Merchandising and the World of Suck it generates.

Or to paraphrase the late, great Bill Hicks: ‘Merchandisers kill yourselves now’

One of the things I’ve spent a lot of time doing recently is trolling round toy shops with my son. The little fella is, at the age of five, already a colossal geek. He is a fan of (amongst others and in no particular order) Batman, the Avengers (and related sub-franchises), Pixar, Young Justice, Justice League, Doctor Who, Green Lantern, Ben 10, X-Men, Spider-man, Star Wars and Superman. Oh yeah, and Charlie and Lola. Which has the best theme ever, even better than ‘Bad Things’ from True Blood.* This gives him a voracious appetite for action figures, DVD’s, toys, games etc that will never be sated by the amount of money we’re willing to spend on these things. What is nice, however is to have him look at certain items and go: ‘Well that’s just RUBBISH, Daddy. Spider-man doesn’t have a dune buggy’. Crappy merchandising has now officially become a bugbear of mine and the people who make and sell it are on my list of people to dispose of when the revolution comes and my mostly benevolent dictatorship sweeps to power in a ruthlessly orchestrated coup involving assaults on social, economic and military fron… er… moving on.

Does Iron Man ride a motorbike? No he fucking doesn’t. You know why? The various Iron Man armours let him fly at supersonic fucking speeds obviating the need for a wheeled conveyance of any fucking form. Stark as Tony may ride a motorbike because it’s really, really fun, but as Iron Man – not so much. You know who does ride a motorbike? Captain America. The one the merchandisers have put him on? A multi-hued monstrosity of crappy design. Why not have him on one of the bikes we actually see Steve Rogers riding in two separate movies? It’s not rocket surgery.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, you just got the characters from a franchise, Admittedly a lot of those characters were half glimpsed in the murk of a cantina, the bridge of a weapon of galactic oppression or at the back corner of a panning shot of a cityscape for three frames or something. Then companies realised they could really make some cash. I don’t begrudge companies the right to make cash off their properties. I don’t even particularly mind it when they release multiple figures of the same character from the same movie (Iron Man does indeed wear Mark VI and VII armours in the Avengers). I do object to multiple releases of character lines in three or four different sizes with random accoutrements which have nothing to do with the character in cinematic, animated or comic media. Disney/Marvel and whoever are in control of their related toy making machinery are particularly bad for this. I await the day they give the Hulk a Mini Cooper Convertible or Black Widow a tiny rocket-powered clown trike.

Which brings me on to my next point – Marvel has a roster of awesome females who go toe to toe with cosmic monstrosities. In the case of Avengers, Black Widow punches so far above her weight it’s ridiculous. So why aren’t there any female figures? The Avengers movie has raked in eleventytwelve bajillionkajillion dollars so far, so why doesn’t Black Widow have an action figure? Part of the problem here, (and there is a substantive point, believe it or not) is how badly toy companies treat girls, and by extension boys.

Let’s take a quick gander at the merchandising for ‘Brave’. This is a film I wholeheartedly love, which my son also wholeheartedly loves and, had the toy range had anything to do with the film other than general to vague likenesses, would probably have bought. In fairness, Disney/Pixar did bring out a version of Merida’s bow, which the little man loves, but they also brought out a princessified (is that a word? According to spellchecker it isn’t, but since I’ve just added it to my dictionary, it is. Excellent) version of Merida and a completely underwhelming range of toys that both misunderstands and devalues the film and its heroine. They either don’t know or don’t care** what the film is actually about, which is sad. What they do know, however is how to target audiences. Like the Disney Princess magazine that had a Merida themed ‘comb and mirror vanity set’. This is possibly the least ‘Merida’ thing imaginable, (along with maybe a ‘How to Chat Up Boys, the Merida Way’ booklet) but it will sell to a core demographic who are convinced, and have also convinced their daughters that that is what they want. There was a dress marketed on the strength of the film (‘Be beautiful… and Brave’. Right because the first is so much more important than the second). The design was based on the dress that Merida rips so she can use her bow to win a tournament. The prize is not getting married.
Still at least most of the Brave stuff isn’t pink like a huge section of our local Toys’r’Us.

The gendering of childrens’ toys is harmful to all kids – it reinforces a backwards view of sex roles, can needlesly mark kids out as different, ‘cissies’ and ‘fags’ or ‘tomboys’ (which seems to me to be less damaging than the first two but I appreciate I could be entirely wrong) and the roles given to the toys are divisive. Even if it is true that ninety or even ninety nine percent of little boys will gravitate towards Action Man and equal numbers of girls to Barbie, neither is a ‘boy’s toy’ or a ‘girl’s toy’, they’re just toys. Kids should be able to play with whatever they want, without any extra labelling. Or any crappy non-canonical accoutrements.

* It does. Seriously. Check it out – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLGlisIHf3s

** Most likely, and sadly, some from column A and some from column B. Fuckers.

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