The Dark Side of Toys

Toys don’t really court much in the way of controversy, mostly because at the end of the day they’re just toys. There’s not too much to really get worked up about. But even a toy can raise some objections – Tristan Eaton’s Yo Momma being a prime example.

Making her debut at Comic Con earlier this year, the first edition of this figure was a woman of colour. A resplendently pregnant, baseball-bat toting, cigarette-smoking woman of colour no less – complete with removable baby accessory. Like pretty much everything Mr. Eaton has a hand in, she sold out in no time at all. But there were some collectors who saw the figure as little more than a derogatory stereotype of African-American women.

Taken in isolation, I can see where they’re coming from. However, the Comic Con edition was just that, the first version of a whole host of planned colour-ways that will span every colour and creed. As to the character herself, she is one Tristan’s painted for many years, and from his point of view was in no way meant to be a slur. Far from it, he sees her as a tribute to the struggles single mothers face.

It’s good for art, be it a painting or a toy, to challenge. To make people think and question their own perceptions. While I can understand people’s reactions to Yo Mamma, what puzzles me is that there are other figures that have never had similar objections leveled against them. One that is far more contentious, in my humble opinion, is Tim Tsui’s DAPE range.

In the early eighties, football or soccer, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on, had a real problem with racism. Black players regularly endured monkey noises and having bananas thrown at them. Although far rarer these days, unfortunately these actions still occur. Earlier this year, the Cameroon-born Barcelona striker Eto’o walked off the pitch during his club’s game against Zaragoza after enduring 75 minutes of monkey chants.
Against this sort of backdrop, blending a strong symbol of black culture such as hip hop with apes just seems a bit crass. Don’t get me wrong – I’m in no way claiming Tim’s a Nazi – or even that these figures are intentionally racist. Apes were all the rage in design for a long time, in the same way rock seems to be the weapon of choice these days. It’s more that by combining our simian friends with blinged-out hip hop, I personally find the connotations uncomfortable.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m reading too much into them. But as they say, perception is reality. And if a lot of the figures in the toy world are essentially caricatures of contemporary life, should people not think a bit harder about what and how they caricature?

Drunken Master

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