September 19, 2008

Just Shoot Me Now: A Dad Walks Into A Target...

I needed a gallon of mixed paint, and we were running low on diapers, so after I dropped the kid off at pre-school, K2 and I did a combined Home Depot/Target run to the Virginia suburbs. Holy smokes, nothing knocks the wind out of your capitalist sails quite like a visit to the soul-deadening, baby-toting zombie asylum that is an empty big box store at 9AM on a weekday.

With no employees to ask, the few customers were left to wander the aisles in a daze, hoping to find whatever it was that drew them there. [And if anyone else in town needed size 4 Pampers that day? Sorry, I got the only box.] Meanwhile, here's what else I saw, in rapidly descending order of karmic outrage:

Who was I talking to last week about whether they still make Big Wheels anymore? Oh yeah, someone else who avoids going to Target if at all possible.

Q: Do they still make Big Wheels? A: Yes.

The only reason I even ventured off the beaten diaper path was to see the much-blogged Yo Gabba Gabba! toys. The quality is so-so [fine, considering the venue, I suppose]. When I saw this, I was laugh-out-loud stoked that like the third licensed product the Yo Gabba Gabbans put out is a Mister Brobee Microphone ["Hey, goodlooking green beans! We'll be back to pick you up later!"] But it faded quickly when the implications hit me; they are staking out a massive merchandising territory. By 2010, we'll be up to our eyeballs in stuff. Or eyeball, as the case may be. [No offense, Muno.]

Hey, Goodlookin'!

If I'd only stopped browsing then, I might have been fine, if depressed at the sheer plasticness of it all. Then I saw the Little Mommy™ doll. "Girls will love playing mommy with this sweet baby doll--she's perfect for your child's first doll."

Little Mommy. W. T. F.

I have two words for you, Fisher-Price: Bull. Shit. You know damn well that especially at the "first doll" stage, every single kid--boy or girl--will roleplay being a parent--dad or mom. The only plausible--which is not to say excusable--reason for this Little Mommy™ crap is because you sell these things in stores populated largely by sleep-deprived women. The Little Daddy™ angle is too obviously annoying to discuss. But wouldn't targeting both girls and boys with "first dolls" theoretically double your potential customer base? Damn.

15 Comments

"but wouldn't targeting both girls and boys with "first dolls" theoretically double your potential customer base? Damn."

I think the same thing everytime I see that "Tonka: Built for Boyhood" tagline.

Uggh, I'm with you on this. I'm so sick of those sickly pink everything for girls or the boys and trucks/dirt motif. I am really waiting for these companies to GROW UP! Sometimes I feel like the only person left who doesn't want to dress their kid in overly stereotypical clothing/brand whoring wear. I love the idea that my son has a doll, loves to pretend cook while "driving" his car, or whatever the hell else he wants. Errrr. This is why I like to avoid stores.

Wow, so easy to make fun of Target when you always post up multi-thousand dollar chairs, cribs, and strollers for KIDS and BABIES.

Pink offends you now? Stop thinking you are holier than thou.

uh, price is not the point for anything around here; dad-appeal and design are. DT posts plenty of cheap, DIY, and old stuff, too. I *could* ignore crazy $600 Dr. Seuss-lookin' high chairs and just write about our perfect $15 Ikea high chair every day, but frankly, I'd rather go back to Target.

Making fun of products and companies that perpetuate gender stereotypes for their own profit and at my expense as a dad, on the other hand, is what this site has been doing since the beginning, and it'll keep doing it.

And as for hating on the pink hegemony, that's been going on a while, too.

Unfortunately I'm not sure that pushing consumers outside their comfort zones by challenging traditional family roles and narratives is a sure way to double profits.

The "Little Mommy" thing is great for girls. It promotes nurturing and the importance of being a mom, which is great...for little girls. But what about promoting the importance of being a dad for little boys? I wonder if there'd be even more great dads as adults if little boys were given "Little Daddy" toys to play with? Instead, dads just get criticized for what we lack, and ostracized for who we are.

A few things re the dolls - first, note that Fisher-Price is owned by Mattel - Mattel designed and made these dolls and put the Fisher-Price name on them (or that's my understanding.) Second, it isn't entirely fair to blame companies for producing what their customers are asking for. I worked at a company designing toys for a decade, and we would bring in parents, show them ideas, and produce the things they liked best. We certainly showed dolls for boys many, many times but the response was always luke-warm to bad. If the CEO of Fisher-Price or Mattel decided that they would make dolls for boys anyway (because perhaps it would have redeeming social value, though there's really no evidence that it would) and the dolls did poorly, the CEO would be booted and a new one brought it.

Also, Seth's comments are pretty right-on above.

I'm not pretending it's cut 'n dry Mattel's decision, and I'm sure no one is claiming either Mattel or Target is operating to maximize "redeeming social value." But that doesn't diminish the value or validity of pointing out a systemic anomaly in the Toy Industrial Complex. Part of the reason girls get dolls and boys get dolls called "action figures" is because we're all soaking in it, companies and stores and parents and kids alike.

What I call "perpetuating gender stereotypes," a Mattel executive will call "optimizing the appeal to the target customer." Which means that by default, moms are the overwhelming buyer of Little Mommy dolls, probably for their daughters. Does that mean they deserve to be implicated, too? Yeah, probably.

What Seth said. All PC thinking aside, boys and girls are different, with different interests that sometimes overlap or interchange, but that is not the norm - at least to a toy manufacturer.

And why all the Target hate? Does the nature or quality of the products it stocks represent the quality of the shopping experience there? I happen to think it's one of the nicer stores of its kind, even if they do give a ton of money to the Republican party. If there were a better alternative, I'd shop there.

I do sadly lament the lack of a big, independent local toy store, though. I want T-r-Us to f-off and die. If you want to point your blog-o-cannon somewhere, how about them?

I'm not saying I don't like your site, I love the off-the-wall crazy expensive stuff as well. It's just stupid to make fun of Target, it comes off as you trying to be too hip for Target, and that kind of attitude is counter-productive. Elitism is just another name for egotistical and self-centered.

Sleep-Deprived women? All because of a doll labeled "little mommy".. seriously, how many people would actually by their boy a "little daddy" doll. Very few, thus why you don't see it. That's not Mattel or Fisher Price, or even Target's fault. If their was a market, it'd sell and be made... there is not.

It's not like you can't still go buy your boy a doll. My boy plays with his sisters dolls and my wives old Cabbage Patch kids all the time, but he prefers his wooden trains and construction vehicles.

Well, I am elitist about big box stores and the suburbs--because I live in the city; that's what we do, sorry. And I'm conflicted about it, too, because we go sometimes. Also, I'll call out anyone for making exploitative, unnecessary junk, even a show I like by people I like--like Yo Gabba Gabba! Go through the archive, and you'll see that most of the Target references are to either a) some decent/cool product they decide to carry like the Slotti crib, or b) it's busting them for blatantly knocking something off, like Robeez or the Like-a-Bike, or c) it's pointing out that cheap Target versions of brands are crappier than the originals, like Dwell bedding and Carter's bodysuits.

As for the presence of lack of "a market," I think that's just a copout. The alternative to a "little mommy" doll is not a "little daddy" doll, or even a doll that targets boys. When the kid was two--i.e., in "first doll" stage, according to Fisher-Price--every kid in her preschool played with baby dolls the same way. The play pattern is there to be addressed, or to be subtly [or not so subtly] squelched by gender-exclusive marketing and reinforcement.

Don't worry Richard, Target gives plenty of money to the Democrats too. Check out this season's first episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. Matt Taiibi of Rolling Stone did a segment on access to Democratic legislators at the DNC in Denver. (Key takeaway: big corporations have lots, the rest of us have none.) Target is highlighted as hosting a party where, presumably, corporate types got some good face time with party insiders. Pay to play is alive and well and most companies seem to be playing both sides.

What struck me most about that microphone is that the box is in english and french. Is there a large francophone population in Virginia?

NAFTA, baby! Canada requires bilingual packaging. Check your razor blades for similar Quebeckiness.

Re: Greg and French language- If it's sold in Canada, it has to have French as well as English on the package. Most mass market stuff is sold in both USA and Canada.

I hate the pink and girly junk. I like colors, lots of colors in jewel tones, fruit loop colors, NO PASTELS. If orange is a big F-u to pink and blue, then we have a big F-u orange wall in our kid's room.

I would NEVER buy my daughter a "like human" baby doll, ever. If I have a boy, I wouldn't either. What I would do is find a rag/knit/cloth doll from Etsy that is sort of generic, gender-wise and give them that. I have been on a quest for such a doll for my daughter that is age appropriate and have been having trouble.

And Target rocks.

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