Frank Furedi is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century.
Scrabble has followed Mr Potato Head and Barbie in trying to impose woke values on your children. Remember when toys and games used to be fun rather than tools used to ensure kids think in what’s deemed an ‘acceptable’ manner?
Just when you imagined that the woke-inspired culture war could not get any crazier, you realise that they are desperately serious about turning people’s lives upside down.
The toy manufacturer Mattel, which owns the rights to Scrabble outside North America, has just announced that it has decided to remove 400 words it considers derogatory from its list of officially accepted terms.
The banned words include some used as epithets against black, Pakistani and Irish people. Terms used by Jewish people to denote non-Jews, such goy or shiksa, are also removed from the list as are ones used by ethnic minorities for white people.
It is worth noting that none of the Scrabble associations in Africa voted to ban the 400 words. The impulse to sanitise Scrabble was imposed by the censorious woke white middle-class.
Anyone who plays Scrabble knows that the words people use are not intended to work as slurs. One of the joys of this game is trying to test linguistic boundaries and attempting to get away with making up terms.
Children, in particular, love to use their imagination in this way. They also feel smug when they are able to come up with a naughty term. Although Scrabble has clear rules, part of the fun is to break them. That is why the puritanical impulse driving the banning of 400 words goes so much against the spirit of the game.
But, as it happens, the decision by Mattel has little to do with promoting the spirit of Scrabble. Like many of the big toy manufacturers, Mattel has taken it upon itself to take the culture war into the nursery with a view to re-educating young people to adopt woke values.
So when Mattel released its new range of gender-neutral Barbie dolls in 2019, the company’s spokeswoman declared that “kids don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms.”
Since it is unlikely that many toddlers demand gender-neutral toys from Mattel, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the company decided to adopt the role of moral guardian of western childhood without much encouragement from others.
Similarly, it is obvious that the decision by Hasbro to rebrand Mr Potato Head as gender neutral was not a response to kids who stated that they “don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms.” Like Mattel’s sanitising of Scrabble, the neutering of Mr Potato Head was motivated by political calculations.
In the case of Hasbro, the rebranding exercise is underwritten by the goal of promoting gender neutrality. As the company stated, it is “making sure all feel welcome in the Potato Head world by officially dropping the Mr from the Mr Potato Head brand name and logo to promote gender equality and inclusion.” Company executive Kimberly Boyd noted that the ‘Mr and Mrs’ titles are “limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.” She added that “culture has evolved.”
When people like Boyd assert that “culture has evolved,” what they really mean is that they are in the business of changing culture. The main way of changing culture is to control language, censor terms deemed unacceptable by the ‘wokerati’, and promote new values to children.
As far as the big toy companies are concerned, even your children’s play time is subjected to the promotion of new woke values. Go to any toy shop or toy exhibition and you will be bombarded with woke playthings and children’s books.
Just have a look at Buzzfeed’s suggestion of ‘16 Excellent Gifts For Woke Babies’ and you will realise the kind of culture they are trying to impose on your kids.
If you are at a loss to know what to buy for your friend’s baby shower, Buzzfeed suggests a colouring book which apparently explores “the subjects of transness, gender creativity, intersexuality, and sexism in a positive and playful fashion.” Sometimes I wonder how they make these things up.
Turning the playpen into an earnest seminar on intersectionality and critical race theory is their idea of being ‘playful’. Tragically, these humourless and puritanical campaigners will not stop at Scrabble. Soon sane people will be forced to rely on homemade toys.
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