Wednesday, June 11, 2008

And God Created Billy

The New York Times takes a fun look at some fictional stars who are getting 21-century makeovers (Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears), but offers a cautionary tale in the New Coke moment in toy history -- better known as Earring Magic Ken: "Reinventing these beloved characters without inflicting indelible damage is one of the entertainment industry’s trickiest maneuvers. Go too far, like Mattel did in 1993 when it gave Ken a purple mesh T-shirt, a pierced ear and the name Earring Magic Ken, and it can trigger a brand meltdown on a global scale. Earring Magic Ken is the industry’s nightmare scenario. The character, who had blond highlights in his hair and a leather vest, drew howls from consumers, who did not see him as a realistic boyfriend for Barbie. Ken was already coping with arched eyebrows over his sexual orientation, and he seemed to have come out of the closet -- something that Mattel most definitely did not intend."

Sadly, by 1993 I was way too old for dolls. But even as gay-fabulous as Earring Magic Ken was, I still wouldn't have traded him for my Growing Up Skipper ...

A Wikipedia entry recalls that "observers quickly noted the resemblance of Earring Magic Ken to a stereotypical gay man, from the purple clothes to the earring to the necklace, which was described as a cock ring. Kitsch-minded gay men bought the doll in record numbers, making Earring Magic Ken the best-selling Ken model in Mattel's history. Despite the commercial success of the doll, public criticism led Mattel to discontinue Earring Magic Ken and recall the doll from stores."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have an Earring Magic Ken doll, still in its unopened box. I remember buying it at a Toys 'R' Us in Upstate New York when the controversy first came about. Yikes!