05.19.06 Dolls for the Eldery
OK, this is just sad. Japanese toy giant Tomy has begun marketing a talking doll to the so-far underdeveloped market of lonely old ladies. Tomy’s big-eyed, button-nosed dollie feels like a small infant when cradled and comes with a tuft of tawny hair, a pink nightie, and a sound chip that says “I love you.” The objects of all this undying affection: women over the age of 60.
Toy executives say the doll is one of many new toys created in response to the rapidly falling birth rates in Japan; with the juvenile market shrinking, the toy industry is going after older consumers. “We’re redefining the definition of toys,” the president of toy company Takara told the BBC. “We go for teenagers, we go for people in their twenties and thirties, we go for housewives, families and for older people too.”
I’m all for the adult rediscovery of toys, but here’s where my boosterism is drowned by waves of discomfort. Tomy executives claim the dolls are bought by elderly women who “think the dolls are actual grandsons and granddaughters.” Something might have gotten lost in the translation, or this could just be marketing hyperbole, but it’s scary any way you parse it. Toys can be fun, invigorating, stress-relieving and creativity-enhancing when rediscovered by adults, but I think we can all agree they shouldn’t be substitutes for flesh-and-blood relations.
Beyond that, I’ve got a major problem with any toy – or for that matter, any form of entertainment – that plays so fast and loose with the phrase “I love you.” This is one of the main rationales behind the strict No Barney Rule at my house. Apparently, kids don’t seem to take offense when Barney prattles on about how much he loves them, but I swear every time he opens that furry mouth of his and utters yet another unearned intimacy, I’d like to kick him in his big purple nether-regions.