August 11, 2010

House Lights: Ronald SMASH! (Sorry, wrong character, but still...)

There are many things that truly irritate your Projectionist. Not among the least of them is the way Big Food, Big Toys, and Madison Avenue do a tag–team body slam on the inner workings of kids in the States. (We'll try to tackle how it's done in other nations another day.)

In the meantime, Flesh and Stone has called McDonald's and Disney–owned Marvel on the carpet for an unwelcome appearance in many a kid's "Happy Meals"™ by two {ahem} big shot cast members of The Fantastic Four® franchise:

"McDonald's Happy Meal promotions are under attack. It’s not just the negative impact fast foods are known to have on child obesity, say public health advocates. It’s also the major food marketers’ unconstrained advertising tactics aimed at children and their promotion of unhealthy stereotypes.

"McDonald’s latest marketing campaign features 'The Thing,' a bulky orange Marvel comic action figure, who roars, 'It's clobbering time!' when the button on its back is pushed. The toy is inappropriately aimed at preschool boys, says the Campaign for a Commercial–Free Childhood (CCFC). The organization has launched a letter writing campaign telling McDonald’s to remove the toy, and its colleague 'The Human Torch' from Happy Meals.

"'It's bad enough to use junk toys to sell children on junk food,' said CCFC's Director Susan Linn. 'But now, for preschool boys, a so–called happy meal at McDonald's features the horrifying spectacle of a man engulfed in flames and a menacing figure that explicitly spurs them to violence.'"

At last check, when Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, they acquired properties populated by some five thousand characters, heroes and villains alike, as part of the House of Mouse's efforts to claim and dominate the young male populace. So I suspect we will be seeing more of this, not less. (Just visiting the Marvel site will provide a [ahem] taste of sights to come. And don't forget DC Comics, owned by the peeps at Time Warner… yep, the Warner Bros. peeps.)

For those not interested in seeing your toddlers suddenly bellowing "Hulk SMASH!"™ for no apparent or justifiable reason, the CCFC has an online letter–writing campaign waiting for you.

But before you click on that, I recommend devoting a good chunk of time reading Henry Giroux and Grace Pollock's very in–depth probing of marketing the Disney way at Truthout. If you're not already asking questions about the motives hatched at 500 Buena Vista Boulevard in Burbank, California… well, you soon will. Trust me.

Oh, yes: This isn't the first time that the CCFC has tangled with Disney: Here's the organization's "never surrender" declaration on the House of Mouse and the Baby Einstein® properties they bought back in the year 2000 and still vigorously defend to this date. (Even though they're indefensible.)

UPDATE 2010.08.11 @ 15:36: Here is the text of my message to McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner:
Good Hello Mr. Skinner:

Up until now, I have had no reason to contact McDonald's management. But the recent Happy Meals promotion using Disney–owned Marvel Entertainment properties, such as the "Thing" and "Human Torch" characters from the Fantastic Four franchise, has upset me to the point of writing this note.

It is bad enough that the Walt Disney Company routinely promotes its media properties — movies, TV shows, whatever — through your establishments (as do other well known entities). But when you aim a character toy programmed to play a "IT'S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!" message at the press of a button, well…

I am aware that Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, as part of a concerted effort to corner the young male market (and as one of many profit making motives to make more of the world's populace captive to anything branded with one of the many names Disney owns outright). But you can and must learn to set limits, if for no other reason than that of taste.

Yes, I know, this promotion involves The Fantastic Four, a long–established Marvel Comics franchise involving four people with… well, "issues," who suddenly have their worlds turned upside down as a result of radiation that makes them mutate into something other than human. (To call them "superhuman" is another matter of individual taste — you either like Marvel product or you don't; ditto Time Warner–owned DC Comics.) But your decision to hand little boys the horrifying spectacle of a man perpetually aflame or a menacing rock–textured figure with a violence–inducing call is enough to tarnish McDonald’s reputation — if, indeed, it has one — as a family–friendly company. (Disney stopped being family–friendly years ago when, among other things, they acquired Miramax Films and allowed the studio to develop its family–un–friendly Dimension banner under Disney's watch.)

I am a media producer myself, but I know my limits. Please recognize your own, and end this obscene promotion at once.

Thank you.

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