Friday, September 4, 2009

Controversial and/or Poorly Conceived Toys of the 80s and 90s

Okay, so maybe nowadays kids are driving in their Power Wheels Escalades and undressing their scantily clad Dallas Cheerleader Barbies and the once-maligned toys of the past seem a bit tame. Back in the 80s and 90s, though, these were more than enough to cause a fuss for one reason or other. Be it safety, content, or just good old fashioned blinding strong moral disapproval, parents and watchdog groups were quick to lash out against some of these negligently thought-out toy releases.

We all know some parents tend to be highly overprotect
ive of their children, and in some of these cases their worries seem a bit over-the-top. In others, however, they're pretty damn well-founded. I'm not exactly sure how so many of these toys got past the quality control teams, but a lot of them are frighteningly dangerous. I can only speak for myself, but I generally prefer my toys not to pierce a cornea or eat my hair to the point of skull-rattling. Then again, maybe that's just me.

Teen Talk Barbie

We all know Barbie may not be the most progressive feminist icon of our time, but
come on. If you're working at Mattel in the 90s, you should probably at least have an inkling that there are some phrases your doll should never utter.

It's not so much that the doll's lines were filthy and inappropriate but rather insanely stupid. Whoever wrote these lines no doubt had a serious facepalm moment the second these hit the stores.
Some of our fave doll's signature lines included:

"Math is tough!"
'"Let's go shopping!"
"Will we
ever have enough clothes?"

It doesn't take a brilliant social commentator (though I'm willing to step up regardless) to see that those lines in succession are essentially product suicide. Angry parent complaints poured in, and the doll's phrases were quickly reduced from 269 to a mere 4. Guess she had a lot of inappropriate things to say. Whatever, Mattel. You can give her a wheelchair and a computer, but we know your true intentions.

Snacktime Cabbage Patch Kids

These dolls were pret
ty perplexing on concept alone. You're telling me I feed my dolly, and the food goes right through her into her backpack? What does she have, some sort of carrier bag form of IBS? It's confusing enough without the added elements of danger and surprise that no doubt came later.

Kids adored these toys. So much so that they w
anted to lean in and show affection for their dolls, at which point the doll would mercilessly begin chomping on their long hair to the point of no return. It wasn't much of a consolation that you could find it in the backpack afterward, I'll tell you that much. Fingers made some tasty snacks, as well. I'm sure Mattel thought they were pretty crafty for not including an on/off switch but rather using a simple censor to enable chewing. That is, until you COULD NOT STOP THE DOLL FROM EATING YOUR HAIR. Enough said. Let's move on.

Talking Freddy Krueger Doll

Kids love horror films, right? I mean, who better
than young kids to watch terrifying tales sure to induce scary dreams and night terrors for years to come? I know if I were a parent in the late 80s, I would have just loved for my kids to see Nightmare on Elm Street and also own some corresponding promotional merchandise. Aside from the fact that I'm still afraid of the movie myself, that is.

According to this no-doubt highly verifiable ad I found on Craig's List for one of these dolls, the pull-string mechanism gives us six friendly phrases: Hi, I'm Freddy, Welcome To Elm Street, Watch Out Freddy's Back, Lets Be Friends, Pleasant Dreams, Ha Ha Ha Ha!

That sounds. Awful. Seriously. Just, frightening. You know, like the kind of thing I'd like to sleep with in my room so it can kill me in the night.

Garbage Pail Kids

I couldn't find an ad for these babies, so here's a lovely youtube compilation of the cards set to angry music. Enjoy!

Let it be known that I actually was a pretty big fan of the mid-80s Garbage Pail Kids. My parents, however, were notably less keen. This Topps line was a clear parody of the Cabbage Patch Kids, one so obvious that it led to inevitable toy company lawsuits. More interestingly, the line was conceived by Art Spiegelman, Pullitzer Prize winning cartoonist of the Holocaust-themed
Maus comics. Wait, what? I mean, I love Maus, it's very moving, but...what? Really?

Garbage Pail Kids were trading cards depicting disgusting and allegedly offensive characters. These winners including Valerie Vomit, Adam Bomb, and Foul Phil, all starred in their own trading card complete with stomach-turning illustration. Kids delighted in them, but adults were less than convinced of their trade value. They were quickly banned from schools and parents complained about content in droves. That did not, however, stop Topps from coming out with a movie and a cartoon. Long live the franchise!

Lawn Darts (jarts)

Who doesn't love a fun afternoon of outdoor games with their families? Well, probably the over 6000 people injured by lawn darts could stand to live without it. Or who knows, maybe they can't stand. Or live, for that matter.

Damn Jarts. They seemed like such a good idea at the time. Who doesn't love throwing a sharp metal object at top speed toward their opponent? Sounds pretty win-win to me.

The real issue was that these things stuck to
everything. The CPSC warned following a recall that "
Lawn darts can cause skull punctures and other serious injuries. CPSC urges consumers to discard or destroy all lawn darts immediately. They should not be given away since they may be of harm to others." Ouch. Skull punctures. It's hard to believe that thousands were injured and a few killed before this product was taken from the shelves. It was kind of fun, though. You have to admit. If you lived, of course.

Hopefully next time you're designing a toy to embrace sexism to puncture eyelids, you'll remember some of these mistakes of the past and at least add some sort of warning or disclaimer to the packaging. Yes, these ideas were generally ridiculous, but many managed to grab media attention by being incredibly popular. It doesn't matter if a toy may kill you or distort your sense of morality, sometimes you've just got to have it. I'm only hoping
it did not include a Cabbage Patch Snacktime Sweeney Todd style haircut.


Anonymous said...

I remember the news coverage about the Cabbage Patch Dolls, wow! Luckily, I've always found those dolls from the Patch INSANELY creepy so I've never owned one, but I was one of the douchebag kids laughing about it eating hair.

Nic said...

Wow. Darts that punctured your skull, dolls that ate your hair...the 90s really was a dangerous decade to grow up in, wasn't it? I'm surprised any of us made it through!

Melanie's Randomness said...

Hilarious. I can't believe there was a doll that accidentally ate hair. I almost fell off my chair. No wonder we're the way we are now. lol.

Badass Geek said...

Oh, I remember the night my parents took away the manic Cabbage Patch doll from my sister. It was a bad night.

Carol said...

ohhh yes! I remember the drama surrounding "math is tough!"

Freck said...

This is awesome. I had no idea Barbie said those things, and uh, those Cabbage Patch dolls? Wow. So creepy.

nikki said...

We were Garbage Pail Kids obsessed when I was a kid. My brother found a box full of them when my parents downsized several years ago.

Also, lawn darts have long been banned in my state (Maryland). Still, my brother was playing in a friends yard, tripped and fell onto an old rusty lawn dart and it pierced his elbow. He needed stitches and a tetanus shot. So there you go, bad all around.

nikki said...

Oh, and remember the Barbie thing was mocked on The Simpsons. Lisa had a Malibu Stacy doll that said things like, "Don't ask me, I'm just a girl!"

La La La Leah said...

For some reason I never had any of these toys...... My parents hated me =(

Hannah Miet said...

I know, right? I had a teen talk Barbie, and was always frustrated that she couldn't properly argue with me about whether Death of a Salesman is a tragedy by classical standards.

I'll take you shopping for a brain, strumpet.

Carrie said...

I loved me some garbage pail kids!

Srg said...

I'm living proof that yard darts were the worst-conceived toy ever. I still have the scar from a stray dart that nearly took out my right eye when I was 5 years old. It wasn't long after than incident that those things were banned in my state as well.

Hanako66 said...

how the hell did I not have teen talk barbie?

Lil' Woman said...

I loved the Garbage Pail Kids, I remember my pap had a bunch of stickers stuck on a cupboard in the garage of them! :)

OceanDreams said...

Wow, that truly brought back a lot of memories, great job covering all of these! Ha ha, those darts are classic and I so remember Barbies, My Little Ponies, and more. It goes on and on! Happy weekend!

for the love of pictures said...

I had so many Garbage Pail Kids cards and stickers. My parents were fine with it - I mean someone had to buy them for me :) I remember those hair eating Cabbage Patch dolls. I stuck to the regular non-evil ones. Those eating ones were just creepy.

Samantha said...

I can't believe I never had ANY of those! I had a TON of Barbies, but not the Teen Talk Barbie! Kind of funny, though, to look back at what companies actually put out on the market for us to play with!

Found you via 20sb, and I love your blog theme! :)

Clairebear said...

I had a Barbie that talked - pretty sure it wasn't teen talk barbie though....but I still remember all the things she said.
Wana go shopping?
Don't be late for school!
Help me pick a party dress!
Pink's my FAVOURITE colour!
Who's your favourite pop star?
You're my BEST friend!

...Im guessing the doll did it's job if I can still remember what she said, huh?

Kristen said...

I remember really wanting that cabbage patch doll!!

Kerree said...

I actually would have loved the Freddie doll :)

dapper kid said...

Lawn Darts?!! How did that even seem like a good idea in the initial meeting? And those Garbage Pail Kids are quite educational lol. Yikes, I would hate to think how I would have reacted if my mother had pulled out a Freddy Krueger doll when I misbehaved!

Kristin said...

Shut up. That Freddy doll is frightening!! They might as well have come up with a Candyman doll too. I've gone and freaked myself out.

LiLu said...

Dood. Math IS tough!!! That's why I'm glad I have men and machines to do that hard work for me. While I paint my nails.

Optimistic Pessimist said...

i don't remember the dolls that ate hair, but i totally love the lawn darts game!

Kelly said...

this is HILARIOUS!! i'm cracking up at this post. so many childhood memories....

but you're right, it's amazing that these toys made it through to toy stores.

floreta said...

wow i don't remember hearing about the cabbage patch or lawn darts. haha. don't these products get tested before they get released to the markets? wow.

cerah_222 said...

i have the freddy doll =]

my friends say he sounds like an old lady lol

Ashley said...

I remember the Garbage Pail Kids!

Also, while I didn't have the Barbie you mentioned, I did have the rollerblading one whose skates threw sparks. Ha...good thinking on Mattel's part, that's for sure!

Anonymous said...

There was a group, the Barbie Liberation Organization, that used to buy Teen Talk Barbies, swap out the voice cards with GI Joe dolls and then smuggle them back on the shelves. Kids ended up with Barbies saying, vengence is mine, and GI Joes that talked about weddings and shopping

Digg This!