New Barbie the Center of Controversy

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Child advocate organizations are up in arms about the new Barbie being introduced this fall to toy stores nationwide. The doll is interactive, encouraging children to talk to it in a revolutionary two-way conversation. This version of Barbie records the child’s voice, uploads it to a cloud server, and uses AI to respond appropriately.

“Kids using ‘Hello Barbie’ aren’t only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial,” said Susan Linn, the executive director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. She describes Mattel’s creation as “creepy” and “dangerous.”

Creepy? Depends on how you look at it. Dangerous? Perhaps, but it’s always easier to jump to conclusions based on the worst scenario your mind can imagine. When your organization’s sole purpose is to reduce corporate propaganda, you can’t very well pass up a softball like this. But just because advocates are upset doesn’t mean there’s actually anything wrong. You saw the same kind of hand-wringing when Teddy Ruxpin was introduced, and again when the Furby became a hit. People are scared of new things, and that will probably be the case until the end of time.

Not that there’s anything wrong with pressuring a company to cease production on a product you believe will harm children. Boycotts are as American a concept as you can come up with, and it’s far preferable to the government’s iron fist.

But if child advocates are so concerned about propaganda reaching the ears of little teapots, why do they so rarely complain about the kind found in movies, TV shows, and even school classrooms? Could it be because that type of propaganda fits too well with their own view of the world?

The Happy Feet series used a cute story about a misfit penguin to preach an environmental, global-warming message at unsuspecting children without the slightest murmur of objection from non-conservative groups. Why? Because they see the climate change issue as a matter of fact. Cars 2 built on its massively successful original by making the oil industry the bad guy, promoting a liberal viewpoint that can be hard to shake when you’re first exposed to it before you’re even out of diapers. Other Hollywood hits have used the U.S. military, Christianity, and traditional gender roles as their primary ideological villains.

Worse still, this biased view of the world has begun to creep into our classrooms without apology. Children are taught that the Second Amendment includes a clause about background checks, that our rights are granted to us by the government, that Islam is beyond reproach, and that something as benign as “God bless you” is a violation of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

Maybe parents should be cautious about buying a Barbie doll that will hold real conversations with their children. I would be. But there are more insidious ideas getting into our childrens’ heads than those dreamed up by Mattel. Let’s worry about those with the same passion we take towards corporate advertising.