Can You Tell Me How To Get ...
... how to get diapers without Sesame Street characters on them?
That consumerism stalks the youngest among us is not news. When I was a child, my brother and I partook in the craze for Bert and Ernie's "Rubber Duckie" record, and we enjoyed it. We would go on to own every available alien action figure from the Star Wars cantina scene. It is irritating nowadays that half the toy cars for sale are Pixar Cars-brand character cars, and it is even more irritating that the toy-train industry has been almost entirely transformed into the Thomas the Tank Engine industry. But at least these things are being marketed directly, for their own sake.
Butt Elmo, by contrast, represents a world in which it's not merely branding that's out of control but cross-branding. Every space is a promotional opportunity for something else. My son may have a non-Thomas-brand wooden train, but he brushes his teeth with Orajel Thomas and Friends training toothpaste, because that was what the grocery store had. I don't care that my son loves M&M's and asks for them by brand name. But why does the M&M's bag have to advertise Michael Bay's latest Transformers movie—a promotion for a movie derived from a brand of toys? Why, when he wears his licensed Nick Markakis Baltimore Orioles T-shirt, does the upper chest have to display a big black logo of Majestic Athletic, a parasite brand that has crawled its way onto professional baseball uniforms and merchandise?
You don't have to be Naomi Klein to resent this. This is not about locking a child away from commerce and pop culture. That white-diapered New Zealand toddler dancing to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" on YouTube isn't cut off from modernity; he happens to live in a place where diapers still have a plain bottom.
Tom Scocca is the managing editor of Deadspin and the author of Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.
Photograph of Elmo diaper by Tom Scocca.