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Genuine Ken: Search for the Great American Boyfriend
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this brand-driven reality contest is sponsored by Mattel, the maker of the Barbie doll, and plays like a not-so-subtle commercial for the Barbie/Ken brand. Logos are everywhere; Barbie's director of marketing is one of the judges; and the contestants are even staying in a real-life "Dream House" that's decked out in true Barbie style. There's also some bleeped swearing and audible language like "pissed off" and "hell," along with some off-putting masculine stereotypes (including buff male contestants who feel the need to bare their chests).
What's the story?
GENUINE KEN touts itself as "The Search for the Great American Boyfriend.” But it's really a reality contest to see which of the eight male contestants between the ages of 21 and 30 has the same qualities that make Ken -- Barbie's bestselling boyfriend -- so great. Hosted by reality star Whitney Port (The Hills, The City) and featuring a variety of guest judges (including Mattel's "Director of Barbie Marketing," Lauren Bruksch), the series puts men through boyfriend-like challenges, including cooking, decorating, and entertaining. The digital series airs exclusively on Hulu, and the winner gets bragging rights to the title...but no other apparent prize.
Is it any good?
Mattel isn't at all shy about using this oddly creepy reality contest to the bring Barbie/Ken brand to an even wider audience. After all, there's no apology buried in a promotional press release that states: "The series leverages the popularity ignited by the appearance of Ken® in Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 3 and invites consumers to experience the Barbie® brand in a whole new way through the development of original and engaging content. With the series’ launch, the Barbie® brand extends its digital presence and demonstrates its innovation in marketing the brand in break frame ways to consumers of all ages." Alrighty then.
A lot of times, a show that sounds this ridiculous from the get-go at least has some inherent entertainment value, a so-bad-it's-good utility that could at least earn it status as a guilty pleasure. But between the show's use of a "tilt-shift camera technique, which miniaturizes backgrounds to imply that you are in fact in a Barbie® and Ken® world," to its obvious attempts to equate host Port with Barbie herself, Genuine Ken can't even achieve that.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about brand placement in the media. Can a show like this one help Mattel sell more Barbie and Ken dolls? Do you think the show was created to entertain viewers or to market a product? At what point does a TV show become a commercial?
Is Ken a good role model for guys? (And do you think guys will even want to watch?) What about Barbie? Is she a good role model for girls?
How do Ken's qualities compare to Barbie's? What do Ken and Barbie's traits suggest about men and women in general? Do those qualities reinforce certain stereotypes about each gender?
Why did the show's creators choose to air it exclusively online? Is there a benefit to going the digital route as opposed to television?