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Wednesday, November 27 2013 13:20

I Was Initially Disappointed in GoldieBlox, and Now I Despise Them...

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TRF XMAS125It's interesting how much a week can change things. For me it's taken a generally positive opinion about a company that I've casually respected in recent months, turned it into a feeling of disappointment, and in the end, made me come to despise said company. I'm talking about toy maker GoldieBlox and their possibly orchestrated fiasco with The Beastie Boys over a viral commercial. When I first heard that they'd borrowed some Beastie Boys music without asking, and then preemptively filed a for a declaratory judgement against the living members of the group, like many, I blogged about it. The "facts" were few, the opinions were many, and all sides took their time with properly addressing anything. What we now know is that GoldieBlox seemed to have had every intention of using (whether it's "parody," "satire," "transformative," "fair use," "infringing" or whatever) the Beastie Boys' 1986 song "Girls" without any regard for the group's opinion on the matter.  Their release today of a "Letter to the Beastie Boys" coupled with the removal of the offending video only solidifies that in my mind, despite their carefully-crafted, likely attorney-urged attempt at trying to save face. Whatever they spent on legal fees and the video itself, the publicity they've gained has been priceless. Everyone (myself included) is talking about GoldieBlox, and really, it's at the Beastie Boys' expense. Speaking as someone whose been "borrowed from" in the past without being asked first, that's not cool.

Here's the most important thing that I weighed in with over the weekend: 

"What message of empowerment are we teaching our girls by borrowing another band's concept for a music video (OK Go), then soundtracking it with someone else's music (Beastie Boys) without asking permission first... and then suing. Are you out to teach girls that it's ok to embrace the overly litigious society that America has become? I try to teach my girls that it's not cool to snatch other kids' toys without asking permission first. Under the GoldieBlox method, I guess I should teach them to sue the other kids and whatever teacher/parent/grownup they might be affiliated with first, so they can get a "preemptive ruling" that stealing the toy is ok. Right?" — Me, November 24, 2013

Over the past few days, after carefully looking over GoldieBlox history, their principles, and their recent actions, I have come to the decision that not only can I never support their efforts or their "message" (not matter how positive it once appeared), but that I feel the need to urge others to withdraw their support as well - or at least carefully consider purchasing from them in the future.

There is an entire industry that has sprung-up surrounding being "disruptive" to traditional gender norms in the toy world. What I support is this, and something I've been sharing for nearly three years here on The Rock Father: Let kids like what they like, and play with what they'd like to play with. Let kids be kids. Grownups are the problem. These "disruptive" companies and organizations, many of them started with good intentions, have a bad habit of moving beyond giving children (primarily girls) "a choice" (mostly other than "pink" and "princesses") and over to being completely AGAINST those things instead. Rather than offer options, they start to tell girls that it's not ok to like pink, or that it's wrong to like princesses. That, in itself, is wrong. And, the pundits that preach it often appear to be some of the most angry individuals that you will ever encounter. They're not serving the children. They're serving their own agenda and business.

GoldieBlox uses a tagline repeatedly on their website, in their marketing materials, and in their previous videos: "Disrupting the pink aisle." That's cool, but how are they really "disrupting" anything by injecting it with toys that are also... pink. Or purple. Or other very typical and common color themes for that same aisle. And, their "More than Just a Princess" tagline (which they sell on shirts and hoodies) is also pretty mixed when you consider that the original title of the now notorious ad was "GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg, & Beastie Boys 'Princess Machine' (A Concert for Girls)." The new version is simply called "GoldieBlox & Rube Goldberg 'Princess Machine.'" Sure, you can be "more than just a princess," but don't knock one thing to sell another and then end up selling both anyway. GoldieBlox has been duping consumers into supporting this cutesy startup veiled under a guise of "empowering girls" while the whole time their real "message" was simple: Making money. It's become painfully obvious that they don't really know what their message is when it comes to their actual toys (which aren't that innovative and borrow heavily from established brands), so they'll just do whatever they can to grab a few bucks from the public, when in reality, they're just the same type of old-school, lawyered-up "bad guy" company that they were supposedly raging against, making cheap, plastic toys in China (reviews on Amazon aren't hot). It's all marketing.

As friends and readers have pointed out on my Facebook page, the "pro-girl" message that GoldieBlox puts forth rides a line that skews dangerously close to being "anti-boy," and that's not good, either. While this big business of being "anti-girly" keeps on churning (largely thanks to that CINDERELLA ATE MY DAUGHTER book from a few years back), think about this: You'll never see a major movement that starts by "offering boys a choice beyond the blue aisle!," or by being "anti-Pirate" or  "anti-superhero" - because it won't sell. You can't make a big business out of it the way certain folks have been able to do with girls. There was an opportunity to grow what's traditionally been offered to girls, and instead, that opportunity has been exploited and tainted.

Companies like GoldieBlox operate by preying on the goodwill of parents and caregivers that are hoping to make a difference. Instead, they're just funding more of the same, and I can't support it.

You want to do right by your kids? Let them play. Teach them. Embrace their interests and share new things with them. Spend time with them. Shut off the "devices" and get outside.  That's just my opinion, but what do I know? I've only been a Father for 52 months, and I'm still learning every day.. with a pair of awesome daughters that have every option available to them. 

Yesterday, my four-year-old built a "girl robot" named "Millie." It was cannibalized from a pair of TRANSFORMERS building kits, and used pieces that were primarily blue, purple, red, and grey. No pink anywhere, yet my little one still said it was "a girl" and came up with a whole elaborate backstory about her... without any input from Dad. GoldieBlox thinks that they have the only products out there that can teach girls to be curious about engineering.. building things... or how stuff works? Hogwash.

It's all marketing.

Actually, I better watch myself. GoldlieBlox might try to preemptively file for a declaratory judgement that my opinions are invalid. Then we can exchange open letters for a week while the internet debates the situation. Gobble Gobble!

James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. He is the Owner, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade of publishing The Rock Father™ Magazine, he joined Adventure Media and Events as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider — a destination for all things pop culture, and The Toy Insider — the leading consumer guide for toys and games. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 27 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

Zahn and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, CBS, GCTN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Reuters, BusinessWire, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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