Who Cares About The No. 1 Toy When You Could Have No. 2?

Nov 29, 2020

Who wants to play with toys that poop?

Seven year old Jack Reynolds does. The second grader in Denver, Colo., enthusiastically showed off his collection via video to a reporter. It includes an adorable pooping stuffed animal, a bathtub game called Fishin' For Floaters and fuzzy brown poop emoji bed slippers. When asked why he likes such toys, Jack was unequivocal.

"Because poop is stinky!" he announced. "Gross! Smooshy!"

It's also ubiquitous. Candidates for your 2020 holiday gift list might (or might never) include the Gotta Go Flamingo, the Poopsie Slime Surprise unicorn doll, which cleverly combines toy trends by pooping sparkling slime, or the Hot Wheels Ultimate Garage dinosaur, which eats little cars and poops them out.

"This is some incredible marketing here," marvels Susan Livingston. She's an academic and artist who teaches ceramics classes to small children. Pretending to play with poop is normal, she says, as well as developmentally healthy, and not necessarily as expensive as the toy industry would have you think. Her young students do it whenever she shows them how to make clay pots.

"You roll these coils," she says – and you can imagine what she has to say next: "We all know this looks like poop. Let's get this out of our systems."

For her Ph.D. in art education, Livingston wrote a dissertation called The Gooey, the Bloody and the Just Plain Gross. So her discourse upon toys that poop is uncommonly elevated, with references to such French philosophers as Julia Kristeva and Georges Bataille. "Toys teach us to manage our disgust," Livingston explains. "They help us understand who we are. Poop is part of you, but it's not. It's something that's transformed inside of you, and that's fascinating. It's a sign of a well-regulated system, but it's gross."

"It's a very light taboo," agrees Mary Higbe, the good-humored director of marketing for Goliath Games, the third largest toy manufacturer in the U.S. One of its top sellers is a game called Doggie Doo. Higbe is quick to point out its prosocial messages of good citizenship.

"You have a farting, pooping dog," she concedes. "But you've also got the lessons learned because you have to clean up after the dog."

This trend may have something to with the proliferation of children's books such as Everyone Poops and the "Captain Underpants" series, as well as the popular poop emoji. Not only can you buy any number of poop emoji toys and wearables for the special children in your life, there's poop emoji air freshener and poop emoji wine for adults.) In 2017's The Emoji Movie, the poop emoji character was voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.

More evidence of civilization's decline? Jack Reynolds in Denver would beg to differ. For him, poop emojis provide an opportunity for ontological reflection. "I think poop emojis poop out poop emojis," he says. "And that just keeps going on forever."

Even toys that poop, it seems, can be flush with meaning.

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Do you remember a doll called Betsy Wetsy? Baby boomers likely do. She lived up to her name, by the way. Then in the 1970s, Gen Xers played with a similar doll that's still around today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AUTOMATED VOICE #1: Here comes the pee-pee. Can you help me go potty?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: New Baby Alive potty dance baby.

AUTOMATED VOICE #1: Hurry. Hurry.

MCCAMMON: Toys with these special talents have become a bona fide trend. NPR's Neda Ulaby has the scoop.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Toys that pee and poop are everywhere. No one knows that better than Sara Reynolds of Denver, Colo., and her three small sons, all under the age of 10.

JACK REYNOLDS: This is a Poopchi.

SARA REYNOLDS: These are...

JACK: This is a Poopchi.

REYNOLDS: ...My boys.

JACK: Fishing for doody.

ULABY: Doody is a genre in the toy industry today, whether it's a plastic bathtub toy or inside a cute stuffed puppy.

JACK: Just hug it on the belly.

REYNOLDS: Oh, it's a little stuffed animal and then...

JACK: You hug it on the belly.

REYNOLDS: And then the poop comes out the bottom.

JACK: Poop (imitating fart noise).

REYNOLDS: And why do you like these toys?

JACK: Because poop is stinky, gross, smooshy (ph), stinky...

ULABY: And ubiquitous. Right now, your holiday gift list might or might never include pooping unicorns...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Poopsie Surprise unicorns really poop unicorn slime.

ULABY: ...Or the Gotta Go Flamingo...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: He eats, and he poops.

AUTOMATED VOICE #2: (Singing) Uh-oh, got to go.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Quick - the toilet.

ULABY: ...Or the plastic dinosaur made by Hot Wheels that gobbles up little cars...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: And poops them out.

ULABY: All this is totally normal and developmentally healthy, says Susan Livingston. She teaches ceramics to little kids. And she's learned to start their education in clay like this.

SUSAN LIVINGSTON: We all know this looks like poop. Let's get it out of our systems now (laughter). You roll these coils.

ULABY: Tweaking what's acceptable is thrilling and not just for kids, says Livingston. She's also an academic who studies visual culture.

LIVINGSTON: You know, we like a little bit of transgression.

ULABY: Mary Higbe agrees. She directs marketing for Goliath Games.

MARY HIGBE: It's a very light taboo.

ULABY: And a lucrative one for Higbe's company, which makes a hit toy called Doggie Doo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: It's the Doggie Doo game. Let's play Doggie Doo.

ULABY: Some people would rather play anything but and might wonder why this toy has sold more than 5 million units worldwide. Higbe points to the game's prosocial messages.

HIGBE: Because you have to clean up after the dog.

ULABY: This toy trend may have something to do with the popular poop emoji, which, in the surprisingly successful "Emoji Movie" a few years ago, was voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE EMOJI MOVIE")

PATRICK STEWART: (As Poop) It's showtime.

TJ MILLER: (As Gene Meh) You are smooth.

STEWART: (As Poop) Just doing my duty (laughter).

PATRICK STEWART AND UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Poop and character) We're No. 2. We're No. 2.

ULABY: You can buy countless poop emoji toys for the special children in your life, and for the adults - poop emoji air freshener and poop emoji wine. More evidence of civilization's decline? Not for young Jack Reynolds in Denver. For him, poop emojis are a chance for ontological reflection.

JACK: I think poop emojis poop out poop emojis. And that poop emoji poops out that poop emoji. And it just keeps going on forever.

ULABY: Even toys that poop, it seems, can be flush with meaning.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.