Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Return your failed genius to sender for a full refund

As any suffering parent knows, for the past decade DVDs ingeniously called "Baby Einstein" flooded the market and the presents under the Christmas tree.  Some parents embraced the freedom to shove their little budding university educated 2 year olds in front of the television, without any guilt that they might turn their children into television-addicted zombies.  Who needs the commitment of a Montessori education when you can just turn on the television and put in a DVD with the word "Einstein" in it?  Brilliant!  (Let's conveniently ignore that Einstein himself was apparently not an obvious genius as a child.)

After a while, it dawned on some parents that - Shock! Horror! - watching shapes, annoying songs, colours, and badly drawn cartoons did not guarantee their child a place in university at 5 years old.  So, naturally because this happened in the USA, now Disney (who foolishly bought Baby Einstein in 2001) finds itself having to offer refunds to any parents who bought its Baby Einstein videos and found their babies did not become instant geniuses the way a name like "Einstein"  might possibly suggest.

Baby Einstein sells USD200 million worth of products a year.  About a third of all American babies/infants apparently owns one of its DVDs.  Giving their parents refunds represents a quantity of money that might rival Obama's healthcare package, and a lot of embarrassment. What made Disney budge? According to the Times:
Last year, lawyers threatened a class-action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices unless Disney agreed to refund the full purchase price to all who bought the videos since 2004. “The Walt Disney Company’s entire Baby Einstein marketing regime is based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development,” a letter from the lawyers said, calling those claims “false because research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children.”
Did anyone force these parents to buy the DVDs?  While it may be appropriate to remove "educational" from the marketing, surely Disney has no responsibility to refund money. Parents asking Disney to refund their money on infant entertainment because all of a sudden "research shows" that TV is bad for children (hasn't it always been bad? This is hardly new) is basically the parents asking Disney to take the same kind of helicopter-style care of them that they are taking of their children. How can there be any claim of raising children capable of critical and independent thought when lawyers are pushed to sue a clever marketing plan? Doesn't the very fact that this lawsuit was brought in the first place constitute the parents' admission that they bought the DVDs because of what the marketing said without giving it any thoughtful consideration of their own?

Now I need to put in a little waiver here.  Those who know me are aware that I don't have a television in my house - well, I do, but it lives in a cupboard only because it just doesn't look good in my newly decorated house.  But I have no objections to children watching television.  I don’t think watching a little TV is going to turn any kid into a dullard. But to think that watching TV is the key to education, rather than, say, reading a book, letting the kid dig in dirt, splash in the tub, discover that sand tastes bad, or bang on a pot is a sad indictment on those parents who believed the Baby Einstein DVDs were going to make a difference to their child's education.  While a "little TV" might not turn anyone into a problem child, it does go against how the brain develops. We live in a 3D, not a 2D, environment. A child is not, or should not be, a passive inhabitant of their 3D environment.

So, now I wait to see who is going to ask for a refund on the basis their child is not a genius?  Picture the scene in the crowded Walmart (screamed in an American accent, possibly from the midwest):  "Look at my kid!  Did you ever see such a dumb, thickarse excuse for a human being?  I gave him this "genius" dvd with the word Einstein in the title, and what do I get?  Braindead Thicko Boy!  I want my money back!"

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