Friday, December 25, 2009

Santa Claus, Build-a-Bear, and global warming

Where are the ethical boundaries in videos aimed at children? Is it OK to show a video about Santa and his helpers? We know (shhh) there’s not really a Santa Claus; is it OK to pretend there is to entertain (and mislead) children?
So OK, Santa is a fiction, but writing fiction is ethical. Fiction deals with real life and real issues—life and death, war and peace, love and hate, duty and temptation, and so on. Fiction for children, especially children of an age to want cuddly teddy bears, is more likely to deal with more age-appropriate issues—telling the truth, being a friend, obeying parents.
The Build-a-Bear Company is in the business of selling build-it-yourself bears to children, and along the way, to teach children something about citizenship and helping others. Their website until a couple of days ago had—along with interactive games designed for the 3-5 yr old set—three videos about Santa’s helpers, a penguin, and two cuddly polar bear cubs, all of whom were worrying about global warming and the ongoing melting of the polar icecap. One of the videos had a gross exaggeration—that the polar icecap would disappear before Christmas (i.e., today).
It’s arguable how great a sin it is to exaggerate the degree of icecap melting in a video about Santa. Build-a-Bear should have been more accurate. But apparently the greater sin is to deal with global warming at all. In response to expressions of outrage from global-warming deniers and threats of boycott, Maxine Clark, founder and Chief Executive Bear of Build-a-Bear, apologized and withdrew the offending videos from the Bear website.
             Rather than police what their children do on the computer, some people prefer to shut down the voice of Build-a-Bear, so that nobody can hear it. And shamefully, Build-a-Bear knuckled under to the pressure and gave up on their effort to teach a few children a little about global warming.


Jack Marshall said...

Bob: I'm with the critics on this: it's child indoctrination. Climate change is science,: climate change promotion is politics, and toy companies shouldn't be pushing political views on kids using videos or anything else.

I also think everyone, especially ethics blogs, should ditch "deniers"--it's unfair to legitimate critics of the expanded claims of climate change advocates. I personally find it offensive, as someone who has read more technical stuff about this issue than 98% of the non-scientific public. I just watched as the entire meteorological establishment in D.C. predicted an ice storm THE NEXT DAY and were dead wrong, and yet am supposed to believe that scientists can predict with exquisite accuracy what is going to happen with earth temperatures in a hundred years. I believe the earth is warming, yes; I also know for a fact that it does so in cycles, that predictions are based on models, estimates, and assumptions, that these are fallible in the extreme, that the causes of climate change are complex and involve more than just the man-caused factors; that nobody is sure about whether the current warming trend can be stopped or changed, or whether it will stop on its own, and that the science on the topic has been grossly politicized. Equating those kinds of issues with Holocaust denial, with its elements of bigotry and anti-Semitism as well a flat earth ignorance of unquestionable documentation is intellectual bullying.

When a toy company starts fear-mongering---and implying that ice cap melting is imminent IS fear-mongering (or ignorant, as when Al G. did it in Copenhagen)--it should be taken to task.

Bob said...

Ah, I thought about you when I wrote the piece: I figured that you wouldn’t approve, and that mattered, but I thought I needed to say (write) my piece anyway. Here’s the thing: we know the earth is warming due to the large amounts of carbon dioxide that human activity produces. Some people take issue with that. I think Gore is right when he compares that to taking issue with gravity.

I think it’s a public service—not politics—to tell kids that the earth is warming and that the warming is dangerous—but I criticized Build-a-Bear about the exaggeration.

Regarding the use of “deniers,” you make a fair point. I should have been more careful about using the term. And I’ll not use it in the future to describe those--like you-- who agree that warming is happening but disagree about how to deal with it.