Dec. 4, 2014 Every year I twist into a cartoon grimace and let out an “AAUGH!” like Charlie Brown when I scan the CCFC contenders on the TOADY “worst toys” list. (TOADY=Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children)
As much as I try to flip my lens toward what’s making waves with worthiness, there’s always one on the list that makes me stop and vote, “oh, no they didn’t!”
This year, the vapid logo drenched “mini-mall” coinage and consumption play toy packed with chain store brands is particularly squirm-worthy given that Discover the Forest data reveals:
“The average American child can recognize 1000 corporate logos but can’t identify 10 plants and animals native to his or her own region.”
The shop schlock mini-mall is a strong contender for toxic cues to kids…
…BUT I’ll have to throw my TOADY worst toy vote toward Girl Scout Barbie for the unmitigated gall of corporate infiltration into nonprofit youth programs.
A ‘Barbie badge’ is now attainable via a $2 million Mattel 3-year “partnership” deal ensuring the toy company brand is now sewn into the very fabric of the Girl Scouts organization.
When the Barbie badge showed up as an “I Can Be…” doll complete with requisite green sash and these gawdawful brown fashionista high heeled hilarious hiking boots the thud of my forehead banging against the keyboard was audible.
It’s not JUST the Barbie body blitz damage of fluff-n-stuff over substantive Girl Scouts nature content and outdoor adventures once reserved for campfires and Kum Bah Yah…
…It’s the infiltration of commercial branding into nonprofit community programming with the first corporate backed badge turning kids into human billboards as they wear their sash proudly to school, events, service learning venues and local outreach programs!
Naïve me, I really thought nonprofits that benefit children’s wellness would be off-limits to corporate shills…But then, I also thought national nutrition and dietetic trade associations would see the whiplash inducing irony of booths and pamphlets sponsored by Coca-Cola, or that in-school commercialism would be called out for pummeling a captive audience of children with persuasive mind manipulation tactics so um…guess not.
Ah, the almighty greenback, how proudly she waves.
(almighty greenback accessory’s not included with green GSA beanie, sash, hot pink pants and purposeful purse branded with goodwashing ‘leadership’ schtick)
Clearly the Girl Scouts have reached “anything goes” levels of sellouts with conflicts of interest that influence mindshare and alter kids’ health inside and out, by ALSO teaming with Nestle Quik to hawk high calorie flavors of liquid cookies amidst the national obesity health dialogue. The Nestle corporate food marketing is not a ‘toy’ so can’t be a TOADY contender, but it’s a sure sign of what nonprofits are doing in the spectrum of sellouts, as this opens ‘precedent’ that makes me shudder. (Take action “Quik” via this mom’s petition on Change.org)
We’ve already seen Lego and Play-Doh disrupted in the toy aisle with massive corporate licensing deals and plastic produced junk food negating the positives of developmental benchmarks in imaginative pretend play and creativity…
And who can forget McDonalds Happy Meal faux food and cash register, McDonalds fries and Oreo cookie branded Play-Doh, and of course, Mattel’s “partnership” with McDonalds “burger flipping Barbie” and other unhealthy gems)
Maybe the Girl Scouts will carry over the Nestle Quik brand extension to give Barbie a bottle as an “accessory” and have the global food brand “sponsor” it under the guise of a “nutrition” badge to learn about “energy balance” gawdforbid.
What’s next, a Mattel Monster High kindness and caring badge? A Hot Wheels Cub Scout sash for driver safety?
C’mon Mattel, play fair and keep your toy marketing out of youth leadership groups and historic organizational institutions…
Be clear: My TOADY vote is about corporate creep into the nonprofit sector, not just Barbie bashing.
I grew up with Barbie dolls in the era of the “teeny weeny slumber party scale set to a permanent 110” yet still managed to survive sans unhealthy body image ideals…But be VERY clear, that was BEFORE rampant pop culture objectification and sexualization of children into unfathomable vampy campy ‘doll-like’ pseudo-adult personas which have eroded their socio-emotional health and pummeled their psyches.
That was BEFORE “Toddlers and Tiaras” style toxicity of programming with little girls treated as divas, fashion accessories and props, or dressed in ‘mini-me’ adult styles in preteen adolescent come hither cues that have messed up a sense of healthy sexuality and vaulted ‘youth adolescent health and depression’ into a top World Health Organization statistic for concern.
That was BEFORE the need for a bipartisan body image bill addressing children’s health from slicing and dicing with Photo Shop creating unattainable imagery far beyond Barbie’s already distorted body type with ‘aspirational’ toy shop proportions as shown here in ‘life size’ depictions by Galia Slayen, with 18″ waist, a 39″ bust and size 3 feet!
The cultural context of girls sexualization and beauty ideals has changed remarkably for the worst.
I DO have ethics issues with Mattel’s sophisticated marketing manipulation machine, and will preclude the Girl Scout leadership and educational focus being purported by reminding that the absurd objectification of Barbie on its 50th anniversary via the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition nixed any positive “I Can Be Anything” empowerment or STEM ideals being put forth with OTHER corporate partnerships.
The mixed message purporting career pathways in coding lands particularly flat with the Sports Illustration juxtaposition of highly sexualized fannies of uber-models and the toy doll cast in the role of ‘spokesdoll’ as an “Unapologetic” beauty ideal. They set back any STEM fem attempts to rebrand the doll as pertinent for today’s young girls, while mounting a twisted “fem forward” charm offensive having the toy be the spokes doll “voice” of a tired feminist trope, positioning the Sports Illustration cover in a L’oreal-esque “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” mode using the #Unapologetic tag. Ugh. So STEM career women are pigeonholed as Poindexter stereotypes? Wow.
I’ll be addressing some of the GOOD things that have come out of these partnership errors, including the recent “I Can Be…A Computer Engineer’ book debacle of faux STEM slop which turned into an awareness raising triumph spawning countless remixes and the hilarious “Feminist Hacker Barbie” hashtag in my next piece interviewing Georgia Tech Ph.D. student Casey Fiesler who created one of the first remixes) as the whole point of mistakes is to learn from them and pivot, which Mattel hopefully will do with a vengeance.
After all, that’s the whole point of raising voices and calling out misfires to signal a slap on the wrist to those companies you feel are exerting undue influence on kids with cruddy cues.
Which of these gets your TOADY vote for worst toy?
Will you cast your vote for the “Anything App” funded by McDonalds, which loops 15 second bursts of vacuous bodily function riffs, sassy snark and Cartoon Network clips into the 6-11 year old boy demographic? That one was a close third vote here for perpetuating ‘always on’ attention deficit driven media serving up hundreds of clips of ‘ewww’ inducing grossness. Now imagine the prosocial uses of such wasted time that could be targeted for positive pursuits with freshness and fun? Hmn. Media producers? Toy companies? Let’s change the channel of influence.
Meanwhile, huge thanks to CCFC’s important advocacy work calling out lousy cues and reminding they can be trumped by good ones.
Dismantling “toy partnerships” like the recent Greenpeace and CCFC protest over the Lego and Shell Oil toy deals raised awareness over Arctic drilling creating stewardship of the planet through their powerful viral video, tearing off the blinders of those with ‘eyes wide shut’ about brand influence through children’s toys.
These types of victories make the TOADY awards purposeful beyond public shaming of corporate credos that upend children’s health…They make a difference with pushback worldwide to proudly give a strong “oh, no you don’t” lens to corporate marketing taking up too much space on the planet…And the retail shelf.
It matters. YOU matter. Sounding off is the first step toward gleaning corporate social responsibility, and write-in suggestions are encouraged as well.
It’s TOADY time! Be the voice of change. And reason.
Visual Credits: Lead photo-Discover the Forest.org, boots-NBC.com, commercialfreechildhood.org, caseyfiesler.com, Galia Slayen.com/life size Barbie, Sports Illustrated screenshot