Nerdery / Plastic Kingdom / Pop Culture Analysis

Breaking Down the Breaking Bad Toy Controversy

So, in case you haven’t heard, a Florida mom was horrified because she saw Breaking Bad action figures (or dolls, as the media insists on calling them) at her local Toys ‘R’ Us. This prompted her to start a Change.org petition to force the store to take the figures off their shelves because kids might want to become meth dealers if they see them. The story was picked up by national media, and to date, the petition has over 9,000 signatures due to the exposure. Finally, today, it’s been reported that TRU has pulled the Breaking Bad merchandise off shelves. 

Collectors across the country have tried to fight the good fight. Daniel Pickett, of Action Figure Insider, started his own petition to implore TRU to keep the figures on shelves. As of this posting, the petition has over 4,500 signatures, including my own. I signed because I don’t want TRU to stop carrying adult collector items. It’s one of the few brick-and-mortar stores I can walk into to browse the latest offerings from companies like Mezco, NECA, and Diamond Select Toys. Sure, I can buy them online, but I still like walking into a store and picking out the best paint job or being able to see the product to determine if I want it.

My main frustration with this whole thing is how the collector community is viewed in the media. Reading the comments sections of most of these stories shows me how non-collectors view us. Comments like, “Toys are for kids” or “Adults shouldn’t shop at TRU anyway because it’s aimed at kids” are uninformed. We’re viewed as socially stunted basement dwelling weirdos, or like Andy in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Yes, occasionally those stereotypes are true, but most of the collectors I interact with are well-adjusted adults with the same responsibilities everyone else has. We just happen to like collecting little bits of plastic instead of stamps or thimbles. (I suddenly realized I don’t know what other people collect.)

But it is a slippery slope. Anyone can find a reason to be offended by a toy. Monster High dolls could be viewed as demonic, or Barbie’s skirts are too short. In the boys’ aisles, GI Joe is too violent, and Darth Vader murdered kids. In the adult collector aisle, Freddy and Jason are literally murderers. They don’t sell meth, though. (My guess is the distinction there is around realism–you can become a meth dealer before you can become a vengeful spectre who was burned alive as a child molester or a childlike juggernaut who murders lascivious teens. Or she didn’t notice those figures.)

That’s not to say that TRU will stop carrying everything in the adult collector aisle. (Yeah, it’s an aisle that you can choose to avoid if you don’t want to see the latest Friday the 13th or Alien figures.) The alarmist in me says it’s a matter of time, but the realist in me realizes that this is not the first time some form of media has been villified, and it won’t be the last. Remember when Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom prompted the MPAA to create a PG-13 rating? Remember when Tipper Gore put explicit labels on records back in the day? Remember when video games got ratings? It didn’t kill those industries. I’d argue it made those affected by the restrictions more popular. It certainly worked for the comics industry. While the big publishers had to conform to the Comics Code Authority in the ’50s and ’60s, those who didn’t want to started their own grassroots publishing outfits. This gave rise to indie publishers and the underground comix movement.

If anything, this is good for small businesses like comics and toy retailers who carry Mezco figures. The secondary market on the Breaking Bad figures is definitely thriving at the moment. And maybe that’s the silver lining–by taking the toys out of a large retailer’s hands, we help independent retailers.

So regardless of where you land on this issue, I hope at the very least that you take away two things. One, that the toy industry isn’t just for kids, and two, that sometimes it’s okay to walk past something you don’t like instead of demanding it be removed from view.

Are you a toy collector? How do you feel about Toys ‘R’ Us’ move to put Walter White on “indefinite hiatus”? Comment here, and tweet your thoughts with the hashtag #AdultsCollect.

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2 thoughts on “Breaking Down the Breaking Bad Toy Controversy

  1. 1. I find the entire situation ridiculous.
    2. It’s no laughing matter.
    3. I laughed several times while reading this article (I believe other people collect things like moth pupae and cursed dolls… although these are mainly things I’ve picked up from horror movies and I may not be as well informed as I like to think… my Aunt collects Garfield stuff.)
    4. I’m headed over to sign the petition after this. Slippery slope indeed. The Monster 500 line exclusive to TRU and indeed aimed at kids features characters like a maksed Chainsaw maniac and a killer clown. TRU needs to be left alone to stay as crazy as they wanna be.

  2. I think Aaron Paul’s tweet said it best. Barbie, after all, is aimed directly at kids and she’s been filling their heads with bad ideas for sixty years.

    Your mention of Tipper Gore has me wanting to play some Dead Kennedys, and protest/riot outside of a Toys R Us. I’d probably just throw my back out.

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