Mom & Pop Culture: Totally Terrible Toys

The abundance of really awful, crappy (and sometimes just down right WTF?) toys that exist in this world never ceases to amaze me. I didn’t quite realize the extent of it until my son was born. Then, out of nowhere, catalogues began clogging our mailbox, especially in the months leading up to the holidays.

I would flip through them, shocked at some of the toys that were being marketed to kids. I was safe in my little infant bubble though—at least for a while. My son was content to play with a spoon, a sock, or even his own feet for a few months.

However, once they’re a few years old, boring old socks and spoons just don’t cut it anymore, and you find yourself faced with the daunting task of standing in the toy aisle, wondering how the hell you got there, and how the hell some of these toys were even invented in the first place.

As the holidays draw closer, I’ll definitely talk more here about catalogues, certain toys (like Barbie & G.I. Joe) that can send the wrong message, and the overzealous push for gender stereotyping in the toy world. But today, I wanted to talk toys because up until November 28th you can vote for the worst toy of the year.

Yup, that’s right. The folks at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood scoured the toy aisles and found (what they feel are) the top five most offensive toys, and will present the TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young children) Award to the one that takes home the (dis)honor of Worst Toy of the Year.

Click here to check out the five finalists and VOTE!

If I had a chance to nominate some toys, here’s just a few that would have made my list (caveat: I don’t think all of these came out in 2011, but since I’m not actually nominating them, I figured I could have some leeway):

Imagine Babyz Fashion Video Game for Nintendo DS

Imagine Babyz fashion Video Game

Let’s ignore the fact that somebody clearly forgot how to spell “Baby’s” for a second, and focus on the other stuff. Like the fact that this is a video game that promotes trussing up little babies—in the hopes of what? Preparing them to be on an upcoming season of Toddlers & Tiaras? I’m not so sure that “Show your model babies how to rock the runway shows and photoshoots as you select music and dance moves for them” is the best message to send to young kids. Instilling the notion that looks and beauty are valued above all else (even in babies!) is not something I’m interested in having my child learn. Besides sending negative messages to kids, these types of games only serve to normalize and reinforce the idea for parents that little girls only want and need pink, sparkly, fashion-based “fun.”

Fisher-Price Smart Cycle Extreme

Smart Cycle Extreme


So, for almost $150 we can plug a kid in and have him or her pretend to ride a bike instead of actually going outside and…ride a bike? And don’t try to sell me on the fact that they can learn math or reading while they “bike.” There are plenty of ways to do that without a video/TV/stationary bike. I feel like our society is already headed to a place where pretty much everything is done electronically anyway, do we really need to encourage electronic bike riding when outdoor playtime seems to be at a premium?

Sweet Talkin’ Ken

Do I even need to explain why? Really? “Ultimate boyfriend” Ken can tell me I don’t look fat and my make up looks awesome? Exactly what every 8 year old girl needs to hear and absorb. Or not.

As for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, do you agree with the toys they picked? What would you have nominated for a TOADY?

Previously: Mom & Pop Culture: Occupy Sesame Street! How Not To Lose Your Activist Spirit, Mom & Pop Culture: McGender: Unpacking the Happy Meal

by Avital Norman Nathman
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Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer and fulltime feminist killjoy. Find her tweeting @TheMamafesto

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7 Comments Have Been Posted

Fisher Price "Bike"

I think that the Fisher Price electronic bike is actually not a bad idea, in some circumstances.

If you live in an urban setting where outdoor time is dangerous (due to passing cars and pedophiles) and you can't always take her to the park, a bike like this might be an opportunity for her to actually get in some exercise on a regular basis while learning.

Of course, on the flip side, if you're forced to live in a place like this, you probably can't afford the $150 bike. But still, it does offer an alternative if that price point is not beyond your means.

However, you're right that there's no reason why a child with abundant opportunity to be outdoors should be inside. I agree entirely with that! And I'm sure there are plenty of people buying these that have more than abundant green space to shoo their kids to rather than sticking them in front of the TV.

Indoor Bike

I agree that this might not be the worst toy ever. We live in Brooklyn, and it's gonna get real cold real soon. I've got an energetic 3-year old and I'm going to be in my third trimester all winter long. An indoor bike my kid can ride for a while in the afternoons, without me having to lug myself with him downstairs so he can walk in the snow for half a block before whining to go home, would actually be quite nice.

Of course, that's just me, and I'm sure there are many parents out there who would be more than happy to use this toy as an excuse not to get their kids outside at ALL.

I vote for McDonald's Cashier Barbie

This toy is at least ten years old because I first saw it when I was pregnant with my first child. My eager-for-a-grandbaby in-laws had just dragged me, kicking and screaming, into a Toys R Us. I was zooming down the Barbie aisle, thanking the good Lord that I was going to have a boy so people wouldn't be attempting to sneak any of this shit into my house (because, y'know, boys don't play with dolls), when McDonald's Cashier Barbie stopped me in my tracks. If there was ever a moment when I might have totally flipped out in a store, been banned for life and thrown in jail until I cooled down, that was it.

Where to even begin on McDonald's Cashier Barbie, product of an unholy union between two monstrous corporations that both already making way, way too much money and wielding far too much influence on their own? A doll that sends little girls the message, "you too can work a soul-sucking minimum wage job one day, and look perky and sexy while doing it? Whee! There's so much you can accomplish in life if you start building your identity around two of the most exploitative corporations on Earth from the moment you're born! Have some pretend french fries! Don't get fat, now!"

Needless to say, McDonald's Cashier Barbie was not wearing a hair net. If there was one included in the package somewhere, I'm sure it was pink and glittery.

So, yeah, to me this toy will always remain the acme of "horrid things never to give children." At least, I think it will. I realize there's no ruling out the possibility that some day somebody will come up with something worse.

fisher price bike

I'll have to disagree with the veredict on this one. I got it for my nephew and it was a big hit. There are times, especially in cold nasty winters, when active kids don't get enough time outside so this bike was invaluable. BTW I found it in a thrift store at a fraction of the price so these toys do not have to be bought at top dollar. Now that he has outgrown it, we donated it back so that another family can enjoy it.

Before watching the video, I

Before watching the video, I thought Sweet Talkin' Ken came with pre-recorded messages, but apparently, he can be programmed to say whatever one wants him to say, which I think might actually be, in a weird way, better. I can imagine a younger version of myself (and my friends) having all kinds of perverse fun with this doll. Maybe all hope is not lost?

For Sure!

Yes - you record all of Ken's words, so you totally could turn the whole concept on it's head. (And knowing how I sometimes played with my Barbie dolls when I was younger, well...let's just say it could get interesting).

However, my issue is that this is clearly not how they're marketing the doll. If they marketed him as you being able to have him say whatever you want - awesome. But they're marketing it as specifically "sweet talking" b/c he's there only to make you feel good about yourself - what kind of messages is that sending to both girls *and* boys? It's making the girls feel that they need compliments to be validated, and presenting the assumption that boys are only good for making "sweet" comments, and only then - they can only manage the "right" ones when told what to say. There's a whole host of issues going on there.


I know you said to ignore it, but the spelling of baby's as 'Babyz' is genuinely horrifying. It also indicates that the kind of buyer that the marketing team was aiming for can only communicate in text language, i.e. 'I luv my babyz game lyk sooo much'. Scary stuff.

Great article, btw.

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