TMX - The Only Toy You Don't Want for Christmas
Welcome to the Tilsner Report. Each week Julie will bring you reports from the extreme trenches of Motherhood, with a hint of humour and a slice of snark. Enjoy!
Five things I will do before I buy my children a Tickle Me Elmo Extreme doll for Christmas.
1) Sell them to Satanists
2) Volunteer them for active army duty. In Liberia.
3) Home-school them via a wall-sized plasma-screen TV stuck on the Fox channel 24/7.
4) Donate them to the Raliens.
5) Sign them up for private Catechism lessons with Father O'Reilly.
I don't care that Tickle Me Elmo Extreme (heretofore known as TMX,) is the "It" toy of the season. I don't care that I won't be able to find the product for any price in any brick and mortar store. I don't care how many Entertainment Tonight segments are done on the whimsical magic that is TMX. My kids could fall to the ground and weep, clutching my pant leg and begging me to buy them just this one gift and then they'd never again ask me for anything and still I would remain unmoved. Nope. I ain't playing the game.
Because they just went a teeny bit overboard on the hype with this one. And it backfired on this mom. Fortunately for me, my kids are aging out of the mechanical stuffed animal concept.
Still, there are now only two months left before Christmas, and I'm going to have to endure "news" reports about the riots and fistfights that break out in Wal-Marts and Toys 'R' Us outlets all over the country over this object for the next 50-plus days. And that's put me in a grumpy mood.
My objection isn't the toy at all. My kids, at 3-years-old, would have gotten a kick out of it. They loved Elmo (who, btw, is himself 3-years-old, according to backstory reports), and they also loved those singing, dancing novelty toys you find in drug stores – you know the ones – the pigs in hula skirts swaying to "Tiny Bubbles," or the Dog in cool glasses gyrating to Elvis. I always wondered who bought such kitsch. And then I had toddlers and learned the secret.
The TMX (note the hard, techy name. A nod to Arnold and the Terminator movies, perhaps? ) is nothing if not annoyingly appealing to the three-year-old set. First, he's Elmo, which they all know and love from Sesame Street. Secondly, he moves and laughs when you touch him. Thirdly, he apparently falls down then gets back up on his own. Lots of pre-schoolers will find all of this really neat. Especially the laughing part. Because Elmo will laugh and laugh and laugh until Mommy and Daddy take an ax and chop poor Elmo into fluffy little reddish bits.
Fortunately for Elmo, my particular children are onto quieter, less annoying toys.
It's the calculated, patronizing way it's being marketed to people that I take great umbrage at. It's a toy, damnit. Not a cure for Cancer. Do they think we're that stupid?
Apparently yes. And apparently, given the frenzy caused by the original Tickle Me Elmo Doll, we've proven them right.
The madness started 10 years ago, when the original Tickle Me Elmo made its debut. I didn't have any kids at that point hence I didn't pay much attention to toys. But the Tickle Me Elmo hysteria reached through to me even then. According to a story in USA Today at the time, the doll was one of the last huge hits of the toy industry. A real blockbuster event - and years before eBay even existed! There were news reports of hoarding and gouging and all sorts of sorted behavior over this furry read doll. But sales did soar. Mattel hoped this new version, the "extreme," would be akin to the Second Coming.
In any case, the first whiff of TMX came in Feburary, at the American International Toy Fair, when trade reporters and buyers were expecting to see the actual doll and got instead ... a prototype of the box. The company wouldn't even release a photo of the doll.
"The toy is so magical that we want to keep a little suspense around it," Neil Friedman, president of Mattel Brands, which include Fisher-Price, the maker of Elmo, told the media.
And the media lapped it all up. It got coverage all over the place. What is this new "secret" Elmo all about? How wonderful could it be? The industry was said to be all a-flutter with excitement for the secret new Elmo's unveiling in September, 2006. The new doll, which as far as I can tell laughs with a bit more gusto than the original, was debuted to huge fanfare and a corresponding statement by the company that they hadn't anticipated the strong response and hadn't made enough of the dolls to meet demand. Whoops. Instant shortage. More furious demand. TMX dolls began popping up on eBay for double, sometimes triple the $40 retail price. Meanwhile, the media reports that you can't find TMX anywhere, but it remains the "must-have" toy for the 2006 Christmas season. That's where the fistfights in Florida come in.
Now. Does Mattel really think this is all about ten million little kids all wanting a Tickle Me Elmo Extreme doll? Or is it more about the collector/speculators hoping to make a fast profit off the parental urge to make our children happy (or at least quiet)?
Why would any self-respecting parent fall for this?
Please, before you go stand in the pre-dawn line at Wal-Mart hoping for you chance to get little Suzy her own rare TMX doll, realize that you've been had. The marketers have very callously played on your desire to get your child that one rare object that nobody else can get. Please don't fall for it. Get her something else. Make her something. Better yet, make this lesson number one teaching her how to view the consumer culture she's growing up in through a gimlet eye.
I mean, if just a handful of parents who were otherwise planning on robbing someone else of their TMX dolls in the mall parking lot reconsiders because of my post, then I will be able to sleep better between now and Christmas.