Quakers and Barbie: How Lies Exposed the Truth About Plastic Pollution
September 12, 2023
Season 2, episode 4. In this episode of Quakers Today, we ask, When it comes to activism, do the ends justify the means?
A Barbie Hoax with a Message
Actress and eco-activist Daryl Hannah speaks with host Peterson Toscano about her announcement that “Mattel intends to go 100 percent plastic-free by 2030 in all their toys. They hope to support a global ban on plastics.”
Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived. Hours after People Magazine’s story celebrated Mattel’s eco-conscious move, the toy company contacted The New York Times to clarify the situation.
In an email, Mattel described the campaign as a “hoax” that had “nothing to do with Mattel.” The company said that the activists had also created fake websites made to look as if they belonged to Mattel. “Those were duplicates — not Mattel actual sites,” it said.
This elaborate hoax was perpetrated by Daryl Hannah and the Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO) against the Mattel Corporation and the media. Yet, behind this public trickery was a broader, poignant message: the need to address the environmental crisis wrought by plastic waste.
One of the tricksters behind the hoax graduated from Greenwood Friends School, a Quaker elementary and middle school. As a boy, he attended Millville (Pa.) Meeting. Operating under the pseudonym Jeff Walburn, this member of the artist-activist group the Yes Men describes the methodology behind their “mischief performances.”
“I helped write a lot of the materials, which includes press releases and websites. And we had a press conference. We made a fake product commercial for this new line of Barbies that would, instead of being made of plastic, be made out of mycelium and mushrooms. It’s a little far-fetched because it’s not being done yet, but it’s also still very feasible.”
The Yes Men not only impersonate corporations but also suggest that these corporations are finally doing the “right thing.” In doing so, they engage in what they refer to as “identity correction.”
In a world where conversations around activism are often steeped in solemnity, the latest episode of the Quakers Today podcast injects an element of whimsy while navigating the moral complexities inherent in social change. Host Peterson Toscano delves into a topic that straddles the lines between activism, ethics, and trickery, raising a tantalizing question: “When it comes to activism, do the ends justify the means?”
- Read Peterson Toscano’s article, “Speaking Lies to Power: Daryl Hannah, Barbie, and Quaker Tricksters” and learn about Quaker tricksters Bonnie Tinker and Benjamin Lay.
- See Peterson’s full video interview with Daryl Hannah
- Check out the videos “Jeff Walburn” and The Yes Men created for the Barbie Liberation Organization hoax this year and 30 years ago.
- Eco-Warrior Barbie fake TV Commercial
- Plastic Free with Daryl Hannah parody video
- Fake press conference with Daryl Hannah
- BLO Vs. Climate Doom
- 1993 BLO Hoax to protest gender-based stereotypes
- Short Documentary about the BLO’s successful action to swap out the voice boxes of Barbies and GI Joes in 1993.
Welcoming a New Generation of Quakers
The September issue of Friends Journal explores how to welcome a new generation into the Quaker community. The episode features an audio collage of five writers who shared their insights and experiences around the theme.
- Olivia Chalkley argues that progressive Christians, including young “Christ-curious” individuals, could find a home in Quakerism by reclaiming their faith from its association with reactionary politics.
- Madison Rose emphasizes that the Quaker commitment to social justice and individual spiritual journeys has consistently drawn them back to the community. Quakerism, for them, is a space of “respite” that allows a direct, personal relationship with the divine, free of any intermediaries.
- Nikki Holland shares how Quakerism allowed her and her husband to bring their “full, true selves to worship,” a stark contrast to their previous faith communities where they felt marginalized.
- Sofia Williams enjoys the weight of Quaker history and the sense of both immediate and long-term community felt during meetings.
- Annie Bingham found solace and a sense of timeless wisdom in Quaker meetings, particularly as a break from the imbalances felt in their college community.
Question of the Month
For this episode of Quakers Today, we ask the question, When it comes to activism, do the ends justify the means?
Leave a voice memo with your name and the town where you live, and we may include your message in our October 17th episode. The number to call is 317-QUAKERS, that’s 317-782-5377. Dial +1 if calling from outside the U.S.
Season Two of Quakers Today is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. Do you want to challenge unjust systems and promote lasting peace? The American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC works with communities worldwide to drive social change. Their website features meaningful steps you can take to make a difference. Through their Friends Liaison Program, you can connect your meeting or church with AFSC and their justice campaigns. To learn more, visit AFSC.org Feel free to send comments, questions, and requests for our new show. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Music from this episode comes from Epidemic Sound. You heard Next To Me by LVLY, Sneaking Into the Kitchen by Arthur Benson, Young Mystery Detectives by Trailer Worx, Meet myCelia EcoWarrior Barbie takes on plastic polluters by Jeff Walburn, Confidence is Key by Arthur Benson, Rewind time by Clarence Reed, Stay with Us by Sleeping Vines, Clockmaker’s Daydream by 369, A Beginning by Rymdklang Soundtracks.
Season Two of Quakers Today is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee.
Do you want to challenge unjust systems and promote lasting peace? The American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC works with communities worldwide to drive social change. Their website features meaningful steps you can take to make a difference. Through their Friends Liaison Program, you can connect your meeting or church with AFSC and their justice campaigns. To learn more, visit AFSC.org
Feel free to send comments, questions, and requests for our new show. Email us at email@example.com.
Music from this episode comes from Epidemic Sound. You heard Next To Me by LVLY, Sneaking Into the Kitchen by Arthur Benson, Young Mystery Detectives by Trailer Worx, Meet myCelia EcoWarrior Barbie takes on plastic polluters by Jeff Walburn, Confidence is Key by Arthur Benson, Rewind time by Clarence Reed, Stay with Us by Sleeping Vines, Clockmaker’s Daydream by 369, A Beginning by Rymdklang Soundtracks.
Transcript for Quakers and Barbie: How Lies Exposed the Truth About Plastic Pollution
Peterson Toscano 00:00
In this episode of Quakers Today, we ask, “When it comes to activism, do the ends justify the means?” You will hear excerpts from my interview with actress Daryl Hannah. Last month she took part in an elaborate hoax played on the media and the Mattel Corporation. Turns out one of the tricksters behind this mischief campaign is a graduate of a Quaker school. He speaks lies to power.
Peterson Toscano 00:27
Plus, a group of young Quakers share their insights and experiences with us, and Peterson Toscano. This is season two episode four of the Quakers Today podcast, a project of Friends Publishing Corporation. This season of Quakers Today is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee.
Daryl Hannah 00:51
Mattel intends to go 100% plastic free by 2030 in all of their toys. They hope to support a global ban on plastics. It’s really what needs to be done.
Peterson Toscano 01:09
That is actress and eco activist Daryl Hannah. After she made this announcement, I reached out to interview her about this big bold Barbie move. Why are you so passionate about this particular issue?
Daryl Hannah 01:23
Well, I’ve been engaged in all aspects of fighting for our planet, our planet’s inhabitants, not just the humans but the other creatures as well and our ecosystems for pretty much most of my adult life. It’s not even something that I consciously have decided to do. It’s something I can’t not do. When you love something you want to protect it.
Peterson Toscano 01:45
The action figure they made and your likeness has an accessory that goes along with her two accessories, I believe
Daryl Hannah 01:52
I have a monkey wrench. I have some handcuffs, but you actually in fact, I used chains when I changed myself to a tree at the South Central Farm. I definitely have a few non-plastic biodegradable tools.
Peterson Toscano 02:12
The only problem is the whole thing is a hoax. Within an hour of Darryl Hannah’s announcement, the Barbie Liberation Organization or BLO went public news of the hoax spread widely in the US media. Most praised the BLO for their creative way of highlighting the plastic pollution crisis. Others criticized Daryl Hannah and the activist behind the false news story. I spoke with some of the folks at my Quaker meeting who expressed concern over the trickery. Turns out they know one of the hoaxster activists. As a boy, he came to the meeting house and attended the Nearby Friends School. So I tracked him down. He agreed to share with us the method behind the mayhem he caused.
My fictional name is Jeff walborn. I work with a group of artists activists called the Yes Men. We do mischief performances that find us becoming our opponent. Companies we’re trying to move in order to dramatically pretend that they’re going to do the right thing for once. It’s a kind of roundabout way to make them actually tell the truth. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania going to Greenwood Friends School, a really great experience. Every morning we’d start with meeting and once a week go to the Millville Meeting. And there were a lot of amazing teachers there. I loved being exposed to many Quakers and Quaker practice.
So most recently, we pretended to be Mattel, manufacturer of Barbie and other toys, we announced that they would be going plastic free and no longer using petroleum products to create all these dolls and toys that are just going to end up in landfills and leaching into waterways. And then for a really short window of time we made some of the media believe it was a real announcement and they got all very excited about it. And then we revealed that it was not true, but still something that really should be done. I helped write a lot of the materials which includes press releases and websites and we had a press conference. Our collaborator Daryl Hannah was a Mattel spokesperson coming out as their spokesperson of the program. We made a fake product commercial for this new line of Barbies that instead of plastic they’d be made out of mycelium and mushrooms.
Eco-Barbie Commercial 04:50
Made of mushrooms, she’s the best. Eco-Warrior Barbie. Putting bad guys to the test. Eco-Warrior Barbie Do you have the bolt cutters?
which is a little bit far-fetched, because it’s not being done yet. But it’s also still very feasible. We make press release pages that look like the real companies website. And then we engineer that into the media by having a lot of conversations with the press. These companies spend huge amounts of money on their own deception. Their way out resource us in terms of greenwashing, and the resources that go into advertising and making people see them a certain way. This kind of guerrilla tactic is just a little cheap, quick, dirty, messy way to just correct their image, we actually call it identity correction. Using lies to tell the truth.
The difference between what we do and fake news is that the duration is incredibly short. And it only works when it’s revealed. Fake news is supposed to exist as fake as misinformation. What we do is a failure if people think it’s real. We think of our work as fitting in a lineage of tricksterism. The aspects of tricksterism that I think are super important to keep in mind and why it’s useful when applied to activism is that the Trickster is a bit amoral. The Trickster does things that most people won’t do, which is to navigate a moral gray area in search of something that is life bringing for everybody. What’s useful about what we do is that it does some things that traditional activism can’t. And I think that’s always what the Trickster is useful for. What I like to think as part of the definition of tricksterism is that they’re always punching up against power, never down, or laterally. There are people who don’t have power sneaking around through the in-between zones of power and undermining it.
Usually, later, years later, after a certain series of actions or campaigns, you will see news about a company behaving really similarly to how we posited they would. In a weird way, sometimes these lies are just premature truths. We are prefiguring how things can and should be as if we like time for travelers from the future coming back and saying By the way, this is the world that we exist in. It’s just that the CEOs haven’t caught up to that world yet. But many of them will.
Peterson Toscano 07:36
That was a member of the Yes Men mischief making activist group. He goes by the name Jeff Walborn. We also heard from ego activist and actress Daryl Hannah. As part of this episode I wrote the article speaking lies to power Daryl Hannah Barbie and Quaker tricksters, and I go into more details about this story. And I highlight some of the infamous Quaker tricksters like Bonnie Tinker and Benjamin Lay. You can find the article at Friendsjournal.org. I also have a video of my full interview with Daryl Hannah and links to the fake TV ad Jeff made and much more in our show notes.
Peterson Toscano 08:26
In Martin Kelly’s editorial for the September issue of Friends Journal, he asks, What if there are isolated seekers in ones and twos just waiting for us to provide a bit of attention and support. The print and online articles are snapshots of what draws people into and out of our fellowship. After reading them, I asked five of the writers to record a brief excerpt for us. I put these together for you as an audio collage.
Olivia Chalkley 08:59
If we can embrace God with a renewed dedication, we will strengthen our witness in the world. We might also convince some Christ curious 20 Somethings that being Christian does not have to involve embracing reactionary politics. We know that Christianity has been co-opted by some of the most violent forces in this country and has been used to justify acts of evil for centuries, so is almost every other organized religion. That doesn’t mean we need to get rid of it altogether. In fact, we can come to understand that our duty as progressive Christians is to reclaim our faith just like early friends did. When Christianity was corrupted by a government that violated many of Jesus’s teachings. Quakerism emerged in England as a response. They in turn were mirroring the early Church and its rebellion against a corrupt empire.
Madison Rose 09:54
Each of the major crossroads of my life I embraced both consciously and sometimes UNK consciously Quaker organizations and institutions. Upon reflection, one of the common themes in my journey that kept me returning to Quaker spaces again and again, is the Quaker commitment to imagining and experimenting with creating a better world. It is among friends that I have been most challenged and inspired to put my values into action. I have found the society to be a space conducive to going outside the box. If you really believe that there is that of the divine in every person, you find huge repercussions in your life. In a world that is constantly telling us what to think, bombarding us with content and monetizing our attention, Quakerism can be a respite. My interpretation of Quakerism is that it invites us into our own relationships with the divine, free of intermediaries. There is no adult trying to convince us to believe something, we don’t even have to use a certain word to define a higher power. I have found comfort in rejecting the masculine and patriarchal depictions of God and other religious spaces, and instead leaning into concepts of the Divine Light.
Nikki Holland 11:11
We were deeply committed to following Christ church community. But as we grew and matured into adulthood, we found that we had to hide parts of ourselves in order to be accepted by our faith communities. The less we hid, the more marginalized we became in the churches we had grown up in. When we learned about Quakers, a community of people committed to peace, justice, equality, racial gender and generational,a belief that the spirit is still speaking, and any one of us can hear that divine voice. We felt that we did not need to become Quaker. Rather, it felt like we were already Quaker, it felt more like discovering our identity and a community rather than like converting to Quakerism. With Quakers, we have been free to be who we authentically are. We feel encouraged to bring our full, true selves to worship and ministry.
Sofia Williams 12:09
I liked the weight of the history, how over the hour of worship, it conjured a sense of community and imagination of others lives. The sense not only of the immediate presence of others sitting on the meeting benches on a given day, but of the intangible presence of those who had sat there before.
Annie Bingham 12:31
Though my college campus was full of life, its community felt imbalanced as a young growth forest. On breaks I went to meetings. I stared at the cloud colored hair on friends heads, watched the quiver of their bodies against the stiff pews and imagined time beyond my lifetime. I saw these friends assemble themselves on their feet and begin to speak from some smooth, rich place that was invisible to me. I listened to their messages like I was overhearing the secret.
Peterson Toscano 13:12
You heard Olivia Chalkly, Madison Rose, Nikki Holland, Sofia Williams, and Annie Bingham. They each read excerpts from their articles which appear in the September issue of Friends Journal. I strongly encourage you to visit friendsjournal.org to read their full articles. I have links in our show notes at QuakersToday.org.
Peterson Toscano 13:36
Thank you for joining me for this episode of Quakers Today. Season Two of Quakers Today is sponsored by American Friends Service Committee. Do you want to challenge unjust systems and promote lasting peace? The American Friends Service Committee or a FSC works with communities worldwide to drive social change. Their website features meaningful steps you can take to make a difference through their friends liaison program, you can connect your meeting or church with AFSC and their justice campaigns. Find out how you can become part of a FSCS global community of changemakers visit afsc.org That’s AFSC.org Visit QuakersToday.org to see our show notes and a full transcript of this episode. And I’m very curious about your thoughts around Quakers and tricksters. When it comes to activism, do the ends justify the means? Let me know, leave a voicemail at 317 Quakers. That’s 317-782-5377. 317-Quakers. +1 of calling from outside the USA. I’d love to share your thoughts and next month’s show. Thank you so much for listening today. I look forward to connecting with you very soon.