The TV set always needed something and so did Barbie

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2023

Philip K. Dick’s “The Days of Perky Pat” came up recently, because it inspired elements of Fallout, but I’m a bit surprised that I didn’t see countless references to it when the Barbie movie came out, because the story was clearly inspired by the doll:

It was the Barbie-Doll craze which induced this story, needless to say. Barbie always seemed unnecessarily real to me. Years later I had a girl friend whose ambition was to be a Barbie-doll. I hope she made it.


“The Days Of Perky Pat” came to me in one lightning-swift flash when I saw my children playing with Barbie dolls. Obviously these anatomically super-developed dolls were not intended for the use of children, or, more accurately, should not have been. Barbie and Ken consisted of two adults in miniature. The idea was that the purchase of countless new clothes for these dolls was necessary if Barbie and Ken were to live in the style to which they were accustomed. I had visions of Barbie coming into my bedroom at night and saying, “I need a mink coat.” Or, even worse, “Hey, big fellow…want to take a drive to Vegas in my Jaguar XKE?” I was afraid my wife would find me and Barbie together and my wife would shoot me.

The sale of “The Days Of Perky Pat” to Amazing was a good one because in those days Cele Goldsmith edited Amazing and she was one of the best editors in the field. Avram Davidson of Fantasy & Science Fiction had turned it down, but later he told me that had he known about Barbie dolls he probably would have bought it. I could not imagine anyone not knowing about Barbie. I had to deal with her and her expensive purchases constantly. It was as bad as keeping my TV set working; the TV set always needed something and so did Barbie. I always felt that Ken should buy his own clothes.

In those days — the early Sixties — I wrote a great deal, and some of my best stories and novels emanated from that period. My wife wouldn’t let me work in the house, so I rented a little shack for $15 a month and walked over to it each morning. This was out in the country. All I saw on my walk to my shack were a few cows in their pastures and my own flock of sheep who never did anything but trudge along after the bell-sheep. I was terribly lonely, shut up by myself in my shack all day. Maybe I missed Barbie, who was back at the big house with the children. So perhaps “The Days Of Perky Pat” is a wishful fantasy on my part; I would have loved to see Barbie — or Perky Pat or Connie Companion — show up at the door of my shack.

What did show up was something awful: my vision of the face of Palmer Eldritch which became the basis of the novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. which the Perky Pat story generated.


I found in the story “The Days Of Perky Pat” a vehicle that I could translate into a thematic basis for the novel I wanted to write. Now, you see, Perky Pat is the eternally beckoning fair one, das ewige Weiblichkeit — “the eternally feminine,” as Goethe put it. Isolation generated the novel and yearning generated the story; so the novel is a mixture of the fear of being abandoned and the fantasy of the beautiful woman who waits for you — somewhere, but God only knows where; I have still to figure it out. But if you are sitting alone day after day at your typewriter, turning out one story after another and having no one to talk to, no one to be with, and yet pro forma having a wife and four daughters from whose house you have been expelled, banished to a little single-walled shack that is so cold in winter that, literally the ink would freeze in my typewriter ribbon, well, you are going to write about iron slot-eyed faces and warm young women. And thus I did. And thus I still do.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    A few years ago, Library of America published a collection of Dick’s work. Some literary critic complained that Dick was unworthy of being published, because he wrote science fiction, which itself was unworthy of publication or even reading.

  2. Isegoria says:

    In defense of the Philip K. Dick Collection, a wise man once noted that, yes, 90 percent of science fiction is crud, but only because 90 percent of everything is crud.

  3. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    Barbie dolls always struck me as sinister. The original design was taken — or stolen — from its original context and pressed into the service of soul-destroying consumerism. My interpretation is that consumerism is sterile and devoid of meaningful growth; fixation on Barbie is IMHO like opium or krokodil for the soul. I believe PKDick intuited this and held out hope for a spiritual or psychological maturation that would deliver humans from consumerism.

    Barbie’s original design was the “Lili” doll of 1955 Germany. It might have been innocuous in that context. However, an exceptionally capitalist woman called Ruth Mosko (a.k.a. Ruth Handler) turned it into a culture-destroying, soul-destroying, environment-destroying weapon of mass distraction that corrupted the youth and then poisoned the landfills.

    Phil K. Dick’s story offers a possibility of redemption. The story centers on a particularly degraded, degenerate denizens of the once-proud ruins of civilization. This particularly degenerate tribe is disrupted by cultural contact with a less-degenerate tribe. (I will spoil the ending of the story for those who have not read it. Spoilers below.)

    *Spoilers below.*

    In the middle of the story, Fran is terrified that they might lose their Perky Pat doll, to which Norm replies that he can make another one — they have thermoplastic and fake hair and paint, and it would only take a month’s labor to hand-craft a replacement.

    However, Norm wins a differently designed doll: Connie Companion. Connie is married and three months pregnant with a tiny doll-baby. When this is explained to the degenerate denizens, they are shocked and do not want to look at the doll-baby. Norm says, “…you have to follow the logic. Why, eventually Perky Pat–” He gets no further, because the degenerates pick up rocks from the ground to use as weapons. They would rather murder Norm — to whom they ought to be grateful — than confront the limits of their own soul-destroying consumerism. Dick is alluding to the Gospels, in which Jesus prevented an adulteress from getting stoned to death. The allusion to stoning suggests that the degenerate denizens are like the Jews who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery.

    The degenerates exile Norm, but he retains a sense of hope, saying about the other tribe that was less degenerate: “…their particular doll, it taught them something. Connie had to grow and it forced them all to grow along with her.” IMHO, Dick is holding out hope that humanity will be delivered from the evil of consumerism.

  4. Jim says:

    Barbie isn’t an expression of outright, self-aware evil, it’s only a very successful outgrowth of Jewish psychology transplanted from the Pale of Settlement to Anglo-Germanic society, not really very unlike superheroes or comic books or gonzo.

    (POV: you live amongst the flotsam of a vastly greater civilization.)

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