Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Toys Gone Wrong

I’m sure many of you are familiar Mattel-owned American Girl series of pricey dolls, each of whom have their own biography which reflects the historical era in which they ‘lived.’ I always thought that was a cool idea, especially since the dolls provided historical insight from a girl’s perspective. A bit heavy-handed of a message for a toy maybe, but better than watching my daughters play with those hookers-in-training known as Bratz.

Then, while watching a news feature covering the release of the latest American Girl doll, all I could do was roll my eyes and say, "You’ve got to be kidding."

Gwen Thompson, the newest edition to the American Girl line, is homeless. Her back story includes being abandoned by her father, forced to live in a car and being picked on by her peers. A spokeswomen for the company came on TV to state the purpose of the doll was to increase awareness of, and sympathy for, homeless children.

That’s all fine and good, but couldn’t you do that with a TV show or school-sponsored program? Have we become so overly sensitive that the very toys we give our children must remind them of how bad other people’s lives are?

I’m not insensitive to the issue of homelessness, but come on...

It’s a toy. Toys are supposed to be fun. You don’t see a line of ‘God-I-hope-it-starts-this-morning’ Hot Wheels. You don’t see Little Tikes kitchen playsets complete with ants crawling on the counters and government-issued cheese in the fridge. To the best of my knowledge, there are no video games in which the object is to pay all your bills and still have enough money left for groceries.

What kid is gonna want this doll? What kid is gonna rip open a package on Christmas day, see her homeless Gwen Thompson doll, wrap her arms around her parents and say "thank you for making me aware of the issue of homelessness in this country"?

In a way, the very idea marginalizes the whole homeless issue, being that there is an American company trying to make a profit by appealing to one’s sensitivity, while ironically charging nearly a hundred bucks for this doll.

Then again, I’m reminded of some of the toys I had when I was a kid, and now lament the time I wasted playing with them. Such as my toy lawnmower which blew bubbles when I pushed it around the yard. Then one day, mowing the lawn became one of my chores, only this time, no bubbles. I wasted all those fleeting childhood moments pretending to mow the lawn when I could have pretended to engage in an activity that wouldn’t be something I’d need to do on a regular basis in real life.

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