Unhappy Meals in Dangerous Times
September 18, 2010

I don’t know about you, but hard as I try and fight it, I find myself creeping into cliché more often than I care to admit. You know, those horrible old stand up jokes about turning into your own father when you hear certain words come out of your mouth? Or reacting to things differently as you get a little older, and thinking, “holy crap, I would have given my parents SUCH hell for that” as that icy chill runs down your spine? Yes, dear readers, it’s all happening to me, I’m only human. But if I step back a bit and am really honest with myself, I don’t think it’s me that’s changed or become more uptight. It’s the rest of the world.


Most readers of the AFi site are well aware there’s been some minor mainstream ‘controversy’ in the toy world lately, caused by our (Bif Bang Pow!’s) Dexter Morgan action figure being sold at Toys R Us stores across the country. We were first contacted about the Ohio news story the day it was being put together, but I didn’t manage to get in touch with the producer of the piece in time for a quote from us. Long story short, the item has made it’s way round the web several times, we posted a statement on the BBP! site, and we took it all with a good sense of humor and rebelliousness.  But now we’ve been given the news that because of the brouhaha, Toys R Us will not be carrying any of our Dexter products in any of their stores ever again. Now, I could spend the next 12 paragraphs on AFi to talk about this, our disappointment, the heartbreak involved with nearly a year’s worth of work to get to those retail shelves, the double standards that exist for other licenses, the financial loss itself and the insanity of it all. But, I don’t think it’d be cool to use this platform for all of that, and there are plenty of supporters (not necessarily of US but of our position, anyway) on different sites writing some great stuff already. So instead, I thought I’d talk about something that sort of fits into the same box. Or Happy Meal box, to be precise: this ludicrous movement that recently got started, trying to ban toys from McDonalds.

I just got all amped up in those opening paragraphs, got to this spot, and literally stopped. My fingers were hovering above the keys for a minute, because I honestly don’t know where to start. Do I start with the legislators that thought this up in the first place? Do I hit you with sarcasm, the Twinkie Defense, or “when I was a kid” examples for reference? I’m kind of stuck. Give me a minute……

OK, I’m back. Got an idea, bear with me. I’ve just returned from a weeklong trip to London. Maybe it was just the hotel’s amenities, but I was shocked this time at how little there was to watch on television. Ever. There were a lot of horrible reality shows, re runs of The Professionals and Ironside, Friends on what seemed like a 24 hour loop, the occasional first run like Merlin, and news. Lots of news. So we watched quite a bit of that. But it was a slightly different BBC News. Watching it here in the US, as BBC World News, it’s a bit harder and grittier, taking no bias. In London, it’s still better than local news here in LA (where the morning weather woman looks like she stepped out of a Russ Meyer film just to give the smog report), but at about the mid way mark there was the same fluff we’re used to seeing. One day, there was a report about male dancing, and how a research group is able to now scientifically prove what moves attract those of the female persuasion. This, I thought, was stupid enough to be seeing on the news. But when they showed the test subject in a motion capture suit, and an expert being interviewed while the CG counterpart shimmied away on a monitor behind his head, I blurted out loud, “Who the hell is paying for this shit? Like, who’s FUNDING this study?” And, you know, aren’t there slightly more pressing mysteries of the universe to be solved besides the best way to attract drunken bridesmaids during the ‘Electric Slide’? (Cause let’s face it, that’s the only time anyone’s noticing your crap dancing). Oh yeah, and isn’t there, like, something important happening somewhere else in the world right now?

Which brings me back to McDonalds. I’m not a fast food junkie, don’t need to defend the studios licensing the toys to food chains, and I’m not a McDonalds apologist. Eat it, don’t eat it, I don’t care. Sure, there are folks out there that eat too much of it. But they also eat too many donuts, drink too much high fructose corn syrup, smoke too many cigarettes and eat bread like it grows on trees. McDonalds isn’t and never has been the problem. Should we talk about the economy? What it costs a single mother of two to visit Whole Foods on the way home to grab dinner for the night vs. what she has to pay to quickly hit the drive thru? Should we discuss the additives and hormones in your local Safe Way? As we all know, it costs a fair amount of money to eat healthy every day of the week in this country, and unfortunately, many corners get cut for cost in your regular supermarkets, so it’s a real Catch-22.

I’m not trying to solve the mystery of childhood obesity. I’m trying to tell you what it’s NOT. And I can tell you, it doesn’t stem from kids getting a super cool toy in their Happy Meals once or twice a month. Or even once or twice a week. McDonalds has made vast improvements in it’s choices for those meals, so it’s pretty easy for the parent who’s been brow beaten down and forced to get in the car to hit Mickey D’s to get something that goes a bit easier on the Garanimals slacks for Timmy and Tina. So, let’s walk thru this then:

A) Timmy and Tina see the new Batman toys on TV, ‘only at McDonalds’. “Holy Hamburglar!” they cry. “Mom! Dad! We HAVE to get those toys! Can we go to McDonalds tonight please?”  B) Mom has made a lovely dinner already, so to placate the little tykes, she says, “Well, not tonight, but how about this weekend?” and the kids have aneurisms and die. Or seem to. She can be firm though, and decides on a compromise. “Tell you what kids, on my way home from work tomorrow, I’ll swing by the McDonalds up the street and get you this week’s toy, alright?” C) The kids have something to look forward to, still get to go out for fast food this weekend, and mom saves the day. Simple, right?

 I don’t have kids, but I have nieces and nephews, and though they’re all grown up now, I looked after them a lot when they were little, so I’ve got some background. This isn’t that difficult. How many times does a family need to be hitting McDonalds in a week before the kids start showing signs of obesity? Quite a lot, actually, and how else are they going to get there? So again, what’s the correlation between the Happy Meal toys and obesity from McDonalds? Maybe I’m not making my argument well enough. So it’s time for a flashback.

The very first time I ever remember being aware of McDonalds Happy Meals, was in the winter of 1979, when they started running commercials for their Star Trek: The Motion Picture promotion. My mind wasn’t completely blown though, because we had Burger Chef (Anyone remember those? God I miss ‘em…), and I was a big fan of their Fun Meals not long before this, featuring none other than 20th Century Fox’s blockbuster film, The Star Wars.  (Or maybe it was just Star Wars, I’m drawing a blank).  I was a completist even then, but I don’t recall ever giving my parents such grief to get back to Ronald’s so I could collect all the ST:TMP toys that they drove me there every week just to shut me up. I got what I got and I loved it. The boxes were awesome with puzzles and cool graphics, and the prizes ranged from T-shirt transfers to little comic strip communicators. Ah, good times.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, fat kids. Here’s the thing. I could go b

ack and forth on this all night. What to say to your kids, how to handle their demands, when to say yes or no, why a two dollar toy is a luxury in this day and age and might just save you a trip to the Target toy aisle. Doesn’t matter. What this is all about, once again, is someone else trying to tell you what we ARE and ARE NOT allowed to have any more because they know what’s good for us. And that, my friends, makes my blood boil.  It’s also another example of the never-ending habit the media has of putting the spotlight on inconsequential ‘news’ items that distract us from the bigger stories going on in the world. Just what those bigger stories are is, of course, a matter of opinion. But I think we can all agree on what meaningless filler is when we see it.

Which sort of brings me all the way back around to my opening thoughts, and a question: It wasn’t always like this, was it? I mean, obviously things have changed for the better in dozens of politically correct ways over the years, I’m not saying the norms of 1942 are just fine for 2010. But didn’t we all watch ‘Looney Tunes’ on Saturday mornings growing up, knowing we could never drop an anvil on our brother’s head (assuming we could get a hold of the apparently once ubiquitous house hold item) and have said head pop right back into shape, brother unharmed?  We didn’t need a warning to tell us so, but we do now. Or worse, we need to have those same cartoons edited, so the very cartoon-like violence is minimized. Once again, the choice is made for us, and the sheep think the world is instantly a better place.

 So if the kids want the McDonalds toys, which will lead to eating the fast food, which will lead to the obesity, should we ban cereal ads from Saturday morning cartoons (or whenever they air these days) because kids get a jones for Cookie Crisp? Hell, should we make an “adults only” section of the supermarket, where kids can’t even get to the sweet cereals and cookies? And then what, are you eventually going to have to register the ages of your children on Amazon before you’re able to order The Godfather on DVD, lest they ever get lured by it’s shiny spine on your shelf and eventually turn to a life of (organized) crime? You can see where I’m going with this. A wise man once said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one”. If he hadn’t had that sentiment, the entire crew of that ship would have been killed and we never would have gotten to see those other four movies. OK, three if you ignore the fifth one. So when did this change? When did one person get to ruin it for the rest of us? When we became the overly litigious society we are now? When that kid choked on a tiny missile from a Battlestar Galactica toy back in ’78 and I never got my rocket firing Boba Fett? (Yeah, yeah, I have the new one. Doesn’t count.) When that woman sued, yup, McDonalds, because their coffee was too hot and she spilled it on herself? WHILE SHE WAS DRIVING?

I’m not sure when it was, but it’s a world I’m increasingly tired of living in. And if I was a parent I’d be disgusted that there were groups out there telling me what was best for my child. I’m not advocating a free for all, where there’s no regulations or ratings of any kind. I’m merely suggesting leaving what your own kids are exposed to, or eat, left up to their respective parents. Believe it or not, kids are smart, and with a tiny nudge in the right direction, they can actually have the occasional burger and watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom without growing up to be obese members of a murderous cult. We didn’t, so why should it be different now? Besides the litany of topics that are threatening not just common sense but Darwinism and Science on a daily basis, we’re slowly and sneakily heading into a world where our every move is watched over by a babysitter.  Self appointed watchdogs that don’t want just tighter regulations on meaningless things, in many cases they want those ‘things’ done away with altogether. And then who suffers? The bright bulbs, the good eggs, the smart kids that do the right thing and then get to enjoy their perks. Once again it would seem that intelligence and good judgment don’t get rewarded, but punished so that the ‘innocent’ are protected. Except in most cases, the ‘innocent’ are actually the stupid people. And isn’t it US who need to be protected from THEM? I’m sorry, but when I read about a husband who couldn’t find his wife for a week and a half because she’d become buried beneath the junk she’d accumulated as a hoarder and died, I call that culling the herd. I know it’s all swings and roundabouts and we’re going through a particularly conservative-minded patch right now, but something needs to change soon, before the ‘firemen’ come in and start burning my books. You have been warned.

(Now, just to show that I’m not completely soured by this Happy Meal business, and that I truly don’t feel that the toys are going to go away, how about we finish today’s column by asking you to discuss your favorite Happy Meal toy promotion? The first one that springs to my mind is the amazing set done for Fantastic Mr. Fox in the UK last year. As for the low point, well, I’d say these new Star Wars: The Clone Wars mini skate boards are right up there.)

Jason "Plastic Soul" Lenzi
A successful television producer and voice-over artist, pop culture fanatic Jason Lenzi established Bif Bang Pow! in 2005, channeling his boundless enthusiasm as a fan and collector into the creation of the company’s highly-desired toy lines. His enthusiasm has proven contagious, earning BBP! unanimous praise from the toy community and leading to creative partnerships with the likes of comics giant Alex Ross and rock icon Scott Ian. BBP! has so far released action figures and bobble heads for 'Flash Gordon', 'The Big Lebowski', 'The Twilight Zone', 'Dexter', 'LOST', HBO's 'Eastbound and Down' and 'The Venture Brothers'. When he's not chasing down new licenses, producing and narrating various TV series, or reading every music magazine on the shelves, he's obsessively playing Beatles: Rock Band until he gets every song right.
Read other articles by Jason "Plastic Soul" Lenzi.





  • demoncat says:

    could not agree with your article more. for the nation not only is sue happy now over everything but a select few are trying to tell every one else how to live. for kids mostly want the happy meal for the toy not if the meal is going to make them fat. and parents just to have peace from the kids screaming for the toy are going to buy the meal no matter what some group who think they are the moral keepers tries to fix that so that does not happen.

  • Shellhead says:

    You think it’s bad now? Pray Obama doesn’t get a second term. That’s when the Nanny state will REALLY morph into Big Brother.

  • Eric Qel-Droma says:

    Shellhead, come on. Really? Dexter toys + Happy Meals + Hyperactive Media ==> Obama’s fault?

    Jason, I do agree with you. People worry too much and they do overprotect too much. It’s pathetic, and I’ve been personally affected by it more than once. It’s freakish.

    • Shellhead says:

      My point was that the Democrats are much more likely to pass laws “for our own good” than Republicans. Michelle’s currently making a lot of noise about children’s obesity, for example. A lot of Liberals seem to think we’re too dumb to take care of ourselves. Hence, the Nanny State.

  • Daviel McKaye says:

    I was very delighted to walk into my local Toys R’ Us a couple of weeks ago and find the Dexter figures on the shelves. After the complaints and controversy I heard about after CBS tried airing censored episodes a few years ago, I figured it would only be a matter of time before somebody complained about the toys too. It’s sad. I’m glad I bought all three versions when I got the chance.

    For what it’s worth, your hard work has made at least one customer REALLY happy. The figures were everything I hoped for and finding them at TRU for such a great price was even more than I’d hoped for. Thank You.

    I agree with everything you said. I was doing some research lately in a fit of nostalgia and discovered that one of my favorite childhood toys, the Ghostblasters that were a promotional item at Hardee’s for Ghostbusters 2, are actually somewhat hard to find today. Apparently they were recalled soon after their initial release because kids were swallowing the batteries like so much shiny metal candy.

    It seems both tragic and ironic that at the same time so many properties from the 80’s are seeing a resurgence, so too is the hysteria towards awesome products that seemed so prevalent in those times. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go watch my old copy of “Mazes and Monsters”.

  • Russ says:

    here’s the question everyone has to ask themselves, yet for “whatever reason” never does:

    despite complaining about political correctness, can one stand up in favor of free speech and expression…and do it consistently?

    As Tears for Fears sang in 1985 “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, and more people than not want to tell people how to run their lives; welcome to humanity.

    Can these bad ideas be defeated before they become law? Do we humans have the understanding of what is and isn’t moral to defeat these stupid ideas, or are we just gonna make jokes about them, only to drop to our knees and fail to defend what we claim to believe in?

    Cause so far….history has shown us to do the latter more often, not the former.

    Just remember this old saying: “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”. Well, I have yet to see humans at any point in history showing any of the latter.

    and if you say “they’re too afraid of the feds coming down on them”. And why would that be? Who elected those very feds to begin with? Answer: we did. So obviously, those people represent us. We have to look at our own society, and see if our own ideas are bad or good, and why they are either bad or good, rather than just complaining about them.

    It’s that simple.

  • Logan says:

    The McDonalds toys that I remember best (meaning I bugged my vegan mom to take me there once a week for a solid month) was the food that turned in to robots. If I remember right it was some fries, a drink, a hamburger and something else. To me that was the coolest thing ever because then they would fight against my Transforners and Go-bots. I bet if I saw them today I would think they were plastic pieces of poop. Who knows.

  • JSAvsINFINITY says:

    My favorites were the Burger King Superman Animated Series and
    Universal Monsters that came out right after eachother.

    Yup still got em

  • TRDouble says:

    Good blog!

    Shell, I could not disagree more. I think it is the conservatives (usually in the form of Republicans) and religious groups who are out there petitioning and doing all the heavy lobbying to influence people to live the lifestyle *they* think is right, in the eyes of (their) God. ALL political groups have their major faults — that’s why I am Independent — but it’s these groups who want to ban certain books, art work, lifestyles, religions, etc. even if they have to lie to get their way (ex. President Obama is a Muslim and the NYC Mosque is being built at Ground Zero — both lies). But I don’t want to get too political on one side…

    …Because I think both groups are at fault for not putting responsibility where it should be — with individuals. And with kids, the parents. When my child comes to me and asks for a can of pop at 8:00 PM on a school night, the answer is, “No. It’s too late.” When I get a negative note from the teacher about my child, I handle it. I don’t blame the teacher; I straighten out my child, if necessary. If I see them eat too much candy, I put a stop to it. I don’t need a law or a child services worker, many without children, coming into my home telling me how to raise my kids. Or a group telling me what’s right & wrong *in their opinion*. Or laws being passed to help me live correctly because too many of the masses have no common sense. Last year, I asked my daughter’s gym teacher if they still play dodge ball. He said no because kids can get hurt. They don’t keep score in games either because they don’t want kids feeling bad when they lose…. WHA?!? How sad is that? I think the decision makers are the kids who got pounded in school sports that grew up to get their revenge!!!

    We as a society have gone overboard and are making a generation of wimps with no decision making skills. Either a law will be passed to make our decisions for us, or some smug group will lobby hard enough to make a company make changes, all for the ‘betterment of society.’ Like removing toys from Happy Meals.

    Now, I am going out to have a smoke with my expensive, legal, but deadly to myself and others, cancer stick. :^P (joking! I don’t smoke!)

  • gl666 says:

    TRDouble – absolutely wrong! Democrats propose and pass these ridiculous laws to satisfy one of their biggest bankrollers: trial lawyers. NYC Mayor Bloomberg also does this stuff with cigs, salt, and soon, BBQ ribs, but he was always a RINO (Republican in Name Only). The nanny state is all on the liberal Democrats.

    • TRDouble says:

      I guess I could talk about how one group talks about tax cuts, less spending and smaller government, yet when starting out with a record surplus, became responsible for the largest deficit in US history while in control. BUT, we will just have to agree to disagree. That’s the beauty of living in the United States of America, isn’t it? I think we can all agree on that (and kind of goes back to the roots of theis original article).

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