Halloween being just around the corner, now is surely the time to start writing about the Holidays. (If you capitalize the H, people always understand you’re talking about the time in December when kids get presents. Word to the wise for non-denominational but faithful consumers.) The writer's path has been smoothed by a new kerfuffle about Wal-Mart, who, of course, is already meditating deeply on the Holidays.
So deep are Wal-Mart’s meditations that, here we are, mid-October, and parent groups are already enraged with it. Why? The retailer has launched a site called Toyland, putatively designed to help children create wishlists for the Holidays. You can tell it’s for the Holidays because there are elves and snow.
The site, which children are guided through by two animated elves called Wally and Mary, features a procession of toys children can put on a wishlist. Each time they select a toy for the list, there's a round of applause in the audio. Each time they reject a toy, it is boxed up and chucked in a dump truck.
Wally and Mary openly admit the list created will be sent to the children's parents. “We’ll help plead your case,” explains Wally.
Wal-Mart says the site was designed to help parents choose good presents, playing the same sort of role letters to Santa Claus have in the past. Parent lobby groups are shockingly unappreciative. In fact, they claim the interactive features of the site actively encourage children to badger their parents to buy more presents.
“‘They are trying to gin up children to nag, whine and throw temper tantrums and sow stress, strife and misery in the home,'" says Gary Ruskin, the executive director of consumer group Commercial Alert.
Other parent watchdogs are also attacking the site, including Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, which is promoting a letter writing campaign. "Families have a hard enough time navigating holiday commercialism without the world's largest retailer bypassing parents completely and urging children to nag," according to this particular manifesto.
Yeaaaaaaah. The protests of the parents' groups ring hollow in the face of the fact Wal-Mart is obviously right. Children have been writing letters to Santa Claus for years that serve the same purpose as this site. And surely no adult is delusional enough to believe they themselves weren’t once brats who spent weeks whining about presents and pretending to NOT be little assholes so they could get on Santa Claus’ good list.
The real protest parents should make over this service is that it bypasses Santa Claus. And the problem with bypassing Santa isn’t just that it means one of the few lingering vestiges of religious fun has been sucked out of the day that used to define religious fun for most of the Northern Hemisphere. Nor that it jettisons the concept Holiday gifts are rewards for good behavior, and thus tools to develop personal accountability.
The real problem now is parents have no more excuses for the iDog winding up under the tree when the kids really wanted the Zoombox. Poor, victimized, potentially unpopular parents. Maybe Wal-Mart should make up for their insensitive marketing practices and forestall class action lawsuits by offering workshops on how to say “no” to offspring and – possibly – teach them they can’t always get what they want.