"You can't look at Earring Magic Ken and not think gay," says Rick Garcia, director of Chicago's Catholie Advocates for Lesbian and Gay Rights, and a proud Ken owner. "He's stereotypically gay—it's what you saw gay men wearing a few years back. And that plastic ring that Ken wears looks an awful lot like what gay men were buying at sex shops."
Ken gay? Ken, of Ken and Barbie? Au contraire, insists Donna Gibbs, a spokeswoman for L.A.-based Mattel, which has manufactured the fun couple for more than three decades. "We are surprised and amazed by the reaction of the gay community." she says. "Ken is more a mainstream phenomenon. He's a '90s guy."
But not everyone is thrilled by Ken's new image. Although Earring Magic Ken is selling briskly to both adults and children. Adriana Kanter, owner of a toy shop in La Grange Park, Ill., won't even carry it. "I feel that earrings on men and boys are on the wrong side of the road." she says. And accountant Gale Vaupell of Westchester, Ill., a mother of three, says, "There's no way you would sell me a Ken with an earring—it wrecks the whole all-American image."
Garcia, for one, pronounces Ken's latest incarnation "a hoot." If Mattel had actually advertised Ken as a gay doll, he says, "we would have complained that it played to gay stereotypes. But it's hilarious because in spite of Ken's looks, he's still supposed to be Barbie's boyfriend."
WHO'S THAT ABSOLUTE DOLL WHO'S in all the fabulous places, from Fire Island, N.Y., to San Francisco—the one with the two-tone do and the lavender fake-leather vest? He has an earring in one lobe and a big ring dangling from around his neck. He's 12 inches tall and looks as if he could party all night. Well, his name is Earring Magic Ken, and, no matter what Mattel, Inc. says, a lot of gay men think he's made just for them, causing a run on Ken at toy stores.