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 overprotective 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 pretty 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 wanted 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.