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Barbenheimer: An Offence Easily Forgotten

Phoenix, Chatsworth International School, Singapore

July of the year 2023 was statistically the hottest month our earth has ever suffered, with countless people worldwide suffering record-breaking heatwaves. This unprecedented global temperature birthed additional natural disasters such as historical wildfires, mass-flooding, and worldwide droughts. Yet, the headline that captured the world’s attention was “Barbenheimer”, a questionable mashup of Greta Gerwig’s comedic feminist commentary film, “Barbie”, and Christopher Nolan’s biographical thriller about the father of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer. Sprung from the unusual phenomena in Hollywood of a shared release date among two films, the internet swiftly latched onto the portmanteau. Creating a viral trend out of it; memes and other forms of online entertainment spread like wildfire under the tag “#Barbenheimer”.

As a cross-culture kid of Japanese and American heritage, I learnt of the plentiful atrocities that plagued the Second World War from a unique perspective. I was inquisitive and had an arsenal of WWII related questions for my parents. The lack of any lingering animosity related to the Second World War between my parents and their respective parents bewildered me. To this, I praise the phrase “time heals everything”. However, as a person that holds grudges over the smallest of matters, it is hard for me to believe that there is no bad blood between the modern population of both nations. Therefore, when news of Japan’s ban of the biopic reached me last summer, I was drawn in. It seemed as though there was a tang of bitterness brewing between the historical adversaries.Upon succumbing to the Oppenheimer hype, it would be false to depict how I was appalled by the speculated trivialisation of the bombings. Despite the widespread criticism, I interpreted the film less as a diminishing of the event, rather a narration of the protagonist’s perspective. Inferring that the reason the bomb’s victims on either side are not shown, is that they are not seen first-hand by Oppenheimer, himself. Therefore, these are avoided entirely in the film. However, this perspective about the film’s intention to censor the innumerable lives lost was not shared widely, as seen in the divided discourse online.Contrastingly, my point of focus fell on the #Barbenheimer craze. Instead of criticising Oppenheimer for minimising the effects of the bombings, it occurred to me that the marginalisation of the horrific event was taking place due to the internet’s incurable obsession with merging the serious recollection of the creation of the atomic bomb, with the hot-pink eyesore about a children’s toy. The victimised population of Japan shared this opinion that “Barbenheimer” and the memes that came coupled with it, overlooked the terror that the bombings brought to their predecessors. The Japanese outrage incited well-deserved apologies from Warner Bros, who not only ignited the viral trend but even participated in it, openly showing its support for Barbenheimer-prompted memes on the social media platform, X.Once a promotional trend deployed to generate buzz for the two disparate films, now is an outrageous discourtesy to the nation of Japan, and an equally embarrassing humiliation to the Warner Bros. corporation. The backlash from Japanese citizens ultimately resulted in the nationwide ban of the movie. That is until recently, ten months later, when Japan announced its belated release of Oppenheimer. I suppose time really does heal everything.

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