Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2018

Kicking and Screaming Into the Future

The Collins Dictionary defines the phrase kicking and screaming (www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/kicking-and-screaming) thus: “If you say that someone is dragged kicking and screaming into a particular course of action, you are emphasizing that they are very unwilling to do what they are being made to do.” This column focuses on two toy giants that are being dragged kicking and screaming into a future reality that both have no desire to have happen. It also is about the longevity of toy icons, the inevitability of change, and the entrenchment of denial.

Everyone is familiar with the story of the Dutch boy who saves his country by putting his finger in a leaking dike. The story assumes the leak in the dike can be stopped and repaired. This assumption is false. Not all leaks can be repaired. Some continue to grow until they release a torrent that is so strong there is no stopping it.

My good friend Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, an internet surfer par excellence, often emails me copies of articles she finds that trigger my imagination. I received such an email earlier this week.

On February 7, 2018, Sarah Mahoney wrote an article entitled “For Hasbro, Start Wars Sputters, Lowering Sales. It appeared on “MarketingDaily.”
[See www.mediapost.com/publications/article/314217/for-
. The key paragraphs are:

“More trouble in Toyland: Hasbro surprised observers with a decline in fourth-quarter sales, citing weakness in its Star Wars and Disney Princess lines. Despite increasing spending on advertising, the Pautucket, R.I., based toy marketer says revenue for the three-month period fell to $1.6 billion, compared to $1.63 billion in the same period of the previous years…..

“Still, S&P Global Ratings is leaving its rating of the company, which sells such brands as Nerf, Play-Doh, and Monopoly, unchanged…We attribute declining sales of Star Wars to a normalization of annual sales levels, as sales had spiked in early 2016 following the release of Episode VII….

“But, S&P maintained its negative rating on Mattel, which last week reported a sales drop of 11% for its fourth quarter, and an operating loss of $252.8 million….For Mattel, ‘the negative outlook reflects the high level of variability in revenue…and the uncertainty regarding the success of the company’s turnaround plan,’ says S&P in its comments.

“The financial fortunes of both companies have been rattled by the ongoing woes of retailer Toys R Us, which filed for bankruptcy in September, which received permission this week to shutter about 180 of its stores, and slashing prices in liquidation sales.”

Toyland is in bigger trouble than this story indicates. Toyland is facing an identity crisis, perhaps its biggest in 150 years. In part due to the digital age, put only in part, the role played by toys in a child’s life is changing. The role of play, methods of play, and length of play are shifting to the point where it is time to question the long-term future of traditional toys.

Although the pillars supporting Toyland still are in place, the superstructure is beginning to crumble with age. There are ample signs of weakness. The issue is that few want to believe them. Individuals and toy manufacturers resist accepting the fact that their favorite toy will not be loved and treasured for generations. Most will not survive for a generation. The list of forgotten toys continues to expand exponentially.

I was roundly criticized several decades ago when I wrote a “Rinker on Collectibles” column asserting that Elvis’ memory and commercial memorabilia were in decline. Today, most will agree that the flicker of the Elvis memory candle continues to dim with each passing year. Elvis has been dead for over 40 years.

Never one to be shy, I offer the following truisms. Barbie’s time has passed. She is the past, not the present or the future. Although a 20th century toy icon, the 21st century has not been kind to Barbie. GI Joe retired years ago. Attempts by Hasbro to to resurrect him from the grave have failed.

Interest in Star Wars memorabilia, as opposed to the movies, is on the wane. Today’s Star War addicts live in a digital universe. 1977 is a “long time ago in a galaxy far far away.” Today’s young collectors do not value 20th century memorabilia. They want memorabilia associated with their era.

The concept for the Disney Princess line dates to early 2000. Andy Mooney, formerly with Nike, Inc., was responsible for this remarkable marketing ploy. The Disney Princess line was pure Disney magic. Although Disney believes its products have an unlimited life, reality suggests otherwise. The Disney Princess line is at the end of its golden years. The peak has been reached. There is no other way to go but down.

Forever is not a concept that applies to collecting categories. While true, museums preserve decade and centuries old objects, the collector does not. Collector focus is heavily time specific. When a collecting category’s time has passed, the objects associated with it are relegated to the basements of historic societies, museums, or collectors who are more antiquarian than antique.

In 50 years, Barbie, the Disney Princess line, and Star Wars collectibles will be more a curiosity than a collecting category. In 100 years, they will be largely forgotten. Their current icon status will not prevent this from happening.

Who is Barbie in 2018? She comes in so many shapes and forms that she is no one. In 1965, Barbie was easy to identify. In 2018, she has multiple hair styles, eye colors, body shapes, and costumes to the point where Barbie is so politically correct she no longer has a single, identifiable personality. Based on this alone, Barbie’s icon status should be revoked.

Disney has done the same thing with its Princess line. Ethnically diverse Princesses are being developed at such a rapid pace that children will soon be singing, with apologies to Stephen Sondheim,

Something familiar,
Something peculiar,
Something just for me,
A Disney Princess tonight

Something appealing,
Something appalling,
Something just for me,
A Disney Princess tonight

Too many chickens spoil the stew. Too many Princesses spoil the icon.

As Disney discovered, keeping a Princess as Queen of the Hill is impossible. It is true that Frozen dolls dominated doll market sales for a lengthy period, even outselling Barbie. I harbor no ill will against Elsa the Snow Queen and her sister Anna. I prefer them over several of the older “official” Disney Princesses. Disney always has a new princess waiting in the wings. Do you want to take bets as to which diversity group will be appealed to next?

Disney’s Princess line divides rather than unites the Disney kingdom. Encouraging a young girl to associate with her special princess indirectly creates a “my Princess is better than your Princess” mentality. Remember what happened when the Disney Princesses were all in the same movie? If you do not, check out “Shrek” and “Shrek the Third.”

I tracked Barbie’s woes for over a decade. I just started to notice the aging Star Wars collector base. The potential decline of the Disney Princess line is a new phenomenon. I added it to my long-term radar.

Time is the enemy whether “in a galaxy far far away” or my own mirror. What continues to intrigue me is that Barbie, Disney Princesses (come on guys, I am a male), and Star Wars were not a part of my childhood. If these are fading, I guess it is time for me to finally bury Howdy Doody, Tom Corbett, Hopalong Cassidy, and Miss Kitty. What a pity! .  

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Selected letters will be answered in this column.  Harry cannot provide personal answers.  Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned.  Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI  49512.  You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.

You can listen and participate in WHATCHA GOT?, Harry’s antiques and collectibles radio call-in show, on Sunday mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM Eastern Time.  If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT? streams live on the Internet at www.gcnlive.com.


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