One of the first highly controversial stories in True, with some readers loving it, and others hating it. So let’s start with the story that started it all (in the 18 July 1999 issue):
Hey, Doll! Push My Button! II
When Tamantha Brannon was shopping at an Atlanta, Ga., Toys ‘R’ Us store, her 11-year-old son Marvin picked up an “Austin Powers” doll and pushed its talk button. “Do I make you horny, baby? Do I?” the doll demanded. When Marvin asked her what “horny” meant, Brannon was so angry that she has filed a criminal obscenity complaint with county prosecutors. “This is not acceptable,” Brannon said. “My son is not old enough to be talking about sex.” Clayton County Solicitor Keith Martin is looking into the complaint, but isn’t rushing to press any charges. “I don’t know who we would even prosecute,” he said. (AFP) …Start with Ms Brannon.
That tagline led to three kinds of responses:
- Vile, obscene, hate-laden vitriol from, I said in the follow-up the week after, “morons who seem incapable of understanding the irony of using ‘obscenities’ in complaints about ‘crude’ language.” I will not be giving any of those letters the light of day — the authors don’t deserve it. They were summarily deleted from True‘s distribution.
- Gentle, intelligent, thought-provoking debate, complaints, or praise.
- Silly ranting.
Some examples of the latter two kinds (and, for the record, I think most of the quoted comments below are thoughtful):
“I was a little surprised at your take on the Austin Powers doll story. Also saddened at the legal reaction about not knowing who to prosecute. If the phrase quoted is actually part of the doll’s repetoire [sic], I would think the maker of the doll should be prosecuted, or at least legally ‘asked’ (is there such a thing?) to remove sex related phrases from the taped (uh programmed) vocabulary.” —Randi, Virginia
“I think that you missed the point in your article about the Austin Powers doll at Toys R Us. Certainly our society is litigation happy. It can be humourous to learn what people will file suit over — seemingly ridiculous, common sense issues. I can’t gather what steps Ms. Brannon took prior to filing criminal obcenity [sic] charges from the article and perhaps the only action she took was what the article stated. On the other hand, a toy, which is marketed in a toy store for children clearly implies that the toy is intended for and appropriate for children. Shame on Toys R Us, not Ms. Brannon.” —Marjorie, no location given
“I really like your newsletter–and your one liners after the news. However, in the case of the foul-mouthed doll, I think your one-liner REALLY missed the boat and the point. With sex being plastered throughout the media, some parents want some sort of haven from this bombardment. I really don’t think it’s too prudish to expect that dolls keep their sexual comments to themselves. Frankly, I was surprised by your response. With sex and sexual innuendo invading so many parts of society, let’s keep a few bastions where parents can raise their kids without the unnecessary references. Thanks for the newsletter.” —Carl, Pennsylvania
“Whomever added this little comment must be a pervert. Probably voted for Clinton, ….twice” —Gilmore, California
“HEY, I’M WITH MS. BRANON. NOONE [sic] WOULD EXPECT TO HAVE TO DEAL WITH VULGAR SEX TALK IN A CHILDREN’S TOY STORE.” —Carl, no location given
You can expect it if you actually read the package, where it was called out it big letters.
“There is nothing humorous in this situation, even if an issue of morality was not involved. Your comment is not humorous at any level. It makes neither sense nor nonsense.” —Carlston, no location given
I’m still astounded by this one. I’ve never had anyone complain before that a comment “didn’t make nonsense.” Does he want me to try harder next time?
“Mrs. Brannon is right about the Asshole(whoops!) Powers doll. If the manufacturer intended to distribute to adult only retail stores, they should have ensured the doll didn’t reach toy outlets. If they intended to market to children, they should be ashamed of themselves; and so should you!.” —David, no location given
“Mrs. Brandon’s son was 11 years old…….She should START talking about SSEX! [sic]” —Tasha, Georgia
“I don’t pay for your column, so my comments will be limited. [Five hundred words clipped out for space reasons.] Let your account be covered in the blood of Jesus Christ and your soul be saved, that you may withstand the fiery hell that will beset the world for the age-old wickedness that the media spit-shines and sells as new.” —Chad, Georgia
In the following week’s issue, I concluded my follow-up to the story with these words: “Of course ‘Toys ‘R’ Us’ was stupid to sell such a doll! If they didn’t know about the thing’s ‘vocabulary,’ they should have: some of the more intelligent, thoughtful responses noted that it was clearly spelled out on the package. They deserve to lose significant business over this. The distributor was certainly negligent for shipping it to a children’s toy store chain; how nice that I was able to add to the wave of bad publicity. True, I think the mother is keeping her kid unnaturally shielded from sexual matters — but if that’s her wish, it should be her right. But to abuse the legal system by filing criminal charges because a doll said ‘horny’ is wrong, stupid, and obviously took the prosecutor’s time away from real crimes. That, dear readers, is what the comment was about. Shame on the sickos who read more into it than that! I haven’t lost all hope: even some of the complaints were truly very thoughtful. I also got plenty of mail from people who ‘got it’ — and there was a huge upswing in paid subscriptions. I thank the latter groups for reassuring me that most of my readers are indeed intelligent people!”
Wouldn’t you know it? Several people wrote to complain that I called them “sicko morons.” It’s amazing to me how many people want to be offended, since they clearly choose to take offense by assuming I’m talking about them when I say “sicko moron” but not when I say “thoughtful and intelligent”!
I take heart, however. For all the “rants,” above (and there were certainly more than shown, but that was a representative sample), there were significantly more “raves,” like the equally representative sample which follows.
“I am truly saddened to think that people in general did not get the point you were trying to make with the story of the doll having crude vocabulary. As I am also a mother, I want my children to have some understanding of the world at large, but with supervision, hopefully they will grow to become productive individuals (here’s hoping). I would also like to say that even though I cannot afford even to upgrade I have been on your list at least two years and have always found your articles to be stimulating and extremely of ‘mostly’ good taste. Thank you for the wonderful work.” —D., West Virginia
“Every now and then I get complacent and think that in my 66 years that I will not be surprised by much that happens in this world, especially people’s stupidity. But once again I’m jerked back to reality, this time by you having to explain to your reader’s your comment about prosecuting the mother.” —Tom, Texas
“Perhaps you should offer to start a paid list for interested subscribers called ‘This is True for Dummies.’ This way, you could explain why the stories are funny to those not able to follow them, AND make them pay a little extra for their stupidity!” — “askupin,” no location given
I think Vince Sabio [HumourNet] already has a patent on that concept….
“I’ll begin by telling you how much I enjoy TRUE–it sometimes seems like a lone voice of sanity in the cacophony of meaningless and treacherous babble that the media can be counted on to spew forth. I have been reading the free version for several months now (I’ll get around to upgrading one of these days) and have come to appreciate your intelligent blend of humor and insightful commentary. However, my faith was shaken when I read, in your most recent issue, ‘I think the mother is keeping her kid unnaturally shielded from sexual matters — but if that’s her wish, it should be her right.’ Personally, I think the child’s right to know about sexual matters overrides the mother’s desire to ‘shield’ him, which probably stems from her own outdated beliefs or personal insecurities. Randy, I have seen first hand the trauma that a young person who has been ‘shielded’ from sexual matters will experience — inevitably — when he or she is exposed to others their own age who discuss sexual topics. While the discussion is usually crude, the ignorant child will experience humiliation in front of his or her peers, and probably extended taunting and mocking that, at a young age (in some cases, at any age) will be torturous and scarring. Perhaps more insidious is the long-term, internal damage such an upbringing will do. The child will grow up with misguided notions about sex, and will probably have no one to turn to when in need of open, frank information about sex. The child will probably never experience sex for what it really is, one of God’s greatest gifts to human beings. Yes, Randy, I’m a Christian, and I have been deeply disturbed by the attempts by such evil groups as the Christian Coalition to push damaging ‘information’ on impressionable young people. The sad irony is that they typically try to use schools for their agenda, institutions which should be devoted to the dissemination of facts, not appropriated by self-righteous fearmongers. Please pardon the digression; I get carried away on issues like this. Randy, I urge you to support the rights of the last group in our society to remain powerless–children. Please take a stand against the dangerous people who seek to harm them in the name of protecting them.” —Bret, no location given
“You might want to consider the following about Dr. Samuel Johnson, the man who published the first dictionary of the English language back in 1755. Shortly after it was published, a lady approached him and congratulated him on omitting obscenities from his dictionary. His reply upon hearing that remark was ‘Ah, so you have been looking for them, Madam?’ In my opinion, most, if not all people who look for obscenity in things such as children’s TV shows (remember the incident with Jerry Falwell and the Teletubbies?) have far dirtier minds than [pornographers like] Al Goldstein or Larry Flynt.” —Robert, Missouri
“I got it and chuckled for the rest of the day. Surprised… no, guess not, that there was such an outcry. Just wanted to let you know that I got it, but I’m broke which is why I don’t go with the premium edition. Keep up the good work, hang in there as opinionated as ever, and remember that by being ‘real’ on the internet, you will undoubtedly be attacked.” —Peg, Canada
This last comment was in the mix for Premium subscribers this week. Two readers there were so touched by Peg’s comments that they offered to buy her a Premium subscription.
“I learned many things while in the Air Force; one of those is the military does a pretty good job at communicating what needs to be done in their regulations… because the technical writers had to write and compose all regulations under a very strict criteria: don’t use vocabulary over a sixth grade level. I understand what you were trying to accomplish with your comments. However, most people are not very good at reading the text ‘between the lines’ [because it] is not a prerequisite of sixth grade.” —J.A., Nebraska
“I thought your comment was especially funny in this case. Parents these days never seem to want to take the blame for what their children do. It is always the fault of a company or someone around their child, but never their fault. If parents would pay more attention to their children and monitor what toys they play with or tv shows they watched (like south park) there wouldn’t be such a concern about products like these. Children will get hold of things they shouldn’t have and hear things they shouldn’t hear. It is the parents responsibility to be aware of what their children are doing and keep things in perspective. This seems to be a lot more work than people are willing to do.” —Dave, Israel
“Here’s a word of advice, just do the stories. That’s the only reason ANYBODY is reading this page. Its [sic] because we’re interested in the stories. Not your editorials or your self-important opinions.” —Wendy, KSJY (“American Family Radio”), Louisiana
I see: only proselytizing radio stations have opinions? Guess what, cupcake: all of This is True is commentary! I write every word myself, as it clearly says in the copyright notice each week, so my opinion runs rampant through it. It must be difficult to talk on the radio with your foot in your mouth, eh?