Banned Plastic

This feature was first published at Palisades Toys website as one of the 'insider daily bits'.  It got such good feedback, I plan on doing some more for them in the future.  Now on to banned plastic!

I've been collecting toys for about 15 years. In that time, there have been plenty of banned toys, but usually this was due to safety. Toys like the first McDonald's Playmobil promotion in the 80's that were a demonstrated choking hazard, and forced Mickey D's to start the Under 3 toys, or the slightly too well designed firing rockets on the Battlestar Galactica ships are great examples, but dozens and dozens of toys get recalled and banned every year due to safety situations. But pulling an action figure because people were displeased with what it represented was a fairly rare occurrence.

It seems like the political and social environment of the last 5 years or so has drastically increased the number of toys being banned due to their 'inappropriate nature'. There were those that might get the touch up treatment - some panties painted on here, a t-shirt added there, a little lengthening of a skirt over there - but for the most part basic modifications were all that was necessary. Sure, there were those that got the axe, quite literally, back in the 80's and 90's. The large Alien figure is a good example, and because of the recall he's quite sought after today. But in the last few years, the number of banned characters has risen dramatically.

Just think about the few months - Palisades had to pull their Marvin Nash, Hasbro ran into troubles with the Israeli Defense Force, the new CEO of Toys R Us popped a vein over the Scary Tales figures, and the Mad Bomber was relegated to a few on-line stores. Then there are the figures that made controversy, although they still made it to the consumers, like the Tortured Souls figures from McToys or the Adolf Hitler figure from Drastic Plastic.

And every time the controversy sparks, both sides rally with their cries of outrage - the offended can't understand how anyone would want a toy like this, and the proponent can't understand how close minded the offended can be. Neither side takes the time to consider where their own feelings come from, let only where the feelings of the opposition arise from. So what's all the hubbabaloo about?

I believe it's an unfortunate convening of three factors. First there is the altered political and social environment I mentioned earlier. I hate the term 'politically correct', because it's so widely used to label anything the speaker might not like about our current society that it's been rendered meaningless, but there is an increase in the number of things that are no longer considered appropriate in our society. It used to be that by avoiding religion and politics, you could navigate most social seas - that's no longer the case. You better avoid sex, race, ethnic background, pet and computer preferences, and great taste vs. less filling. Even discussing the weather can end in a nasty tidal wave of insults.

Clearly the events of 9-11 caused some of this as well. Our social climate has certainly changed since then, but much of the silliness was already in place before that tragic day. Consider Rad Repeating Tarzan, who ended up with a major packaging change after a net rumor started over his 'hand motion'.

The second factor is one often ignored - the companies are pushing the envelope in ways not even imagined even 3 or 4 years ago. Not one but TWO lines of figures based on the film Reservoir Dogs? No way. Figures based on porn stars, genocidal maniacs, and serial killers? Oh, yea, that's going to happen...but it has. The industry has changed drastically in the last five years, as new channels of distribution opened up and smaller manufacturers began to test the limits that society has set. In that context, it's hard to imagine a situation where controversy wasn't the ultimate price.

The third factor is the most compelling though, and the easiest to overlook. It's the greatest chasm of confusion between those that say "what's wrong with a Tortured Souls figure" and those that say "what the hell would you want one of those for". It's a basic misunderstanding over icons.

We are an idolatrous society, and we have thousands of years of social evolution that is an almost instinctual force. From early clay figures, to the beautifully sculpted statues of all religions, to even the voodoo dolls used to harm enemies, icons are a tremendous force in our society. Those articulated representations of characters good and bad aren't just toys, or statues, or art - they are icons, and as such the owners must worship them.

Our earliest art was inspirational - you won't see too many cave paintings where Grog spears himself in the foot in a bumbled attempt to chase down a mastodon. But even art is given far more latitude than plastic icons. Icons speak to our earliest clay representations of our Gods, and we have worshiped them for so long that it's an automatic gut response today to believe that any icon must represent a form of deity to the owner.

Don't believe me? Then consider the usual instinctual reaction to a figure like Adolf Hitler. Ask even many of the hard-core military collectors how they feel, and the usual response is one of discomfort. Even those that fully understand the historical significance of the figure, understand that it is reasonable to make one, and that no one should try to censor such a thing, still will tell you they would feel uncomfortable owning one. The logical mind may say one thing, but often the emotional mind will say another.

So the next time you find yourself cringing you see a figure on the shelf or hear about plans to produce it, take some time to examine your feelings, and try to understand where your repulsion is coming from. It just might be an opportunity to learn a little more about your self. Hey, you might still decide that itís an abomination from hell, but at least youíll be able to say you gave it the thought and reflection that decision deserved.

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