The Devil’s Playthings
It’s toxic, all right.
I don’t have the space to account for all the pathos and pathology at Toys R Us. (And, in fairness, much the same would apply to the toy sections of big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.) Nor do I have room to bemoan the fire hose of marketing pressure turned on children to get them to buy into franchises, everything from Spider-Man to Hannah Montana, whoever she is. A lot of writers have covered this ground, anyway. Of recent note is Benjamin Barber’s scholarly if distempered “Consumed,” which describes how advertisers lay siege to young people to create a lifelong dependency on consumption. To me, the money quote comes from R. Buckminster Fuller: “Those who play with the devil’s toys will be brought by degrees to wield his sword.” Typically at this time of year, retailing experts offer their lists of hot toys for the season. Among the buy-early favorites for 2007 are Webkinz, stuffed animals that come with fluffy avatars in an online Webkinz virtual world—dry sand for emotionally thirsty children. And so, in honor of the first day of orgiastic holiday shopping this Friday, I thought I’d offer my own list of the most awful, creepy and child-nullifying products for sale this year. Or, in Fuller’s happy phrase, the devil’s toys. Please enjoy.
Monopoly Electronic Banking Edition: Instead of the traditional pastel currency, this edition of the Parker Bros. game uses debit cards and a swipe-here card reader, the better to inculcate bitty buyers into the effortlessness of impulsive buying. The tokens also have been updated to depict a Segway personal transporter and a flat-screen TV, among other items. The charming and evocative top hat and iron have thus been exchanged for the contents of K-Fed’s storage unit.
Play Along’s Tattoo Doodle Monster: Play Along has a large line of stuffed animals that children can decorate with washable pens. The Tattoo Doodle Monster includes temporary tattoos and various stencils for children to use on themselves. “Hey Dude, I’m Inkee,” the box says. This is a great toy if you want your 4-year-old to grow up to be Tommy Lee.
Tiger Electronics’ Dream Life:Absolutely the saddest thing in the store. The tag line for this TV plug-in game is “Create the Life You Dream About.” In the game, the player (either a girl or a fairly confused boy) begins a new school year: “Bad hair day? Swing by the salon & try out a new hairstyle. . . . Make lots of friends—joina sports team—or just hang out . . . it’s all in your hands.” I can’t help thinking about the poor kid who’s drawn to this game, frantically flipping buttons in the vain hope it will reunite her divorced parents.
Planet Toys’ CSI: Forensic Lab: Join Grissom’s crew! Ages 10-plus. Sweet, suffering Jesuits. First of all, if you are allowing your 10-year-old to watch “CSI,” you should be reported to the authorities. Second, do you really want your middle-schooler dusting for prints or learning to run a black light over your upholstery? I do appreciate that this toy hearkens back to a time when apprenticeship toys—chemistry and Erector sets and build-a-radio kits—tempted young minds with careers as chemists and engineers. But really, forensic technician? How long before you discover grandpa sleeping in a recliner, surrounded by crime scene tape? Obvious brand extension: CSI Special Victims Unit Rape Kit.
Fisher-Price Star Station: Baby karaoke. Say no more.