Before B was born, and even for the first year or so of his life, I was staunchly anti-merchandising. I still am – studies show that kids as young as 2 can identify up to 200 logos and brands. Not just Elmo and Blues Clues, but Honda and the like. That’s creepy.
In the old days, I never noticed the minefields of merchandising that are our grocery and big box stores. There is one store in town that I simply cannot go to with B… he’s a good boy, he understands ‘no’ and that there are times when he is allowed to have a toy and times when he’s not. Still, this particular store is rife with merchandising aimed at kids. Toys on the cereal aisle, a display of large bouncy-balls above the frozen foods… Dora the Explorer juice box holders next to the pretzels!
That wasn’t my point, though. There’s advertising, which I can’t completely avoid, no matter how hard I try, and then there’s merchandising. Thomas the Tank Engine, Elmo, Cars … I swore we wouldn’t, but we do, have t-shirts and backpacks… To whit:
- Thomas the Tank Engine T-shirts
- Thomas the Tank Engine backpack
- Thomas the Tank Engine bike helmet
- Lightning McQueen (Cars) hoodie
- Lightning McQueen (Cars) hat & mittens
- Dora & Diego toothbrush
- Thomas the Tank Engine toothpaste & toothbrush
- Thomas the Tank Engine Pajamas
- Lightning McQueen Pajamas & slippers
- Lightning McQueen Lunch Box
Things really went off the rails the weekend we got a pair of Lightning McQueen (light up) sneakers and a Lightning McQueen umbrella. I struggled with the decision to get the sneakers. I’ve told him repeatedly that we buy shoes based on what’s best for our feet, not who is on them. But he wanted them so badly, we reached a compromise – he has one pair of ‘good’ sneakers and his Lightning McQueen sneakers, and he has to alternate – he cannot wear the Lightning sneakers every day. He’s held up his end of the bargain, and the sneakers give him so much pleasure. He slept in them the first two nights after we bought them!
I struggle so much because I want B’s choices to be a reflection of what truly pleases him. I don’t want him to be influenced by a cartoon character, or, worse, by a gender stereotype. (My struggle with ‘blue is for boys, pink is for girls’ is another post entirely.)
We know lots of kids who love Disney’s Cars, and Thomas the Tank Engine. As a kid I loved my Barbie dolls and spent hours playing with them, alone and with friends. They were an outlet for my imagination, and let me act out any number of elaborate stories. B spends hours playing with his McQueen & Thomas toys, reenacting Lightning’s big race, or making up his own elaborate stories featuring Thomas, Percy & company. He also plays with generic Matchbox cars and stuffed animals – is that better?
I don’t have the answers, but I believe in continuing to ask the questions.