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Assassins in Toyland

  • Apparently when you tickle Elmo he’s not laughing, he’s having a seizure.
  • —Jay Leno
  • In an attempt to assure the world’s children that millions of Chinese–made toys currently being recalled for containing toxic lead paint and tiny choking hazards can no longer hurt them, high–level Chinese officials announced Tuesday that millions of playthings are being rounded up and immediately put to death.... According to the Xinhua News Agency, in the past three days alone, factory owners roused an estimated 365,000 Barbie dolls from their dream homes in a violent series of raids. During these raids, the Barbies were separated from their Kens, stripped naked, and had their heads shaved. They were then taken to an undisclosed area, leaned against the wall and shot by a firing squad as toy soldiers were forced to watch.
  • The Onion

These satirical treatments of China’s toy recall crisis from America’s top banana, Jay Leno, and parody newspaper, The Onion, provide at least some comic relief from a situation that has been extremely troubling, particularly to parents with young children. Although most people are already well aware of many of the details of this crisis, it is worth at least briefly recapping the extent to which America’s toys have been turned into instruments of death by unscrupulous Chinese manufacturers. Here’s just a brief scorecard of the kinds of toys that have been recalled from the shelves by the likes of Toys “R” Us, Target, and Wal–Mart:

  • 3.8 million Magnetix magnetic building sets that can kill by perforating the intestines if the magnets are swallowed
  • 1.5 million Fisher–Price lead–contaminated toys, including popular Sesame Street characters such as Giggle Grabber Soccer Elmo, Chef Dora, Rev & Go Cookie Monster, Ernie and Bert, and Oscar the Grouch
  • 1.5 million Thomas & Friends lead–painted wooden trains, and 1 million Hasbro “Easy–Bake” ovens that can trap children’s fingers in the oven and burn them
  • 253,000 of Mattel’s die–cast cars modeled after “Sarge” in the cartoon movie Cars, and 90,000 units of Mattel’s GeoTrax locomotive line
  • 31,000 “Skippy” plastic fish that can break and slash a child’s hands, and 15,000 Laugh and Learn Kitchen Toys posing a choking hazard

For concerned parents and grandparents shopping for toys, it is critical to point out that whereas well–known brand companies such as Mattel and Toys “R” Us have had their fair share of bad headlines, the bigger problem is often with those ultra–cheap, “no brand” toys that wind up at deep–discount stores. It is precisely in stores such as these that a variety of Halloween toys have been found to represent far more tricks than treats. Here’s just a small sampling:

  • 142,000 purple witch buckets, 63,000 green Frankenstein cups, and 55,000 candy–filled skull pails posing a lead hazard
  • 120,000 “Creepy Cape” costumes capable of bursting into flames, and 97,000 Mr. Potato Head “Make a Monster Pumpkin” sets deemed a choking hazard

It is precisely these kinds of statistics that raise this overarching question: How can China’s toymakers turn something as innocent and pure as children’s toys into a profanity of poisons and choking hazards? It is a very good question to which we will return shortly.

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