Playmobil's political incorrectness


#1

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#2

Playmobil has a set of a cop busting a shoe-less homeless man sitting on a bench with a bottle in his hand…

I saw the picture before reading this part of the article and thought, That has to be a joke or a parody. Even in Europe where there may be some lack of awareness of the offensiveness of certain stereotypes that’s got to be problematic.


#3

No mention of the Playmobil militarized riot police or the TSA checkpoint?


#4

Like so many Germans of my generation I have grown up with a lot of Playmobil. Articles along those lines written by Americans are pretty common. In some cases I can understand the complaints, but others are a bit surprising. For example, what is wrong with the hunter or the maid?


#5

I’m not sure. My 4-year old decided that the hunter was protecting all of the cute little animals from wolves and poachers.


#6

These people believe that all toys should conform to their own political agenda, and the way that they would like history to be discussed. Guns of any kind are always bad. Stereotypes are always bad. The maid is bad because it presents a female in a perceived subservient position. As a German by birth and heritage, I can see both perspectives. The author of the article cannot do so. But the truth is, you will never satisfy these people. The only toy I can think of that would conform to their expectations would be something like a “Feminist Lecture Series non-structured classroom playset”. Which of course would bore their children to death. I don’t know a real solution to this. I do not know what percentage of Playmobil’s business comes from the USA, or what percentage of North American parents really share these views. I personally am not threatened by Playmobil sets. My kids grew up with them, and used the figures and sets in whatever way their imagination moved them. My only personal complaint with Playmobil is that they have yet to produce a Japanese Shogunate set. That would be cool.


#7

Germany has had a interesting cultural relationship with the Wild West.

Though Playmobil is Bavarian, I would be remiss if I did not point out that the East Germans had an even stranger take


#8

Oh yes, good point. In the traditional German narrative of the Wild West the native Americans have always been the good guys, even if political correctness and historical accuracy occasionally left a lot to be desired.


#9

“Female” isn’t the problem. Making her a Latina in the problem.


#10

Is this article a parody of liberal rhetoric or is the author genuinely complaining that a children’s toy fails to contextualize the conflict between European settlers and Native Americans?


#11

Or maybe the people could be sold separately from the scene+specialized costumes/gear and that way anyone could be the hotel maid or the police officer or the park ranger.


#12

Are you stereotyping my people as blond and blue-eyed? :wink:

In their home market there are next to no Latina maids. Why on earth would they do that? Now if you argued that she looks too Turkish, then that would make a little more sense.


#13

Some of it I agree with, some of it I don’t. The whole hoary old Cowboys-vs-Indians schtick, with the Indians as the clear bad guys, really needs to die. Making the only Latina in the hotel set a maid is certainly problematic. The TSA checkpoint and the riot police I’m less fussed about, though I could see an argument that they’re in poor taste. The ones that suggest that a police station might contain guns, or that bank robbers are violent criminals, or that hunters exist…I can’t find any problem with those at all, yeah.

The bit about the hunter irritates me in particular. Unless you’re a vegetarian, bemoaning game hunters while chowing down on hamburgers is naive and hypocritical. I don’t hunt, but I’ve got friends who do, and as long as you do the deed quickly and efficiently and eat what you kill, I don’t think there’s a damn thing wrong with it. I’d be pretty squeamish about personally skinning and dressing a deer, but that’s because I’m squeamish, not because it’s morally wrong.

I think Playmobil’s greatest virtue, and the time when they’re at their best, is when they just depict things that exist/existed without implied judgment. A lot of their historicals are surprisingly accurate; where (say) Lego would just plonk down (say) a mishmash of fantasy knights, Playmobil will often have well-researched uniforms and equipment. That’s why the riot police and TSA checkpoint don’t bother me: these are things that exist; Playmobil merely documents them. I’m not sure how you would go about “merely documenting” cowboys’n’Indians in a racially sensitive way; Playmobil’s version could be worse, but it could definitely be better.

Hmm. How about an Indian village set, with homey teepees and cooking fires and women and children, plus a couple of heavily-armed cowboys? That would certainly suggest more sympathetic Native Americans without explicitly calling out heroes and villains.


#14

I really want that cop and wino set.


#15

No heavily armed cowboys: http://www.playmobil.us/on/demandware.store/Sites-US-Site/en_US/Product-Show?pid=5247

Those only seem to raid wagons: http://www.playmobil.us/on/demandware.store/Sites-US-Site/en_US/Product-Show?pid=5248&showSpareParts=false&cgid=Western#cgid=Western&start=18

But I am not arguing that there aren’t any problems with that setting.


#16

That speaks well of Playmobil’s actual intent, but context matters. I understand that “spaz” is considered an offensive slur in the UK, similar to “retard.” In the US, it’s about as mild as “dummy” and shows up in children’s media. That doesn’t mean that children’s book publishers in America are bigots, but it does mean they have to be careful when they move into overseas markets.

(Does she look Turkish? I don’t know much about German stereotypes or Turkish nationals. When I was a boy on an American army base in Frankfurt, circa 1988-'91, us kids all cautioned each other to “watch out for the Turks,” but I don’t think any of us actually knew what a Turk was. I always envisioned them as a sort of German street gang, probably with punked-out hair and leather jackets.)

(An older teen I knew had a story about being out late at night with a bunch of friends when a bunch of [alleged] Turks approached them and said “you wanna fight?” The Americans said no, the Turks said okay and continued on their way.)

(I may be rambling a bit here.)


#17

Not really. My point was just that even if you make the leap that a maid with black hair simply has to be a stereotypical depiction of an ethnicity stereotypically associated with that job, it is still unlikely that she was originally meant to be a Latina.


#18

Given that Playmobil has a set of a cop busting a shoe-less homeless man sitting on a bench with a bottle in his hand

He’s not busting him, he’s asking for a swig. After that, he’s going to take him to get some social assistance and free medical care.


#19

I’m 41 and I still have some Playmobil toys from the mid-70s. I wonder how much of this is cultural differences between Germans and Americans, and how much is just a toy manufacturer using designs from 35+ years ago.


#20

also, besides the obvious philosophical difference between Lego and Playmobil, the two companies are different, and you shouldn’t expect Lego’s disdain for the gun to hold true for all “European” toy conglomerates.