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CULTURE WATCH : They’re an Item

Manufacturers had better stop toying with those things for kids called dolls. They may wind up taking the fun out of Christmas (not to mention profits). Consider the tale of Barbie and Steve the Tramp.

Recent Mattel Inc. commercials for Barbie, America’s sweetheart doll, featured a song with environmental lyrics like, “The world would be a better place if we could save the trees and the eagles.”

A nice thought perhaps, but not to The Oregon Lands Coalition, a pro-logger group. It said bah-humbug and lashed out at Mattel in its newsletter: “Buy a Barbie & your $$ will help stop timber harvesting.”

So the toy maker came up with a thoughtful plan: It left it to children to identify important causes. They chose peace, hunger and drugs. Then Mattel donated a portion of profits from November Barbie sales to those causes.

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Then there’s Steve the Tramp, an action-figure toy based on a character in the “Dick Tracy” movie. It earned the No. 1 spot on the annual Warped Toys for Christmas list compiled by Christopher Rose, a Hartford, Conn., Episcopal priest. Activists for the homeless staged protests decrying Steve, whose package describes him as an “ignorant bum, dirty and scarred from a life on the streets. You’ll smell him before you see him.”

Walt Disney Co., which produced the movie and licensed the character, admits now that “when viewed outside the fantasy world of ‘Dick Tracy,’ (it) is being misunderstood.” It has stopped selling the item--the right move.

It would seem that in the toy business, dolls go better with children’s fantasies than adult realities.


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