What should we do about Demon Dolls?

January 29, 2009 | By | 9 Replies More

What is the xenophobic American religious right up to these days?  Once in a while, I tune into the local all-Christian talk radio to try to understand the Christian Right a bit better.  I tuned in again tonight on my way home, and I was rewarded with one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories. It was a real-life Twilight Zone.

To better understand what was going on, listen to this 10-second long YouTube and consider what this doll is saying, if anything.

If you guessed that the doll was saying “Islam is the light,” you win the grand prize.  I didn‘t win the grand prize.

I listened to the radio discussion all the way home, compelled on by the insanity.  The show included three religious conservative women, all of them very upset with this doll. The doll, which is called “Baby Cuddle & Coo Doll,” is made by Mattel and, according to the women on the radio, the doll is an evil attempt to indoctrinate our innocent children to take up the cause of Islam. The women on the radio described the evil doll in many ways (they were quite upset); for instance, this doll is an attempt at “stealth jihad.”  One of the women insisted that this was every bit as bad as “the Tylenol poisoning.” The women discussed the many attempts made by conservative Christians to berate and boycott Mattel and to put pressure on major retailers like Wal-Mart and Target to take these dolls off the shelves before they ruin more young lives.

The women on the radio admitted that they did not know who had orchestrated this terrible deed, but they did “know” that someone or some group is after our children.  They stated that many of these dolls are made overseas and claimed that some foreign countries probably planted this hideous message in order to do harm to America.

I’m not making any of this up, as you can see from the many YouTube videos featuring this doll and from websites like this and this.

I’m not the only person fascinated by this episode.  Consider the article written by David Emery at Urban Legends Blog.  Here’s an excerpt:

[R]etailers across America started whipping a talking doll off their shelves in recent days after customers complained it was “spouting hate” — at least that’s the way it was couched in a report by Fox News Kansas City yesterday.

The doll in question, Fisher-Price’s Little Mommy Real Loving Baby Cuddle & Coo Doll, allegedly repeats the phrases “Satan is king” and “Islam is the light” in addition to all of the standard babbling and cooing one would expect to hear from a talking baby doll.

“There’s no markings on the box to indicate there’s anything Islamic about this doll,” Oklahoman Gary Rofkahr told Fox News in a story headlined “Parents Outraged Over Baby Doll They Say Mumbles Pro-Islam Message.”

All of which begs so many questions, I hardly know where to begin.

I agree.  I hardly know where to begin.

Emery has a lot of good background on this craziness.  For instance, take a look at his description of some of the prominent prior claims regarding other evil talking toys.  Emery suggests (and I agree) that the power of suggestion is running rampant.   I would also add that once these claims make any headway (here’s how it gets started and see here), members of the conservative Christian herd start wearing these claims as badges of group membership.  They spur each other on regardless of the evidence.

Truly, don’t these people have anything better to do than to concoct this grand conspiracy?

Then again, I should probably re-frame the question: How stupid do these parents think that their own children are to worry that a few words could harm their children?  Or maybe the question should be this: Are these parents really that afraid that their children might hear something that conflicts with the sorts of things that their parents pound into their children’s at home every day?

Or maybe I should re-frame the question like this: Knowing that they’ve indoctrinated their own children with thousands of hours of right-wing Christian education at home and church, are these parents really that afraid that all of that right-wing Christian propaganda will unravel, triggered by a few words out of the mouth of a cuddly doll?

All of this raises another point, of course. Is the doll actually saying “Islam is the light”?  Do objective people actually understand the doll to be saying “Islam is the light”?  I would love to see someone reputable do a survey on what is the doll is saying. My guess is that at least 95% of the people listening to the doll would not assume that the doll said “Islam is the light.”  Not everyone agrees with me, of course. The women on the radio said that they had done their own survey and that more than 80% of the people listening to the doll stated that the doll was saying “Islam is the light.” I’ll bet it that survey wasn’t done in double blind fashion.  Speaking of surveys, here’s a tiny one.

Here’s another question: what does it mean to say “Islam is the light”? What if this doll really were saying “Islam is the light”? Is that phrase really capable of harming children? Let’s expose 1,000 children to a doll that occasionally utters the phrase “Islam is the light”? Let’s come back 20 years later and then see how those children fared compared to children who were not exposed to that phrase. I would bet everything I own that you would see no difference.

Compare that to a survey where children were raised by parents who were xenophobic, paranoid, narrow-minded and proudly ignorant. Let’s come back 20 years later to see how those children fared compared to children whose parents did not have those qualities.  I would bet that the children raised by such dysfunctional parents would, after they grew up, be far more likely to raise false claims that mass produced dolls were attempting to convert their children to Islam.

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Category: Culture, ignorance, Media, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (9)

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  1. Tim Hogan says:

    OK, so some "overseas folks" are creating "hate" (according to Faux News in KC)and the doll says; "Isalm is the light!"

    Let's see, is it sweeps time?

    Maybe there really is something the matter with Kansas?

    Did anyone check to see if the dolls had been tampered with and did they find any suspicious fingerprints from fat, balding, Viagra and Oxycontin addicted neo-fascist radio talkshow hosts?

    Why only Bucks County, PA? (Bucks, like ratings…heh, heh! Apparently some subpoena dodging fat neofascist GOP politico is running this gig!)

  2. Hank says:

    Good lord, nothing is safe from these puffed-up paranoid Puritans. This beyond-ridiculous conspiracy theory reminds me of the following exchange from an old Simpsons episode, when Bart is given a talking Krusty the Clown doll as a gift:

    Grandpa: That doll is evil I tells ya … eeevil … EEEEEEEEVIL!!!

    Marge: Grandpa, you said that about all the presents.

    Grandpa: (meekly) I just want attention.

  3. Richard T says:

    Aren't they the same sort of loons that used to play heavy metal LPs backwards and hear all sorts of satanic slogans? I suppose the arrival of cds has stopped that game and now they're listening to dolls. Um yes.

  4. Mobius 118 says:

    They'll find anything to whine about…maybe this will further expose them as the money-grubbing jacktards they really are, and the rest of the nation will disregard them as the lunatics they represent.

    Seriously…If only they knew how I played with the action figures that didn't have servos and voiceboxes…THAT was evil. This? You know how easy it is to manipulate that little programmable chip? I've gotten my nieces' old doll to play heavy metal.

    These guys are slimy, stooping this low…

  5. Vicki Baker says:

    Does anyone remember "Math is hard, let's go shopping" Barbie? Around that time, Adbusters magazine had a how-to article on how to do pre-sale modifications to add your own messages to Barbie and other talking toys

    Personally, I find all animated talking dolls and their pre-recorded soundtracks vaguely spooky. Maybe I was traumatized by being forced to visit the animatronic Hall of Presidents at Disneyland due to my father's obsession with Abraham Lincoln: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hall_of_Presiden

  6. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Emery's web article has a link to the audio provided by fisher-price, the manufacturer of the dolls, and to me it sounds like "Ahhhhiiieee! [giggling] ma-ma-ma-ma gonna delite!"

    It's like seeing shapes in the clouds,allegations of back-masking satanic messages in rock music and the like.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Why do so many people would "hear" a phrase that the doll is not saying? Watch Michael Shermer's TED lecture: "Why People believe strange things." It gets especially fun at about the 6-minute mark.

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/michael_sherme

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    People heard that evil doll promoting Islam much as I saw ghosts in cloud formations.

  9. Erich Vieth says:

    A new study links lack of control with a tendency to find patterns where they don't really exist. The study was done by psychologists Jennifer Whitson and Adam Galinsky. Here's the abstract:

    We present six experiments that tested whether lacking control increases illusory pattern perception, which we define as the identification of a coherent and meaningful interrelationship among a set of random or unrelated stimuli. Participants who lacked control were more likely to perceive a variety of illusory patterns, including seeing images in noise, forming illusory correlations in stock market information, perceiving conspiracies, and developing superstitions. Additionally, we demonstrated that increased pattern perception has a motivational basis by measuring the need for structure directly and showing that the causal link between lack of control and illusory pattern perception is reduced by affirming the self. Although these many disparate forms of pattern perception are typically discussed as separate phenomena, the current results suggest that there is a common motive underlying them.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/32

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