NEWS- Duped: Virginia's Barbies not so special

A cultural icon like Barbie is no stranger to caricature. Who hasn't chuckled at the "White Trash Barbie," "Goth Barbie," or "12-Step Barbie" that periodically make the rounds by email?

But a recent addition to the series gives Barbie the last laugh.

The Charlottesville/Albemarle Barbies hit inboxes in the past month and had many recipients smirking about the "Farmington Barbie," "Friendship Court Barbie," and "Fluvanna Barbie"– and forwarding them on to like-minded high-brows.

Even the ever-skeptical Hook wondered in last week's 4 Better or Worse about the identity of the author who seemed to so perfectly capture the area's subcultures.

But Charlottesvillian Barbara Marshall was not amused; she found the caricatures "mean-spirited and elitist." The suggestion that everyone who lives outside the center of the Charlottesville/Albemarle donut is "an alcoholic, meth-producing redneck"– [that would be the "Greene County" and "Fluvanna" Barbies, while the "Fifth Street Barbie" comes with a meth lab kit] is a "cheap and inaccurate shot," says Marshall.

She points to racist elements in the "Friendship Court Barbie." One of her babies has dark skin. "Optional accessories include weed and bus pass," says the email. "Gangsta Ken and his 1979 Caddy were available, but are now very difficult to find since the addition of the infant."

And the "Woolen Mills Barbie" mocks "homosexuality and gender issues in tired, worn-out, stereotypical ways," Marshall says.

"I am not the high priestess of political correctness," says Marshall. But she believes the Barbies "show the unfortunate underside of Charlottesville's smug self-satisfaction."

Ouch. As if that weren't enough, Marshall noticed that other than using local neighborhoods– for example, the "Glenmore Barbie"– most of the information on each Barbie is pretty generic. "You'd think the author would add local Charlottesville landmarks," she says.

So Marshall Googled "limited edition Barbie" and "Starbucks" (since the "Farmington Barbie" comes with her own Starbucks cup) and discovered that the same Barbie email text is circulating all over the country, with the neighborhoods changed to fit the city. There are Richmond Barbies, Colorado Barbies, Nashville Barbies, and Omaha Barbies.

The Oregon Barbies have been making the rounds since at least March 2006, and the New Mexico Barbies appeared no later than May 2004.

"Everybody wants to brag about how special and unique we are, but actually these stereotypes are everywhere," Marshall says.

She admits that she's gotten in trouble before for pointing out to friends that email they're forwarding is a hoax.

"The truth is that people usually prefer to mindlessly forward total garbage and urban legends rather than spend a moment asking themselves if they comes from a reliable source," says Marshall, noting that friends' feelings have been hurt when she has tried to educate them ("politely and humorously, I swear").

She recommends urban legend-debunking to find out if a petition or too-good-to-be-true special offer purporting to come from Microsoft is legitimate. 

Amy Lemley was one Charlottesville/Albemarle Barbies recipient. "I was wondering why there was no Keswick Barbie and no Downtown Mall Barbie," she says.

Lemley notes that someone had to customize the Barbies to our locale, but so far, that person has not stepped forward.

As for the typecasting in the email that seemed so Charlottesville, "I guess some things are universal," she says.

Meanwhile, Barbie, 48, who endured a nasty split from Ken two years ago, officially has represented nearly 100 careers and 45 different nationalities, according to Mattel, which is aware of the latest email assault. 

Her parent company notes in a statement that it's not affiliated with sites that feature digitally remastered images of the doll. "Mattel's legal team evaluates these types of issues on a case-by-case basis," says a statement by the company, "and we are unable to provide any details regarding active or potential litigation."

"This princess Barbie is sold only at the Short Pump Town Center," reads a popular parody customized for Central Virginia. "She comes with an assortment of Kate Spade and Coach handbags, a Lexus SUV, a long-haired foreign dog named Honey and a cookie-cutter house. Available with or without tummy tuck and face lift. Workaholic Ken sold only in conjunction with the augmented version."

Gratuitous homosexual jabs come with the Woolen Mills Barbie: "This doll is made of actual tofu. She has long straight brown hair, archless feet, hairy armpits, no makeup and Birkenstocks with white socks. She prefers you call her Willow. She does not want or need a Ken doll, but if you purchase two Woolen Mills Barbies and the optional Subaru wagon, you get a rainbow flag bumper sticker for free."