Amid much pomp and circumstance, each year the toy industry picks one deserving plaything to receive the Toy of the Year award. Among this year's hotly tipped frontrunners are the newly revamped Furby, Activision's collectible Skylanders: Giants, and the staggeringly popular Monster High dolls.
But for every friendly toy, there are a handful of hateful ones.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a group that aims to suppress marketing that targets children, has come up with its own take on the whole shebang. Their award is dubbed the TOADY Award, which rather dubiously stands for "Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children." It's bestowed upon the year's most exploitative (and downright worst) toy as determined by public vote.
Topping this year's shortlist of five unfortunate nominees is the Lego Friends Butterfly Beauty Shop, part of a range of girl-targeted Lego building toys that's no stranger to controversy. Perceived by some as reinforcing sexual stereotypes with its pink blocks, gendered minifigures, and explicitly girly themes, Friends incurred widespread criticism from pressure groups at its January launch.
And the heat hasn't died down. In the words of CCFC, the Butterfly Beauty Shop is "so jam-packed with condescending stereotypes it would even make Barbie blush. Bye-bye square, androgynous figures; hello, curves 'n eyelashes!" No building for your "little princess," says CCFC -- instead, she can "'get primped and pretty and have some serious salon fun,' 'shop for makeup and hair accessories,' or 'gossip out on the bench by the scenic fountain.'"
(To be fair, criticism of the range is hardly universal. Lego Friends is also a nominee for the regular, honest-to-goodness Toy of the Year awards in several categories.)
Here are the four other contenders for this year's TOADY:
Created by Physical Apps
A plastic ball into which you are encouraged to place your expensive smartphone before handing it over to your child? What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty, says the CCFC, who sarcastically point out that "since the dawn of time, children have longed for something fun to do with 3-dimensional round objects. But thanks to the geniuses at Physical Apps, the wait is over."
Laugh and Learn Apptivity Monkey
Created by Fisher Price
This stuffed animal pulls a similar stunt by embedding an iPhone in its otherwise cuddly belly.
Harmless? Hardly. The CCFC says it's "marketed with bogus educational claims" and is really little more than a devious way to get your kids addicted to screen time.
"While the Apptivity Monkey won't assure baby a slot at Harvard, it is guaranteed to give her a head start...on a lifetime of needing screens for comfort," they add.
7-11 Slurpee Maker
Created by Spin Master
If an iPhone crammed into a stuffed toy's belly is unsettling, how about a toy that crams sugar into your child's belly? That's lousy, but to the CCFC, the real bellyache here is with the product's branding.
"The Slurpee Maker is emblazoned with the 7-11 logo and comes with a free Slurpee coupon, guaranteeing your kids will be nagging you for a trip to the convenience chain for a taste of the real thing," they write. It's got nothing on our vintage Snoopy Sno-Cone machine, that's for sure.
'Put Me in the Story' App
Created by Jabberwocky Kids
Not only does this app cost a whopping $30, but it turns classic books into vehicles starring guess-who. And while that may seem fairly innocuous, the CCFC takes issue with the fact that it essentially replaces time-honored characters with your kid.
"It's the perfect way to insure that your little one never grows out of that cute, all-about-me stage," says the CCFC.
Whichever toy ends up taking the less-than-desirable award, it won't be alone in its misfortune. Last year's TOADY winner was a $500 tablet PC aimed at the under-4s, and in 2010 the award went to Nickelodeon's popular AddictingGames.com web site.
Who's going to win this year? That's up to you. Cast your vote over at the CCFC's shortlist page. The "winner" will be announced December 6.