Sunday, October 25, 2009

Parental Warning

I seem to remember this little fucker on the cover of one of the Baby Einstein videos [above]. These things were about the only way I got through the first four years of my kids lives and I haven't a scintilla of guilt. So go fuck yourself.

Prepare to be shocked: it turns out that ll of those Baby Einstein videos parents [like me] bought earlier this decade do not make children into geniuses. Shit. You know what? I still don't feel guilty for the few moments of sanity these videos brought me in an otherwise insane 24-hour day with twin toddlers. Because, I hate to tell you, but that's why I bought the Baby Einstein videos, my friend. With my genes, there was very little shot that either my little boy or little girl were going to become geniuses. They lost out in the gene lottery on that one.

No, I bought them because the damned things worked! No matter whether it was an ear infection, colic, a run-of-the-mill temper tantrum or some other unknown cause for their screaming and crying, when I put on those Baby Einstein videos the kids fell silent as if I'd chloroformed them. They would stare intently at the screen. The music was classical, so that meant I could listen to it over and over without wanting to put my head through the screen. Since I also made sure to never put the kids too close to the television, here was a guilt-free way to buy a few moments of silence during some very, very, very rough days of toddlerdom.

So, that's why I bought the damned things. Apparently, though, a lot of parents really believed the videos were going to make their spawn smarter. Of course, the fact that they believed this in the first place sort of points to the fact that these kids lost out on the gene lottery long before the videos were purchased. Still, that didn't stop a team of ferocious lawyers from getting together to promise the parents that they would be avenged.

For those of you unaware of the Baby Einstein phenomenon, it was started by Julie Aigner-Clark in 1996. Aigner-Clark readily admits that she completely stumbled on the idea when she was looking for videos to entertain and educate her baby. Finding nothing age-appropriate on the market, she began creating them herself. Aigner-Clark and her husband, Bill, were hoping sales of their Baby Einstein video would cover its $15,000 cost. Uh, yes, that was covered. That first year, she made $100,000 on the video [while making about $20,000 as a teacher].

The original video shows a variety of toys and visuals interspersed with music, stories, numbers, and words of many languages. Eventually, the video was marketed across the United States. Other videos followed, some featuring the Clarks' two daughters, Aspen and Sierra.

Baby Einstein became a multi-million dollar franchise; its revenue grew from $1 million in 1998 to around $10 million in 2000. Aigner-Clark sold a 20% stake in the company to Artisan Entertainment in February 2000 and sold the rest to the Walt Disney Company for an undisclosed amount in November 2001. The franchise is named after and paid significant royalties to the estate of deceased physicist Albert Einstein, putting him at one time in the top 5 of most earning dead celebrities, according to Forbes.

As a subsidiary of Disney, the Baby Einstein production budgets were increased and the concept was expanded to teach more complex topics that would appeal to preschoolers, including Baby MacDonald, a video about agriculture. Titles currently available include Baby Bach Musical Adventure, Baby da Vinci From Head To Toe, Baby Monet Discovering The Seasons, and Baby Newton World of Shapes. A line of educational toys was also developed. In 2005, the franchise inspired a Disney Channel animated television series called Little Einsteins.

I never went in for all of that advanced shit. The simple Baby Einstein and Baby Bach were good enough for me [although I think I remember Baby Newton, too]. But some parents, apparently, really believed this shit would make their kids geniuses. So. on Friday, it must have come as a victory to those folks when the Walt Disney Company announced that it is now offering refunds for all those Baby Einstein-produced videos that did not make children into geniuses. Lawyers claim that this is an admission by Disney that the videos did not increase infant intellect.

Who hired these lawyers? Oh, well, organizations led by people with too much free time. One such person is Susan Linn and she heads up something called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood [I think that's how Hitler got started, by the way]. When told of Disney's decision, this yenta said, “We see it as an acknowledgment by the leading baby video company that baby videos are not educational, and we hope other baby media companies will follow suit by offering refunds.” Oh, and she was serious, by the way.

These videos — which were simple productions featuring music, puppets, bright colors, and not many words — did became a staple of our baby life. And yes, I did see at the time that the American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] recommended no screen time at all for children under 2. Fuck the AAP. I'd love to see my kids' pediatrician at the time spend 30 seconds with screaming twins let alone 24-hours locked in a house with them during a blizzard.

Disney's decision to refund the money came about because, in 2006, Linn’s group went to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] to complain about the educational claims made by Disney and another company, Brainy Baby. That's right: don't worry about investigating all of the myriad of other crimes committed against consumer: get those baby video bastards!

As a result of the FTC banging down their door, Disney and Brainy Baby both agreed to drop the word “educational” from their marketing [their marketing sucked, by the way, because I don't ever remember the word 'educational' when I was buying them and I sure as hell wasn't buying them to teach my kids].

Naturally, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood didn't think this was enough. “Disney was never held accountable, and parents were never given any compensation. So we shared our information and research with a team of public health lawyers,” Linn said.

Ah, yes, the lawyers. Last year these blood-sucking vermin 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.” The letter cited estimates from the Washington Post and Business Week that Baby Einstein controlled 90% of the baby media market, and sold $200 million worth of products annually. The letter also described studies showing that television exposure at ages 1 through 3 is associated with attention problems at age 7.

I'm thinking that discovery probably only happens if you plop the little rascal in front of the tube and then take an eight-hour nap; and you repeat that for the first...say, 18 months of Junior's life. To buy yourself a 24-minute break from the insanity that is your life when you're raising twin toddlers....not so much. I'll take my chances on the ADD-thing.

Finally, unable to put up with this nonsense any longer, and unwilling to pay their own blood-sucking lawyers any more money to fight it, the Baby Einstein company will refund $15.99 for up to four Baby Einstein DVDs per household, bought between June 5, 2004, and September 5, 2009, and returned to the company.

First, this pisses me off because I'm sure I bought most of mine before June 5, 2004. More importantly, though, since I would never even think of trying to return them, how in the hell did they come up with that arbitrary date? I'm sure there's some legalistic reason. Either that or, maybe before June 5, 2004 the videos did make kids geniuses, in which case maybe mine have a fighting chance to be smarter than me after all.

The founder and president of Brainy Baby, Dennis Fedoruk, said in an email message to the New York Times that he was unaware of Baby Einstein’s refund announcement and could not offer further comment. I'm guessing what went unsaid in the email was something along the lines of, "I ain't givin' nothing back!"

Allowing parents to exchange their video for a different title, receive a discount coupon, or get $15.99 each for up to four returned DVDs, requires no receipt, and extends until next March 10th.

If Disney thinks this is going to satisfy the lawyers, however, take a listen to another yenta with too much time on her hands: “When attention got focused on this issue a few years ago, a lot of companies became more cautious about what they claimed,” said Vicky Rideout, vice president of something called the Kaiser Family Foundation. “But even if the word ‘education’ isn’t there, there’s a clear implication of educational benefits in a lot of the marketing.”

Uh-oh. Sounds like these Kaiser lunatics are still planning on suing. True, the Baby Einstein Web site does still describe its videos with phrases like “reinforces number recognition using simple patterns” or “introduces circles, ovals, triangles, squares and rectangles.” But who gives a shit? If you're dumb enough to believe that somehow a video is going to - presumably through osmosis or some other metamorphosis that you don't understand - transform your kid into a genius, then you deserve whatever you get.

Apparently, though, these people in these organizations challenging the videos really think they are fighting a public health issue. “My impression is that parents really believe these videos are good for their children, or at the very least, not really bad for them,” Kaiser's Rideout said. “To me, the most important thing is reminding parents that getting down on the floor to play with children is the most educational thing they can do.”

Thank God Rideout was there to remind us.

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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