Cards on the table: I’m as big a fan of “Breaking Bad” as you’ll find anywhere, and laughed out loud at the sight of series protagonist Walter White rendered as an action figure – complete with a pistol, a satchel full of ill-gotten cash, and a little bag of the blue meth that fueled his alternately comical, tragic, and horrifying journey from milquetoast chemistry teacher to crime lord. I also generally take a dim view of censorship crusades. It’s not that I think they’re always and inevitably misguided, but they are often exercises in eye-rolling prudery, whether they come from Right or Left. Most of them come from the Left these days, as it becomes very enthusiastic about stamping out every vestige of dissent against its moral pronouncements.
Here’s one that I guess would be more properly described as social conservatism than leftist activism: a mother in Florida named Susan Myers, who started a petition to get Toys R Us to take the Walter White action figure off shelves. Actor Bryan Cranston responded with an amusing burst of sarcasm:
“Florida mom petitions against Toys ‘R Us over Breaking Bad action figures.” I’m so mad, I’m burning my Florida Mom action figure in protest
— Bryan Cranston (@BryanCranston) October 20, 2014
But is Florida Mom really so far off base here? She’s not trying to ban the “Breaking Bad” action figures altogether – a detail that somehow slips out of many media reports. Her petition specifically applies to Toys R Us, which is a toy store that primarily serves young children, not adult toy collectors. She makes this point in the petition, which not a pearl-clutching screed against “Breaking Bad” or the idea of collectibles geared toward adult purchasers:
Toys R Us is well known around the world for their vast selection of toys for children of all ages. However their decision to sell a Breaking Bad doll, complete with a detachable sack of cash and a bag of meth, alongside children’s toys is a dangerous deviation from their family friendly values. That’s why I’m calling on Toys R Us to immediately stop selling the Breaking Bad doll collection in their stores and on their website.
Sony Pictures Television has recently partnered with Toys R Us to release a collection of dolls based on the characters from Breaking Bad. The show centers on the story of a high school chemistry teacher who becomes a drug kingpin in order to make ends meet. While the show may be compelling viewing for adults, its violent content and celebration of the drug trade make this collection unsuitable to be sold alongside Barbie dolls and Disney characters.
Parents and grandparents around the world shop at Toys R Us, online and in stories, with their children and should not be forced to explain why a certain toy comes with a bag of highly dangerous and illegal drugs or why someone who sells those drugs deserves to be made into an action figure.
Is that such an unreasonable request? Heck, I’m looking around my desk right now, and I can see half a dozen knickknacks that don’t belong in a toy store that caters to children and their families. My Electric Chair Marv from “Sin City,” for example. You can flip the switch to electrocute him, and he snarls curses at you as he dies. That’s not something I’d expect to see on the shelves at Toys R Us. I have a feeling the people mocking Susan Myers for her petition don’t actually shop at Toys R Us very often, especially not in the company of small children, who love to grab new items off the shelves and ask their parents for the story behind them. I’d love to shoot the breeze with Bryan Cranston about “Breaking Bad” someday, but I wouldn’t do it in front of a first-grade classroom.
I’m the target market for a Walter White action figure, and I would never dream of looking for one at Toys R Us, which is where I go to buy presents for my niece and nephew, not build up my collection of carefully detailed “Hellraiser” Cenobites. What other kid-centered toy stores are even left these days? I’m not that familiar with the industry, but based on personal observation, I suspect a great deal of shopping for kids is conducted in the toy departments of stores like Wal-Mart and Target these days. Is it completely beyond the pale for parents to want an easily-located, readily-accessible store where they can bring little kids without having to worry about explaining “Breaking Bad” to them? If so, would anyone care to explain why to Susan Myers without insulting her?