Parents Complain Skateboard Promotion Goes Over the Line
When the package arrived last week, the 11-year-old Los Alamitos boy was doubly excited.
Inside lay not only a brand-new Flameboy skateboard but also a scratch-off ticket from El Segundo-based World Industries saying he had won a free set of wheels.
Then James Harris’ parents got a load of the prize card’s fine print.
To claim winnings, players would have to “relinquish their souls,” it said. Failure to comply was “punishable by death.” Lower down, it gave odds that one cartoon character depicted on the skateboard was a homosexual and that another was the Antichrist.
“I went ballistic,” Patti Harris said. “It’s not funny. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
In ordinary times, the Harrises might have shrugged off the ticket’s irreverent gallows humor.
But in the supercharged environment since the Littleton, Colo., school massacre, parents have looked at games, entertainment and toys aimed at children, wondering if they promote violence or desensitize kids to human suffering.
Harris and her husband have started a write-in campaign against World Industries, a top brand in the $830-million-a-year skateboarding industry, and its parent company, Dwindle Distribution of El Segundo.
They are handing out fliers at their children’s schools, their ballgames and at church. They also have sent letters of protest to their representatives in Congress and the state Legislature.
James said his parents’ campaign embarrasses him a little. “I’m, like, please don’t mention my name,” but he acknowledged that the lottery ticket’s message shook him up.
“I think World Industries should be banished,” he said. “It’s one of those companies that make people think skateboarders are evil.”
Dwindle executives said they had received no other complaints about the lottery tickets. The promotion has run for about a year, tied to the Flameboy model skateboard that James ordered.
Dwindle said it has, however, fielded hundreds of gripes about other World Industries products, which often satirize religion.
World Industries’ pokes at religion represent an effort to tap skateboarding’s edgy punk rock roots, a company manager said. Controversy, even notoriety, strikes a chord with kids bored with more homogenized fare, she added.
The company’s Web site shows a sort of Dante-by-Disney graphic of the circles of Hell. Devil Man, a stick figure with a red, smiling face, horns, tail and pitchfork, appears on the site and several World Industries products.
The company’s cartoons and promotions are clearly designed to be humorous, Dwindle said.
Regarding the contents of the lottery ticket, “it’s almost impossible to take it seriously,” said Vince Krauss, Dwindle’s marketing manager. “I’ve never met a kid who did.”
World Industries, which makes skateboards, snowboards and related accessories, is growing so fast that this week it announced it will split from Dwindle at the end of the month and move to its own headquarters in Huntington Beach.
Its products account for about 20% to 30% of skateboarding-related sales, said Miki Vuckovich, editor of Transworld Skateboarding Business magazine.
The lottery ticket uproar echoes other instances when parents have found themselves out of sync with the intentionally provocative, mocking culture and tone of extreme sports.
Two years ago, a Huntington Beach clothes maker, Senate, generated controversy by stitching “Destroy All Girls” on laundering instruction tags of its in-line skating clothes.
Dwindle executives said parents should not see World Industries’ products as a threat.
“I understand with what you see in movies or video games,” Krauss said. “But skateboarding keeps a lot of kids out of trouble.”
Los Alamitos resident Eileen Klein isn’t taking any chances, though. Her 10-year-old son has ordered merchandise from World Industries before, but she said she will not let him do so after seeing the Harrises’ lottery ticket.
“They all love Flameboy, but this is ridiculous,” she said. “We live in a Christian home and relinquishing your soul to the devil is placing no value on human life.
“Who sits around a boardroom and comes up with this stuff?”