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Terrifying toys for tots and tweens

Jess Shaffer | Sunday, November 9, 2008

“It’s the first video game you can play with your butt!”

Or so rabid cartoon bunnies told me.

I was greeted with this advertisement for the Wii release, “Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party,” at my most recent trip to the theater. My first response was shock; my next awe. My final reaction was a nearly endless peal of laughter.

Though I’m genetically inclined to embellish, even I lack the sick genius it takes to make up something like this. Furthermore, in case you were skeptical after my introduction, I do not have any mental deficiencies to speak of. Therefore, I can only conclude that this demonic cartoon ad does indeed exist. And, unfortunately, I also must accept, with gasps of simultaneous laughter and disgust, its claim that it is possible to play video games with your butt.

After recovering from such an immediate shock to my conscience, I come back to the phrase, “Oh God, won’t somebody please think of the children?” (Old school “Simpsons” references, anyone?). Because apparently someone needs to. Those “raving rabbids” aren’t, and I guess the current toy industry isn’t so concerned with children’s psychological or social well-being.

Seriously, what is this video game priming kids to do? First, they start playing video games with their butts more than they interact with other kids. Then what? Will those same little kids grow up to be alarmingly comfortable with their butts? Or will they grow up with a complete lack of social awareness, which has its own mixed bag of trauma and drama?

It’s not just this video game, though. Think seriously about the toys, children’s movies, and even children’s clothing that are painfully common. Bratz dolls, for one, basically have unnaturally (and unhealthily) skinny bodies, with grossly oversized heads. Their eyes rival those of cartoon aliens.

I’m not 100 percent sure what the message to children is here. I guess it’s trying to damage body image as early as possible, as if movies and magazines won’t accomplish that goal soon enough.

Or perhaps the makers of Bratz are obsessive supporters of unnecessarily big hair, and the only way to represent this in their product is to triple the size of a proportionately sized head. Either way, these factors don’t seem to add up to a healthy, well-adjusted image for children that assuredly will only get worse with time.

And as far as children’s movies go, I have to speculate that they’ve run out of cute, endearing human stories. They may have even run out of cute, endearing animals-with-human-attributes stories. Now it seems that aliens, robots, monsters, vegetables, and some species that is 80 percent android, 10 percent preteen, and 10 percent commercialized “rocker” have become the new childhood heroes.

Cinderella, Robin Hood, Captain Planet, The Simpsons and Sesame Street were my heroes. The princess regained her independence from her horrid stepfamily and won her prince. The medieval foxy hero (the Disney version, of course) robbed the rich to feed the poor. That blue guy with green hair brought together environmentally friendly children to save mother earth. And Big Bird chatted me up about kindergarten social skills, grammar, and math.

And while all these films and shows have their own bag of psychologically scaring material, and maybe I’m idealizing them because they were part of my childhood, I do firmly believe that any of the aforementioned childhood heroes could totally kick Hannah Montana, Wall-E, Veggie Tales, Stitch, etc. butt. Cinderella, Robin Hood, Captain Planet and Big Bird could probably defeat those crazy, rabid cartoon bunnies. I would even venture to say that in a throw down where the competition was to play a video game with your butt, my favorite old-school characters would still win.

Even if they did find it to be a tasteless and socially awkward display.

The views expressed in Scene and Heard are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Jess Shaffer at jshaffe1@nd.edu