Tom Clyde: Breaking weird
Here’s the strangest news story of the week. Big box retailer Toys "R" Us announced that it will be pulling a line of action figures from the TV show "Breaking Bad" from its stores in response to a protest petition started by a customer in Florida. What’s the world coming to when you can’t buy your kid a set of action figures to help little Johnny run an imaginary meth lab in the playroom? Damn do-gooders.
Every year, there are protests about how unrealistic Barbie is. Her body is not normal. It’s like she had some major work done out at the hospital. And she is a materialistic sort, demanding every accessory possible. Still, Barbie can come equipped as Dr. Barbie or any number of professional depictions. You don’t have to settle for the standard issue Bimbo Barbie. Still, there are always objections that Barbie isn’t presenting a realistic body image to little girls. But no amount of protest has driven Barbie from the shelves.
Other big sellers in the action figure market are the typical Star Wars characters, and an endless supply of superheroes from Batman to the Power Rangers. All of them are intended to stimulate the imaginations of children as they act out different scenes with their action figures saving the day.
As a child, I had a set of Lone Ranger and Tonto action figures, including Silver and Scout. The furniture in the house became a classic Western landscape of sofa mountains and hidden canyons. Countless evil-doers were driven from their lairs under the dining room table and brought to justice. My sister’s grandchildren still play with them. They have aged pretty well, though Tonto is now doing justice with only one leg, and Silver has lost his tail. The saddles have vanished.
Children love these figures, which open the door to so much imagination. The market is pretty heavy on the super-hero action figures. Barbie has a lock on the bimbo market, and the normally proportioned Bratz dolls have gained market share. The only opening left was to go for the really evil side. So Mezco Toyz, a company I wasn’t able to find much information on, decided to go to the dark side, and make the "Breaking Bad" action figures.
For $18 you can get Walter White in his hazmat suit, or in a regular suit holding a pistol. The meth lab accessories were extra. You can get stuffed plush figures of Walter White. What child wouldn’t sleep more soundly cuddled up with a 12" stuffed depiction of the very embodiment of evil in a bright yellow hazmat suit?
The Florida mom, who set up a petition on something called change.org, said that selling meth lab action figures was a violation of the family values espoused by Toys "R" Us. She acknowledged that the TV series was top-quality adult theater, but wondered if it was really appropriate on the shelves of a toy store. According to one news account online, Bryan Cranston, the actor who played drug dealer Walter White, said he was so mad that, "I am burning my Florida mom action figure in protest."
To counter the anti-meth lab action figure movement, another petition was filed in favor of keeping meth-lab action figures in Toys "R" Us. According to an article on Huffington Post, a California man named Daniel Pickett is petitioning to have the toys stay on the shelf. "I’m a parent of a school-aged child myself, but I’m an informed, responsible parent and I closely monitor the toys, TV, music, movies and games that my daughter sees," Pickett wrote. "That’s my job, and I take it seriously. But I also like toys/action figures and I want 3-D representations of characters from my favorite properties and I love being able to walk into a store and find them."
So there you have it. Florida mom doesn’t want her kids exposed to meth-lab action figures in the toy store, and California dad wants his action figures readily available. But the management of Toys "R" Us has made their decision, and the drug dealer dolls are off the shelves. They are still available from Amazon.com, from the manufacturer, and numerous other retailers. Not even a retailer the size of Toys-R-Us can come between the parent of a school aged child and his — the parent’s — action figures.
Like so many of these disputes, I mostly don’t get it. I was relived to come to the conclusion that the market for "Breaking Bad" meth lab action figures probably isn’t children. But it was almost more troubling to realize that there are adults who "want 3-D representations of characters from [their] favorite properties." And they want them now.
So now I have this very disturbing image of adult cubicle-dwellers playing with their meth lab action figures while the power grid fries itself.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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