Margot Robbie, who plays Barbie, and Ryan Gosling, who plays Ken, among other cast members. (Barbie fanatics were quick to point out that Gosling’s character seems to be based on “Earring Magic Ken,” a 1993 version of the doll that became an accidental gay icon.)
Robbie’s poster bears a tagline that simply reads, “Barbie is everything.”
The tagline for Gosling’s poster matter-of-factly states: “He’s just Ken.”
The other Barbies and Kens in the movie got posters, too. (Click through the slides above to see them.)
While the posters say the other Barbies hold down jobs like doctor, diplomat and Supreme Court justice, all the other Kens in the movie are just, well… Kens.
The internet responded by turning the ad campaign into a meme, using the setup, “she’s everything, he’s just Ken” as a caption for photos of other mismatched pairs from real life and pop culture: Princess Diana and (now) King Charles, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber, Katniss and Gale in “Hunger Games,” Meredith and Derek in “Grey’s Anatomy.”
The self-seriousness of Gosling’s approach to playing the Mattel doll is just as funny as the movie posters.
While speaking at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Gosling said that he initially doubted he had the right “Ken-ergy” for the “Barbie” movie.
“I only knew Ken from afar. I didn’t know Ken from within, and if I’m being really honest, I doubted my Ken-ergy,” Gosling told the audience at a Warner Bros. Pictures presentation.
“I didn’t see it, but Margot and Greta, they conjured this out of me somehow,” Gosling said. “It was like I was living my life and then one day I was bleaching my hair, shaving my legs and wearing bespoke neon outfits and rollerblading down Venice Beach.”
“It came on like a light scarlet fever,” the star joked. “Then I woke up one day and was like, ‘Why is there fake tanner in my sheets? What just happened?’”
Given all the commotion about Barbie’s boo, we thought we’d check in on men named Ken. How does it feel to be the butt of the joke? What was it like growing up with the same name as a man with hairless, perfect plastic pecs and seemingly no career or ambition of his own besides “professional plus-one”?
Ken Dobell, a 53-year-old digital marketing consultant from Quebec, Canada, loves the current crop of Barbie memes.
“I find they’re mostly themed around calling out and parodying the outdated social mores that characterized the Barbie dolls of the ’70s, ‘80s, and ’90s, which I’m sure is the era that the producers of the new Barbie movie grew up in,” he told HuffPost.
Dobell genuinely likes being called Ken, and especially liked it growing up.
“As a teen, I sometimes had girls flirtatiously offer to be Barbie to my Ken, and how do you not love that?” he said. “I would respond with one-liners about being an anatomically correct, fully operable action figure, batteries included.”
Now that he’s older, he wouldn’t mind if someone likened him to the doll or the very toned, very tan Gosling.
“Now that I’m middle-aged, any suggestion about being good for physical as well as psychological company is more than welcome,” Dobell joked.
Most Kens we spoke to said “Kenneth,” their birth name, just felt too stuffy growing up.
“I don’t smoke a pipe or have enough higher education degrees to be referred to as Kenneth officially,” said Ken Reid, a 42-year-old comedian from Massachusetts who hosts the TV Guidance Counselor podcast.
He’s very glad Gosling is bringing true Ken representation to the masses.
“For years, the doll meant we were accused of being genital-free monsters, but I cannot think of a better, more redemptive representation of Ken-dom than Ryan Gosling,” Reid said.
“For years, famous Kens were ashamed to use the doll version of their name, Kenneth Branagh, Kenny Rogers, but I think now we may be able to reclaim our glory and publicly announce our Ken-hood,” he added.
Kenneth Fisher, a 53-year-old programmer, has gone by “Ken” and “Kenneth” in equal measure in his lifetime, and a fair amount of “Kenny” as a child. (Yep, he had to endure a lot of “they killed Kenny!” jokes for a while in the late ’90s, too.)
Interestingly, he went out with a woman named Barbara once. (Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts.)
“We both agreed it was way too weird and never did it again,” he said.
This Ken is full of Ken factoids.
“Over the years, I think I was probably more aware of Barbies in general than someone my age and gender would normally have been, but mostly because I thought it was hilarious and always made a point of making jokes about it myself,” Fisher said.
“FYI: Did you know that Ken and Barbie were named after the kids of the woman who invented them? So yes, Ken and Barbie are siblings,” he said.
Fisher just celebrated his 25th anniversary with his wife, and yes, he is absolutely “just the Ken” in the relationship.
“My wife and I have always said that she’s management and I’m labor,” he said. “She makes the decisions and then plans ― also mutually decided on ― and I help implement them. It’s just what’s always worked for us.”
Ken the doll has always been comfortable playing second fiddle to his woman; Barbie was officially introduced to the world on March 9, 1959, and Ken came three years later, basically evolving from Barbie’s rib.
According to Mattel lore, Ken entered the scene “wearing red swim trunks and the barest hint of a smile ... He became Barbie’s supportive boyfriend, ready to accompany her anywhere from the beach to black-tie balls.” (We stan a supportive S.O.)
Ken W. is a 31-year-old living in Georgia. He’s of mixed mind on all this Ken-attention.
“My knee-jerk reaction was, weirdly, to get territorial over my first name,” he said. “It sucks that my first name is getting used as shorthand for ‘boyfriend who sucks,’ but if the meme teaches other dudes to suck less, then that’s a fall I’m willing to take for the team.”
This Ken brought up a good point; it may be a weird time to be a Ken, but it’s an excellent time to have an ex named Ken.
Just ask Shanti Clayton, a 29-year-old Californian who had a long-term relationship with a Ken.
“It’s been hilarious seeing the ‘he’s just Ken’ movie posters because it’s so true! Our focus was on Barbie and her friends— the man was optional,” she said. “With my ex, I was super ambitious and goal-driven whereas… he was just there.”
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.