Memes about “Barbenheimer” incite anti-nuclear rage in Japan

Internet memes that make reference to the films Barbie and Oppenheimer have generated outrage in Japan, the only nation to have ever experienced a nuclear attack during war.

One movie is a biopic on J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the men who developed atomic weapons, while the other is about a hugely well-liked children’s doll. Memes posted on social media blended the two images; one showed Barbie standing besides Oppenheimer’s shoulders against a terrifying explosion.

One outraged Japanese social media user said: “Do they know how many people died when that mushroom cloud appeared?… Don’t have fun with the atomic bomb,” using the hashtag #NoBarbenheimer. Days before World War II ended in 1945, the United States unleashed atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing over 140 000 people in Hiroshima and 74 000 people in Nagasaki. Another user wrote, “We just want (the US) to know what kind of devastation the two atomic bombs caused before speaking, not just for Japan but also for the world”.

A blowing kiss emoji and the words “It’s going to be a summer to remember” were used in on a response from the official US Barbie movie account on X, previously known as Twitter. The message, which has since vanished, led Warner Bros (Japan), the country’s Barbie distributor, to issue an apology. “We apologise to those who were offended by this series of inconsiderate reactions,” stated Warner Bros (Japan).

The distributor also mentioned that the responses by the US official account were “extremely regrettable” and urged the headquarters to “take appropriate action” in response. Oppenheimer has not yet been given a release date in Japan, however, Barbie is scheduled for release later this month in the country. Both films have had tremendous success at the box office in the US.

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