The Root of All Evil

How one kids' toy could be so wrong in so many ways.

Posted Aug 25, 2008

Comedy Central has a new show starring comedian Lewis Black entitled Root of All Evil. Each week it features a new, tongue-in-cheek debate regarding which of two entities most merits the honor used in the show's title. So, for example, one episode tackled the question of which group poses the greatest threat to society, PETA or the NRA. I admit, I've never actually watched it. It seems like the type of show where the concept may very well be the highlight, with the actual execution of the idea an inevitable disappointment.

But now I have yet another reason for not tuning in. Today I actually saw the root of all evil with my very own eyes. I no longer need to watch a TV show to tell me what it is.

What was this horror I witnessed, you ask? Well, I was with my wife and daughters at the local playground. The girls were off playing in the sand together, entertaining themselves and affording my wife and me a rare peaceful moment on the park bench. This quiet was interrupted, however, by the rumbling sound of a 6-year-old peeling around the corner while driving (that's right, driving) the monstrosity pictured on the right.

A motorized four-wheeler that kids can drive at the park instead of getting any semblance of physical exercise. Corporations and parents of America, you can't be serious? Who's actually buying this for able-bodied kids? I can only envision that the original creation of this so-called toy went something like this:

• Toy Executive #1: You know what kids really need today? Something to help with all that tiring walking and running they have to do at the playground. There must be something we can come up with to make their lives easier, to make the park a less tiring place to play.

• Toy Executive #2: But what about childhood obesity? Or juvenile diabetes?

• Exec #1: Exactly. Fat kids, sick kids... they're the ones who need our help the most. Let's have product design get right on this. And while we're at it, how about making it an educational toy as well? You know, something to teach kids at a young age about the importance of driving everywhere all the time, no matter how close your destination might be. Maybe a tie in with the automotive industry or the oil companies? They're always looking to reach new demographics, right?

• Exec #2: What about global warming?

• Exec #1: We'll give it a sunroof, then. Or even better, maybe a convertible. Then the kids will stay nice and cool no matter how hot it gets outside. Problem solved!


The "toy" really is almost too bad to be true. It simultaneously manages to 1) remove any aspect of exercise from a trip to the playground, 2) give kids fantasy play experience with the fun of increasing their own carbon footprint, and 3) put a child behind the wheel of a vehicle that even at its slow speed could cause serious injury to an unsuspecting toddler. I don't trust the vast majority of adult drivers in Boston to understand basic traffic laws and right-of-way, much less their elementary-school-aged progeny. And all of this comes for a low, low retail price of just under $200 (or a bit over $200 if you want the Barbie princess version shown at left; beauty does have its costs). An ideal way for parents to spend disposable income in the context of today's struggling economy, no?

To me, the thing seems more like a prop from Pixar's summer movie, Wall-E, than an actual toy you can buy at Target. For those of you who didn't see the film, it depicts a dystopian future 700 years from now in which pollution and garbage have rendered Earth uninhabitable. The few humans still around are so obese and atrophied (see right) that they use motorized transportation all the time and have lost the ability to walk anywhere on their own. With a bit of good luck and continued initiative, maybe we can get there in closer to 4 or 5 centuries!

I know, I know, I'm overreacting just a tad. But come on, a battery-operated car for kids to drive at the park playground? What's next, a robot to do kids' chores for them? A computer that does their homework? A motorized scooter so that kids don't even have to exert themselves walking around inside the house? Oh wait, they do already make one of those.

Sigh. If only these motorized cars were being made in China and covered in lead paint. Then maybe we could get a good boycott going.