Targeting private life to make an extra buck

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Lauren Jung

As I walked around Washington, D.C. during the days leading up to Jan. 20, every street and corner had some kind of vendor selling inaugural memorabilia: T-shirts, buttons, ribbons, hats, bobble head dolls. You name it, they had it — with the face of now President Barack Obama stamped on.

Although the national economy continues to spiral downward, it was hard to believe as I witnessed the countless transactions taking place along the National Mall. Obama’s stimulus plan has yet to begin, but the public’s exuberance for Obama and his family, especially with his young daughters, Sasha and Malia, looks like it has given our crumbling economy a little pick-me-up.

When Malia and Sasha wore J. Crew wool coats to their father’s inauguration, that afternoon, J. Crew’s Web site crashed with the overload of visitors. And by Wednesday, shares of the company jumped by more than 10 percent. But one company, Ty Inc., appears to have taken the commercialism of the first family one step too far.

Ty Inc., which created the Beanie Babies phenomenon in the ’90s, has released two dolls this month named “Sweet Sasha” and “Marvelous Malia” as part of their TyGirlz doll line. The 12-inch dolls do not physically resemble the Obama’s two daughters, but they are the only African-American dolls released from the line as of yet. And it is a strange, uncanny coincidence that they share the same names as Obama’s daughters — too much of a coincidence.

Ty Inc. claims that the dolls were not created with the Obama daughters in mind and that even the names were just that — names. But Ty Inc., you aren’t fooling anyone.

With his job as president, Barack Obama is a public figure, and so is first lady Michelle Obama, but their daughters, Sasha and Malia, are not. They are part of the first family, but they are still private citizens and therefore their names should not be manipulated without permission to make a buck. Ty Inc. should remember that first and foremost, Sasha and Malia are members of the Obama family.

And I’m not surprised that the company has decided to try and cash in on the girls’ names, perhaps hoping for a J. Crew repeat, but how they went about it was unethical. Sasha and Malia are not like Britney Spears, whom Ty Inc. based their TyGirlz “Bubbly Britney” doll upon. The two girls had no choice in how they got their fame. They did not run for president — their father did.

As a society and as consumers, we should try and give them the space they need to live a normal childhood. Sure, dolls may be cute now, but if they garner this much attention with toys, it’s not going to be cute if a camera catches one of them throwing a temper tantrum. So companies like Ty, Inc. and the public should give their fascination with Sasha and Malia a break because despite the girls’ high profile parents, when all is said and done, they are still just kids. They have a right to some privacy in their lives because they are normal children — just living in a big white house that has a movie theater and bowling alley.

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