Barbie and me.

I try not to march in lockstep with any movement, and I split with mainstream feminism over Barbie. The complaint about how her “impossible body proportions” made little girls feel bad about their own just struck me as silly. I guess you could find one or two women out there who could trace their body dysmorphia to a foot-tall plastic doll they played with as children, but it’s my experience that pretty much every woman alive has something about her body that she doesn’t like, whether they played with Barbies or not. So there.

I had a Barbie. And I had a Francie, who I always thought was Barbie’s friend but Barbie fan sites tell me I’m mistaken: She was Barbie’s “modern cousin” and wore “mod-style clothing.” Whatever. I liked her because she had long blonde hair I could brush, whereas my Barbie was the one with the brunette bubble cut, i.e. the one that terrified Sally Draper in “Mad Men.”

Anyway, I can’t say exactly when they arrived in my toy collection, but my guess is, I was around 8 or 9. I wasn’t thinking about body proportions then. My mother was a talented seamstress, and made her several outfits in addition to the striped swimsuit she came dressed in. Francie’s proportions were the same, so they shared the same clothes. And that is pretty much that, recollection-wise. The massive Barbie brand build-out seemed to trail my interest in the doll, which is to say, by the time the Dream House came onto the market, I had moved on. I had a carrying case that held the two dolls, with space in between for the clothes. The outfits were the splurge.

By the time Kate was born, the thing about Barbie that had changed most was the age period — she came into the house when Kate was very young, maybe 4? Also, the thing wasn’t to get one Barbie and a lot of outfits, but to get a ton of Barbies, period. They were cheap, and there were so many of them, you can see how the collecting mania began. (My neighbor’s in-laws were both deaf, and they all used ASL when they got together. Her mother-in-law gave her granddaughter ASL Barbie, which she was thrilled to have, but immediately told her — in ASL, presumably — that she could never take it out of the box, because it would ruin its value. My neighbor went out the next day and bought another one that the girl could actually play with. In-laws. What are you gonna do?)

Kate’s most memorable was Olympic Swimming Barbie, who came dressed in a swimsuit with a medal around her neck. You wound up a knob on her back and her arms windmilled wildly; she was a bathtub toy. She didn’t age well, and retired from swimming in a film of soap scum. There were others.

Olympic Swimming Barbie wasn’t in Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” which the three of us saw the other night. I…loved it. It was zany and funny and heartfelt and spot-on and just felt totally original. I read somewhere that Mattel has something like 18 more movies in the pipeline, based on their best-selling toys. I think they should shut it down now, because it’s all downhill from here. I feel especially bad for Lena Dunham, who’s said to be developing the Polly Pocket movie, which I wouldn’t see at gunpoint. Who cares about Polly Pocket? No one.

But Barbie could become “Barbie” because of all the cultural weight resting on her slender plastic shoulders, and Gerwig and her writing/life partner, Noah Brumbaugh Baumbach, put it all together like Tetris. When I saw Kate McKinnon’s name in the credits, I couldn’t imagine where they’d squeeze her in, but they figured out a way. (She’s Weird Barbie. She smells like basement.) By the time Barbie rolls out of Barbieland in her pink Corvette, singing the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” I was utterly under the spell. My only quibble might be Dan Savage’s, who wanted a scene acknowledging all the gay boys who secretly played with Barbie, and didn’t get one. A trans woman plays Doctor Barbie, and that seemed to be the only queer shoutout in the film, unless you count Michael Cera as Allan, Ken’s friend in that stupid striped beach coat. I didn’t.

Yes, there were moments late in the second act that dragged a bit, but who cares? It was a perfect, bubblegum-pink summer movie, and that’s all I want at this point. We were all charmed.

Francie wasn’t in it, though. Midge and Skipper were. I have no memory of breast-growing Skipper at all. Does anyone else?

Anyway, I had to wait a whole week to see this movie, scrolling quickly past think pieces, etc. Why does the “spoiler alert” window close after, what, 36 hours? Not everyone can see something on opening weekend. Which is my way of saying I won’t say any more. Just enjoy it.

And have a good week.

Posted at 4:44 pm in Movies, Popculch |

44 responses to “Barbie and me.”

  1. jcburns said on July 30, 2023 at 5:07 pm

    I’m just glad current affairs are no longer chapping your butt.

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  2. alex said on July 30, 2023 at 5:14 pm

    I remember dolls that grew ponytails if you turned a knob in the back but none that grew knockers. Skipper must have been all the rage in her day but I think she must have gotten upstaged by Baby Joey, a doll modeled after the infant son of Meathead and Gloria on “All in the Family,” who was the first doll ever to sport a dick and balls. May have been the last one too for all I know.

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  3. David C said on July 30, 2023 at 5:28 pm

    I don’t remember my sister ever having Barbies. The only doll I remember her having was a baby looking thing called Sleepy or Drowsy or something like that. They only reason I remember that one is it had a pull string and the mechanism went haywire and the doll sounded like Mercedes McCambridge in “The Exorcist”. That and I have a photo of my sister holding the doll upside down by the toe with one hand and giving the camera the finger with the other. My older brother was a menace with Mom’s Instamatic.

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  4. Deborah said on July 30, 2023 at 5:50 pm

    I did not know they ever made a doll with a dick and balls, amazing what you learn on nn.c.

    I never had a real Barbie, only the down market knock off for poor girls called Babette. This would have been in the late 1950s or or very early 1960s. I loved her anyway.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the movie. It looks hilarious.

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  5. Deborah said on July 30, 2023 at 5:59 pm

    I googled it and found Babette, in all of her glory. I don’t remember her having that high of a forehead. She had a fivehead,online_chips:babette+doll:yeFkZjy_Bbk%3D&usg=AI4_-kS9bFXarxXT0u5nhJeWQUebQ7c-Hw&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj4jd38tLeAAxXEHjQIHbPNALIQgIoDKAN6BAgNEB4&biw=1409&bih=737&dpr=2

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  6. NancyF said on July 30, 2023 at 6:02 pm

    Noah *Baumbach

    I’m so old I had Original Barbie, who inherited the sulky, aloof facial expression of the German sex doll on which Barbie was modeled. I was learning to sew around then, and hoped to make some clothes for my Barbie—she arrived with nothing other than the black-and-white striped swimsuit. But she was too small and ridiculously proportioned for my stubby child-fingers. I didn’t know anyone else who owned a Barbie, and I stopped fiddling with my own doll pretty quickly. Years later, my parents sold the doll at a garage sale without consulting me.

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  7. 4dbirds said on July 30, 2023 at 6:05 pm

    I received the Barbie wedding collection for one Christmas. It included, Barbie and Ken, Midge and Skipper. I kept my Barbies for years. My younger sister and I also had talking Barbies. I wanted to know how they worked so I used a screwdriver to hack my sister’s Barbie open and I found a tiny little record. My younger sister was devastated. What? I wasn’t going to destroy my own. My older sister, the enforcer, tried to find my talking Barbie, but I had cleverly hidden her. My older sister broke my refillable powder puff. Big deal, it was a fair trade to find out how Barbie worked and how she could say three or four short sentences. Years later, I did apologize to my sister for ruining her Barbie. We laugh about it now, but I had to do a lot of groveling to get her to forgive me.

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  8. FDChief said on July 30, 2023 at 6:12 pm

    As a lad I was fascinated by “Growing Up Barbie” (IIRC) and repeatedly twisted my little sister’s arm to make her boobs grow. Failed every time, beginning an early disillusionment with marketing which persists to this day…

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  9. Auntie Velvet said on July 30, 2023 at 6:43 pm

    I had Skipper. Her hair grew from a tomboy bob to a longer hairstyle, and her boobs did indeed grow, all with a simple twist of the arm. I think mine had a purple nylon jumpsuit. Beguiling.

    We saw it a few days ago — me, my husband, and our Marxist feminist son who’s quite stern about these things. He was the most entranced of all of us, so it obviously passed the purity test, but all three of us were charmed.

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  10. Julie Robinson said on July 30, 2023 at 8:30 pm

    We just saw Oppenheimer and it’s excellent; a movie you want to talk about and read more about. That said, it didn’t need to be done in Imax, and dare I say I would have been happy watching it at home.

    Home is where I’ll probably see Barbie too. It got a great review from our daughter but I’m just not compelled to see many movies in the theater.

    I had a Barbie, the OG with molded hair, a Ken with molded hair, and a Skipper or whatever the teenager friend was. One case, no cars or homes. I played with my baby dolls and paper dolls as much as with Barbie.

    Sarah had many Barbies but we never sprang for the accessories. Matt also had a Barbie, after admiring his sister’s. He really loved to stroke the long blonde hair. He also had a My Buddy doll and a play kitchen, and Sarah had trucks and cars. Our little effort in raising well balanced kiddos.

    No play guns.

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  11. Deborah said on July 30, 2023 at 9:41 pm

    My sister and I made our own clothes for our Babette dolls. They were the most rudimentary you can imagine. We would cut a circle out of fabric for a skirt, make a smaller circle for the waist band in the center. I have no idea how we managed to pull that over the top or bottom and secure it around the tiny waist. Then we’d cut a rectangle out of the same cloth and then make a slit for the neckline and pull that over the dolls head, that was the blouse of the outfit. We were perfectly satisfied with our work so it was fine. Nobody ever gave us Babette doll clothes and we survived.

    We drew our own paperdolls and clothes for them and cut them out. We asked my mother to draw them for us when we were younger but my mother eventually said that I could draw them better than her and she quit doing it for us. And she was right, I could draw them better than she could but I still asked her to do it because I didn’t want her to think I knew I could do it better. But deep down I was proud as could be.

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  12. Joe Kobiela said on July 30, 2023 at 10:09 pm

    Had G.I. Joe had the Jet fighter of course, and a Jeep pulling a wagon with a gun on the back that really shot plastic bullets.
    Last couple days have been spent In Minneapolis or really Edon Prairie. Highly impressed by Edon lots of new construction, putting in light rail, lots of walking paths, have been running the river bluff regional trail from lake Reilly with beautiful views, some one planned this area correctly.
    Pilot Joe

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  13. alex said on July 30, 2023 at 10:24 pm

    I had a G.I. Joe. He had ambiguous genitalia just like Barbie.

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  14. Brandon said on July 30, 2023 at 10:47 pm

    the German sex doll on which Barbie was modeled.

    The Bild Lilli doll.

    As the article notes, it was originally marketed to men as a gag gift.

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  15. Heather said on July 30, 2023 at 11:26 pm

    I loved Barbie. I had a Skipper, but I don’t remember the breasts thing. I was too young and missed the Midge doll, but my elementary school had some Barbie books from the 50s or 60s, so I knew about her.

    I got the Barbie townhouse for Christmas once, which was probably the Best Gift Ever. I remember at one point I even got a toilet for Barbie that you could even put water in and flush. It was pink, of course.

    I still have some of my Barbies in my storage space I think. I should dig them out in honor of the movie, which I have yet to see.

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  16. ROGirl said on July 31, 2023 at 4:09 am

    I had an early model Barbie with a pony tail, she came in a red swimsuit, I also acquired a double-sided carrying case for all her outfits. One I remember is a gold and white striped strapless gown. Skipper came along eventually, no breast action, however.

    One summer we went on vacation and visited relatives, I had my Barbie with me. One of my aunts, who only had sons, marvelled at Barbie’s breasts.

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  17. Dexter Friend said on July 31, 2023 at 4:21 am

    I got a Willy the Tramp doll when I was a little guy and I loved it. Just as I really loved my Foghorn Leghorn puppet. But then some weird friend of the family bought me a cheap doll meant for little girls. A girl doll. This confused me and moreso, enraged me. Stupid woman, getting me a goddam doll like that. Mom told me to shut up and play with it. Right. I disappeared the thing quickly.
    Just yesterday a classmate of mine’s little brother joked on Facebook with his sister how he painted her Barbie black and hid it from her slightly so when she found it, surprise, surprise, surprise! . Kid stuff. Sis stood him up in bed in the middle of the night for punishment.
    Before Ohio Art Company shipped production overseas, they manufactured a doll called Betty Spaghetty. My daughter and her friends loved those dolls, long forgotten now I suppose.

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  18. Suzanne said on July 31, 2023 at 8:19 am

    I had several Barbie dolls. In fact, I just got rid of my very old Barbie with the black & white striped bathing suit and my Barbie campus, which I am not sure why I still had. It was cardboard and not in great shape but I still had it! My mom made my sister & I tons of Barbie clothes, many of which I also still had until a few months ago when we moved. I never had a Midge or a Skipper but I do remember the growing up Skipper that went from flat chest to not so flat. My sister & I had the old school Barbie’s with the bouffant hair but we traded those in for a discount on the Twist & Turn Barbie when it came out. Bendable legs! And turned at the waist!

    Overnight my Twitter icon turned into a black X. It’s creepy.

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  19. Mark P said on July 31, 2023 at 9:49 am

    No girls, except my mother, at my house, so no Barbies. We had Army men who engages in fist fights among themselves. One day my father brought home an Indian boy doll about Barbie size. It was something that was undeliverable at the Post Office. It was two or three times taller than my Army men, so I wasn’t sure what to do with him. Eventually he became a giant, although I still wasn’t sure whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. Did Barbie ever have any Indian friends?

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  20. Jeff Gill said on July 31, 2023 at 10:38 am

    Gift link for a delightful profile of the “old woman” in the “Barbie” movie, who says “I know it!” She’s a costume designer my sister has long admired, Ann Roth.

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  21. JodiP said on July 31, 2023 at 1:10 pm

    I listened to a re-broadcst of a History Chicks episode ( about Barbie and her creator, Ruth Handler. Super interesting!

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  22. Julie Robinson said on July 31, 2023 at 2:02 pm

    RIP Pee Wee Herman at 70. Cancer.

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  23. Sherri said on July 31, 2023 at 2:19 pm

    I had some Barbie dolls, but none of the accessories. I remember my aunt made a bunch of Barbie clothes for me. I played with Barbies some, but not a lot. A friend’s daughter gave my daughter her Barbie collection when she had outgrown it, but I don’t remember my daughter playing with Barbies a lot, either. My daughter spent more time playing with Winnie the Pooh figures.

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  24. Scout said on July 31, 2023 at 3:24 pm

    I skipped right over baby dolls and went all in for the whole Barbie/Midge/Skipper/Ken craze. As a child of divorce, my bio dad took me shopping every time I visited and I stocked up. I had it all, a dozen or more dolls, all the outfits, the car(s), the house(s), the furniture, the wardrobe cases, you name it, I had it. I also made some of my own furniture, from things like the little plastic “Barbie tables” they use in pizza boxes so the cheese doesn’t stick to the lid. I still call those things “Barbie tables”.

    At about the age of 12, my friend and I got ‘caught’ setting up a massive Barbie village in her basement by an older girl and that was the end. Gave it all away. I’m sorry I did, it signaled the end of my childhood.

    We went to see the movie yesterday and it lived up to the hype. The best part was America Ferrera’s amazing monologue which I have included below in a linked article. I don’t want to be a spoiler for anyone who still wants to see it.

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  25. Jeff Borden said on July 31, 2023 at 3:49 pm

    We saw “Oppenheimer,” but “Barbie” is next in line.

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  26. Little Bird said on July 31, 2023 at 4:31 pm

    I had a few Barbies. Deborah was not keen on them and wouldn’t allow me to buy my own for many years (I wanted to spend Christmas money that I had received and she made me return it).
    I enjoyed dressing them up I guess. My Godmother gave me a bunch of Barbie sized clothes once, it was all handmade and very mid century modern. But it was just toys. I’m pretty sure I only wanted one because my friends had them. And they weren’t baby dolls.
    I did end up with probably five or six of them though.

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  27. Icarus said on July 31, 2023 at 4:31 pm

    For a long time my kids “controlled” the tv, so I got used to watching things on my iPad. Even though that has changed, I still seem to prefer watching on the tablet because most apps have a simple 10-15 second rewind function if I miss something, and closed captioning is often better than on a TV.

    Which means I will finally get around to watching Oppenheimer and Barbie after most everyone else has.

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  28. Joe Kobiela said on July 31, 2023 at 6:00 pm

    Did you know that Paul Rubens aka Pee Wee Hermans father was a fighter pilot in World War Two? And after the war helped start the Israel Air Force and fought during the war for independence in Israel?
    Pilot Joe

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  29. tajalli said on July 31, 2023 at 6:09 pm

    Jeff Gill, thanks for the Ann Roth link, very enjoyable, love movie costumes, adored the old ’30s musicals as a kid, with ball gowns and tuxedos for the ensemble dancing.

    Disliked dolls from the get-go, so Barbie never came into the picture. Their faces were rigid and their overall hardness seemed so wrong to me as a child, but I did like taking them apart to see how the limbs were attached (with rubber bands) and how the eyes worked. I did the same with my mother’s plastic artificial flower centerpieces which she definitely did not appreciate. Stuffed animals were my thing for acting out stories.

    I’ll wait for the Barbie DVD to arrive at the library, it should be fun and whatever I read really won’t spoil it.

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  30. Deborah said on July 31, 2023 at 11:57 pm

    I also loved the Ann Roth link. It’s so interesting how costumes can help tell the stories of plays and movies. Especially how actors can become more unmeshed in the characters they play by paying attention to what they wear while acting. The first time I remember being impressed by the costuming being part of the story telling was when Mad Men came out with stories about the clothes and makeup and how they profoundly enhanced the series.

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  31. Dexter Friend said on August 1, 2023 at 3:03 am

    Yesterday I forgot that because of my devotion to watching “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” every Saturday morning, one Christmas my wife got me a 12 inch long Pee Wee doll with the pull string for the famous Pee Wee laugh. Today I didn’t have to try to remember where it was long-stashed away, nope, it has been on my desk forever. TEQUILA !! Da da da da da da—DA! That was one funny sonofagun, and he is missed terribly already.

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  32. alex said on August 1, 2023 at 6:39 am

    Great Pee-wee tribute in the NY Times. Here’s a gift link, sorry so bulky:

    Pee-wee’s Playhouse was kind of a social magnet for my circle of friends. We’d gather on Saturday mornings and do breakfast and bong hits and marvel that a kid’s show could be so campy, even teetering on bawdy. My biggest spit-take ever was Pee-wee sitting on the shitter. You could only see his face peeking out the door and his feet with his pants around his ankles. And he’s carrying on a conversation with others while casually taking a dump. The gag continued through the show as Pee-wee kept fighting with a stubborn string of toilet paper that refused to let go of his shoe.

    In the ’80s, when Jerry Falwell was at the height of his powers, I remember him railing against the TeleTubbies and other kids’ shows as being subversive works of the Devil, but I don’t remember what, if anything, he had to say about Pee-wee. I’m sure that show had to have mashed his buttons.

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  33. LAMary said on August 1, 2023 at 10:08 am

    Pee Wee Herman died at age 70, Joe.

    I had four older brothers and I when I arrived there was no popular doll I didn’t have. I had over 100 dolls. My mother just kept buying dolls for me and lots of clothes for the dolls. I had the first edition Barbie in 1959. Black ponytail, striped swimsuit. I also had Midge and Ken eventually. I also had all the Madame Alexander Little Women dolls, the original 1930ish Shirley Temple doll as well as later versions. I had a semi scary Patty Playpal doll that fit in toddler size 4 clothing. My mom died in November of 1960 but before she died she made sure I had a Chatty Cathy wrapped and ready for Christmas.

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  34. Joe Kobiela said on August 1, 2023 at 10:21 am

    La Mary,
    His father help start the Israel Air Force not pee wee.
    Pilot Joe

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  35. LAMary said on August 1, 2023 at 10:46 am

    Yeah, saw that after I woke up, Joe. I shouldn’t stay up to watch world cup games.

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  36. Deborah said on August 1, 2023 at 11:11 am

    My sister and I had a madame Alexander doll that we shared. My dad found it, he worked on vehicle service for the city of Miami Beach and wealthy people were always throwing away perfectly good expensive things. We also had one of those giant dolls that were as big as a 3 year old, But wasn’t a child, she had boobs and feet shaped for high heels etc. she was also something my dad brought home from work. She didn’t have any clothes though so we made some out of toddler clothes we must have gotten at a flea market or something.

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  37. Jeff Gill said on August 1, 2023 at 11:16 am

    Getting emotionally exhausted by a nil-nil outcome . . . whew. What, six shots on the goal? Portugal really looked like they could win it, certainly had the control. But they couldn’t make the shots.

    Hoping for team growth in real time heading into knockouts.

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  38. LAMary said on August 1, 2023 at 12:43 pm

    I’m ok with USA or NL or UK winning. Or pretty much anyone else really. The household enjoys my correct pronunciation of the Dutch names. It’s a gift.

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  39. Jeff Borden said on August 1, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    If you enjoy watching the QOP cannibals eat each other up, look for the stories on the financial outlook of the QOP operations in Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Arizona, where the cost of defending the tRumpanzee crazies is emptying bank accounts while donors close their wallets and walk away. As has been said many times, whatever tRump touches dies. May that be the case with this version of the alleged Republican Party. It might be the only good thing the orange cancer ever does.

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  40. alex said on August 1, 2023 at 4:58 pm

    Was fun reading today that the Trump campaign is broke from paying his legal bills, even though it has taken in many more magnitudes of cash than any other campaign. Also that DePerno in Michigan just got arrested.

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  41. David C said on August 1, 2023 at 5:32 pm

    Happy Indictment Day to all who celebrate.

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  42. Jeff Borden said on August 1, 2023 at 6:07 pm

    Four, count ’em, four indictments for J6. Wish there were more. I want to see that orange cockroach in federal prison.

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  43. alex said on August 1, 2023 at 6:21 pm

    Oh happy day!

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  44. David C said on August 1, 2023 at 6:24 pm

    Since you can’t conspire with yourself, I expect this means more are on the way. The drunk son of a bitch Wisconsin Congressman/ Jan.6 rioter who cursed the pages has moved up to number three of my indictment wish list. One and two are Clarence and Ginny.

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