Fifty shades of grey (hair)

I am just learning that some time in the last decade that I’d gone over to the other side. I don’t mean that I’ve had a near-death experience and glimpsed heaven. I mean that I now find myself on the other side of the cultural divide—those who can appreciate all that our media machines have to offer and those of us who are so out of it that we are turning off our TVs, opting out of Twitter feeds and locking our Google glasses in a dark room. Several indications line up and as the media commentators sometime say, “All the date is in and we are prepared to call the election.” I am officially out of the cultural mainstream.

Despite my best intentions and heartfelt efforts, I just don’t get it any longer. As evidence, I could cite my cluelessness at the Grammies (I don’t know how these people are or how they made their way to fame), my failure to be enchanted by most of the ads during the Super Bowl (That’s supposed to be funny?). I could go on and on here. But, perhaps, the conclusive event was my reaction to Vermont Teddy Bear’s Valentine’s Day promotion. First of all, I must admit my fondness for Teddy Bears and although I have never ordered anything from this company, I liked their support of NPR. I had imagined that the leaders of this organization were enlightened public-spirited men and women. And, perhaps, they are. I mean really what else would you imagine about a company that makes teddy bears AND is located in Vermont (although I don’t if the location is just a ruse; maybe they are located in communist Russia.)

What has thrown me for a loop is their promotion for their 50 Shades of Grey Teddy Bear. The ad reads,

Dominate Valentine’s Day. Give the one you want something that will obsess and possess them. With all of the trappings of a memorable gift–daring, passion, exciting next-to-skin touch–she’ll be desperate to get one. Bear seduces with silky smooth Grey fur, smoldering grey eyes, a handsome grey suit and silver tie. He even comes with a mask and handcuffs.

Now, it seems from reading the copy here that the writers are having fun, which is fine for them. Maybe, this is their way of adding some sexiness and spark to their own tame workplace. thHowever, the pleasure of having this bear join your household or book club or whatever will cost you $90. And, there may be other costs, as well. I am imagining the look on a mature woman’s face when she gets this bear from her new male friend after she has already complained to him about his dominating their conversations in mixed sex groups. This gift could make most situations worse, I am fairly certain. I would suggest to most couples that they stick to roses and chocolate and leave these aggressive bears to another demographic.

Because I am so out of the mainstream and because no one who is reading this is likely to take my opinion as the end of this important debate, I want to be clear and frank about my position. I like my bears cute and submissive and I like them with traditional teddy bear garb. If we are nominating bears for Valentine’s dates, my vote is cast in a tie ballot between Paddington and Pooh. I like the former for his erudition and the latter for his social networks and can’t choose between them. Taking on two bear lovers on may be frowned upon but I just can’t help myself.

We should put this issue in context. Toy companies have made lots of goofy moves and found themselves in the middle of media firestorms. The creative geniuses at Mattel may take the first prize for their lineup of Barbie kerfuffles. A website has conveniently put 24 of these missteps together for us in a slide show. There was Tokidoki, a tattooed, pink-haired Barbie with a skull and cross bone T-shirt and leopard leggings. There was Oreo Fun Barbie with an African American doll. There was Midge, a pregnant friend of Barbie whose flip-open stomach revealed a well-developed baby. There was Growing Up Skipper who developed breasts as your child turned her grow dial. There was Teen Talk Barbie who talked and said, “Math is tough”. There was Share a Smile Barbie who sat in pink wheelchair, which was too wide to get through the elevator doors in Barbie’s Dream House.

There are others. Doesn’t it seem that Saturday Night Live must have planted a confederate in the New Ideas for Barbies office, offering crazy schemes so that SNL could make fun of these later? I have worked in organizations where we have done some very dumb things that could only have been initiated by a sworn enemy of ours masquerading as a vice president of strategic strategy (or something like that.) There have also been products blowups associated with Legos and Mr. Potato Head. One has to wonder how tone deaf we all can be to make major mistakes like this. Or maybe, this is part of the plan. “Let’s do something that’s offensive and see how that turns out.” We can give people a break for silly mistakes but sexualizing an innocent bear, no way.


About professorenos

I am a professor of sociology and coordinate service-learning and social entrepreneurship work on my campus at Bryant University. This blog brings together academic and creative work.
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