'Tis the season when toys come front-and-center in our consciousness. In the drive to produce thousands of new toys each year, the industry occasionally missteps, producing toys that anger rather than amuse the buying audience.
Here are ten toys that reached the market over the past few years that probably never should have seen the light of day.
More than one toy disaster can be chalked up to cross-marketing, when two products are marketed together. Mattel stepped in it in 1997 while cross-marketing with Nabisco. "Oreo Fun Barbie" was produced to market the cookie, and the doll was garbed in Oreo-labeled clothes with a dandy Oreo-shaped purse.
Unfortunately, the doll was produced in two versions, one with a white Barbie, the other with a black one. As the Urban Dictionary explains, Oreo is "an insulting term often used by blacks to derogate other blacks as 'Black on the outside, white on the inside.'" The dolls were widely reviled and quickly withdrawn from the market.
Chalk another one up to our nation's fear of terrorists. BrickArms is a toy manufacturer that makes weapons and figurines compatible with the LEGO universe. One of its warrior dolls, Bandit, (since discontinued) was designed wearing a head scarf, carrying an AK-47, a rocket strapped to his back, and a string of bombs hanging on his chest. Some parents immediately saw an Al Qaeda fighter and protested loudly. No word on Homeland Security's take on this, but the creator, Will Chapman, has not yet ended up in a cage in Guantanamo.
Play-Doh Drill 'n Fill Playset
Want to see your child's face fill with delight? Just tell them it's time to go to the dentist.
Not. Despite the most advanced painkillers and attention diverters, the dentist's office is still way, way down the list of children's favorite hangouts, so one has to wonder what possessed Play-Doh to bring to market a kit that allowed kids to play dentist? The kit comes complete with a mouth full of teeth that can be drilled and filled (with Play-Doh, of course). The kit doesn't appear to include a toy hypodermic, so these procedures must be carried out without novocaine. What fun!
Harry Potter and the Vibrating Broom
It's time for Harry Potter fever again, and with it expect a bevy of new toys. None, we can only hope, will be as poorly thought out as the discontinued vibrating Nimbus 2000. This flying broom, the same brand as that ridden during Quidditch matches by Harry himself, looked like the real thing, but, to the discomfort of parents, was built to vibrate as the child rode it. The vibrations "down there" led to many a cheap joke and the ire of parents who didn't want to draw their child's attention to that part of the body any sooner than necessary.
There are a lot of strong arguments in favor of breast feeding, but not every parent would find playing at breast feeding an appropriate activity for his or her youngster. Nonetheless, the Spanish company Berjuan has brought just such a toy to market: the Bebé Glotón. The doll comes complete with a nippled vest that the child can don in order to provide sustenance to the baby. The nipples, in the form of open flowers, even make a sucking sound.
Airport Security Play Set
It would take a child with vast imagination to find any fun whatsoever in the process that adults look forward to like they do a sigmoidoscopy: the airport security checkpoint. This is even more true now that the hand-pats include even the most indelicate parts of the body.
Encouraging a child to play as a professional groper seems like a very bad idea.
Mommy's Boob Job
Books always make a fun gift for a child, and many do a fine job of combining entertainment and education. In 2008, however, a plastic surgeon in Florida crossed the line with his book "My Beautiful Mommy." Why? Because the book was written to help explain mom's plastic surgery to children four to seven years of age.
The picture book explains all about mom's new boobs, resculptured nose and liposuctioned tush. What's the lesson here? I can just hear the child saying, "I can't wait until I can pay to have someone make me pretty!"
My Cleaning Trolley
Sexual stereotyping, once central to the design of American toys, is much less evident today, but here's an example of how it can still appear and set the teeth on edge of the distaff parent. Last year's My Cleaning Trolley set was pink, equipped with a variety of brooms, clothes, sprayer and even a tiny toilet plunger — perfect for those aspiring to minimum-wage night jobs. The capper? On the box, prominently displayed, the words "Girls Only."
Mattel's American Girl dolls are more than figurines made of plastic; they are high-price-tag dolls complete with (pricey) wardrobes and, more importantly, comprehensive back stories. One of the dolls, introduced last year, was Gwen Thompson. Her story? She had, until recently, been living with her mom in the family car. Her dad had run out on on Gwen and her mom, and they were subsequently evicted from their home.
The plight of homeless children is sad and real. However, is the life of children, little bundles of insecurity already, made better by playing with a doll that represents their worst fears?
"Crazy For You" Teddy Bear
Over the past 100 years, our society has evolved to the point that it's no longer thought appropriate to make fun of the insane; most of the time, anyway. And we certainly don't want to plant that idea in the minds of our youngsters. Imagine then, the reception by those dealing with mental illness when The Vermont Teddy Bear Company put out a new doll for Valentine's Day in 2005, the "Crazy for You" bear. The bear wore a straight-jacket, begging the question, What would he do with those paws if he were loose?
Like some of the other products in this list, the Crazy For You Bear is a sought-after collectible, listed for $550 on eBay at the time of this writing.