Happy Meal Toys: Fun? Yes. Deadly? Possibly.
One Large Order of Responsibility, Please. Can I Get Fries With That?
Some people can suck the fun out of anything. If a recent claim by the Center for Science in the Public Interest is to be believed, the latest victim of the “no fun police” could very well be Happy Meal toys. According to a proposed lawsuit by these people (who so obviously know what’s best for us all), those cheap little pieces of plastic you find in your McDonald’s kids’ meals are responsible for your children’s bulging bellies. Throw out all personal restraint, responsibility, and dinner table discipline. Let’s blame it on the Barbie you got with your burger.
It’s common knowledge that fast food isn’t the best food for anyone, let alone your kids. Serving up a plate of greasy fries and processed chicken chunks for dinner every night will lead to a tubby tummy, no matter who you are. If you choose cheeseburgers over something sensible too often, you run the risk of looking a little too much like Grimace yourself. And it’s your fault, right?
Well, the CSPI says it’s not. They’ve alleged that McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and childhood obesity are not mutually exclusive. The fry kids made us fat, and it was the lure of those packed-in baubles that are helping our children pack on the pounds. The potential lawsuit claims that something as seemingly innocuous as a plastic Shrek will cause so much nagging and pestering from your kids that you’ll make a beeline for the Golden Arches just to shut them up. The advocacy group also lays the blame on McDonald’s advertising, asserting that television ads specifically and maliciously target children.
In a way, this makes perfect sense. Virtually all fast food companies that serve child-specific meals market their wares directly to the intended audience: children. This is nothing new and it’s not really all that different from what Mattel, Hasbro, Fisher Price, etc. do with their toys. Following the logic of this possible lawsuit, we’re basically saying it’s okay to go after kids in your marketing campaign, so long as there’s no potential weight gain involved.
In my opinion, this is just another attempt at taking the blame off the parents and placing it somewhere it doesn‘t necessarily belong. It’s an excuse for a growing problem, but offers no real solution. No amount of nagging in the world can force any parent to drive to the nearest burger joint. No ad campaign can intercept common sense so severely that parents everywhere simply choose to throw all reason out the window and start serving nothing but Big Macs every day of the week. Such an insinuation is utterly ridiculous, and essentially says we’re all incapable of resisting that sesame seed siren song.
I hate to play devil’s advocate for a company such as McDonald’s, but it seems clear as crystal to me that the guiltiest party in all this is the consumer. As parents or guardians, we are responsible for everything our kids do: what they watch, what they play, who they associate with, and of course, what they eat. We’re gradually becoming a society that is not only fully aware of its ills, but also directly responsible for them. Maybe this thought is too much to bear for some of us, so special interest groups and the like go on corporate witch hunts, searching for a scapegoat for a problem that starts and ends with proper parenting.
It bears mentioning that I am not a parent. I am, however, a fast food junkie, and I see absolutely no reason to drag Mayor McCheese into court over something that should be regulated at home. If one day, someone finds my corpse keeled over beneath a mountain of White Castle chicken rings, I hope that person will realize I did it to myself. It was my fault I couldn’t get through the day without a stack of Baconators, not Wendy’s. It’s called “accountability,” folks, and if I’m ever lucky enough to have children of my own, it’s a character trait I hope to instill in them from the get-go.
It’s a good time for the great tastes of humility and self-control. Too bad you can’t order that at the drive-thru.
Posted June 26. 2010