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Patricia Day of Horrorpops files suit against Mattel Inc. over "Rockabilly Barbie"

Day filed a "trademark infringement" suit on December 23, 2010 against Hard Rock Café and Mattel Inc. for selling a Barbie doll made in her image without permission. Day is represented by One LLP: click here to be directed to their website and blog.

Mattel and Hard Rock have recently teamed up to release a series of Barbie dolls in the likenesses of pioneering female rock and roll stars. The first three – the "Debbie Harry Doll", the “Joan Jett Doll”, and the “Cyndi Lauper Doll” – are specifically named after the musician whose likeness they appropriate, “with authorization and compensation to the female musician upon whom they are based” (Tehranian, “Day v. Wonderama”, 8). But the so-called “Hard Rock Café Barbie Doll”, or “Rockabilly Barbie” (retail $80), bears a striking resemblance to Day, and yet Mattel didn’t “obtain any licenses for the use of her right of publicity for commercial purposes.”

The lawsuit describes the similarities between Day’s image and the Barbie, noting her 1950s black hairstyle, dark black eye liner and bright red lipstick, her 50s style pencil skirts over fishnets, her sleeve tattoos, and her tattooed upright bass. What's more, the bass that accompanies "Hard Rock Barbie" closely resembles Day's own bass with a blue sparrow on the side near the top, a heart on the bottom right, a five-point star on the bottom left, and a red design around the center.

The "Hard Rock Barbie" was described in Barbie's Collector’s Magazine this way: "Long black hair, retro tattoos, red fingernails, fishnets and a decorated bass fiddle give this doll true rockabilly style (Ibid., 8).

The Barbie Collector website almost seems to mock and disempower the independence and anti-mainstream attitude that Day projects and represents: "Edgy glam meets sleek style in one decadent doll. This Barbie rocks the rockabilly look in a pink bustier with gold and black trim, black pencil skirt, fishnets, and sky high Mary Janes. Cute tattoos decorate the doll’s arms, and adorable accessories include more than just the usual bling. A rockin’ bass guitar to jam with the band accompanies this rock star!" (Ibid., 8-9)

Yikes. Edgy glam? Cute tattoos? Adorable accessories? Jam with the band? This description would probably make any psychobilly woman cringe. Although the doll looks like Day, it doesn’t say anything about her independent, fierce personality, or her legitimate upright bass skills. And when did tattoos become a "cute" thing? Ugh. Mattel’s description seems more appropriate for the 1980s teenybopper pop cartoon character Jem than tough-as-nails Patricia Day.

Her disgust at being used to promote Barbie-type attributes and values is in part what prompted Day to initiate the lawsuit: "It is not surprising that defendants never approached Patricia Day about the "Hard Rock Barbie", since Day is a feminist musical pioneer — an intelligent, outspoken, anti-establishment female artist in an industry still dominated by the erotic ‘male gaze.’ As an artist, Day has always expressed her desire to redefine women’s roles in the rock ‘n’ roll scene — a vision that runs contrary and antithetical to everything for which Mattel’s Barbie doll line stands:"

“When I started, there were no females, and the other sex didn’t want to play with me. We’re still at the point where every female vocalist has to be compared to Madonna or Gwen Stefani, simply because they are the only females on the rock charts. So I still feel like there’s a lot to prove, and I’m hoping on getting that changed around. Having it so someday gender isn’t important in rock & roll is something that’s very important to me.”

"Since the release of the "Hard Rock Barbie", Day has been repeatedly approached by fans who have been perplexed by the striking resemblance of the Hard Rock Barbie to Day’s likeness and persona and who have expressed disappointment in their (mistaken) belief that Day would permit such a use of her likeness and persona for a purpose that is so at odds with her values and the values of her fans" (Tehranian, 10-11).

Mattel’s Barbie tries to contain the “psycho bitch outta hell” that Day really is, and in the process of doing so popularizes a false interpretation of the overt feminine power and strength that the Horrorpops singer projects. Remember this is the woman that sings these lyrics:

       So I carry my fists, I carry my fists high
       ‘Cause most of the time I know I’ll have to fight
       For what I believe in, what I believe is right
       Even stupid things like keeping my hair dyed
                        - "MissFit", Horrorpops

Indeed, Day is making sure to fight for what she believes is right by filing this suit. It'll be interesting to see what happens. Good luck Patricia!

Check out the Horrorpops' profile on Hellcat Records or skip on over to their MySpace page.

References:

Tehranian, John (Attorney for Plaintiff Patricia Day). “Complaint: Day v. Wonderama.” Newport Beach, CA: One LLP. December 23, 2010. http://www.iniplaw.org/2010/12/horror-pops-lead-singer-patric.html.

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