'Toy terrorists' call out plastic pollution pinkwashing
Los Angeles – In the quiet early morning of August 1, a stunning announcement from toymaker Mattel materialized in journalists’ inboxes all over the world, heralding great news for the planet: the company behind Barbie would stop using toxic petrochemical plastic and instead make toys out of mushrooms, seaweed, and other biodegradable natural materials. Rather than the Barbies of the past that live forever as lethal microplastic in landfills, waterways, and our bloodstreams, this new EcoWarrior Barbie was designed to die, just like us.
The announcement featured a heartwarming video of Daryl Hannah promoting the bold plan and it revealed a new line of cute yet conspicuously parasite-ridden “MyCelia” Barbie dolls cast in the likenesses of heroic eco-defenders, complete with direct-action tools like bolt-cutters, tree-sitting platforms, and buckets for dumping poop on loggers.
The announcement was enthusiastically reported as real by several outlets including People, MarketWatch, and the Washington Times (who later posted this correction).On social media, the news was embraced by climate activists and toy enthusiasts, who shared their support on X and Instagram.
Sadly, it was a hoax. What had already been a busy day for Mattel’s PR apparatus turned into a circus as the company responded clumsily. “The company will not be making dolls based on murdered South American ecoactivists, or transitioning to biodegradable materials, as published on the illegal fake website.” But this apparent denial was also a hoax, throwing several outlets into a tailspin of disappointed confusion, some of whom reported it as real.
Finally, the day of suspense concluded with a livestreamed and very pink press conference introduced by the polished "Mattel rep" Cheryl Harms, where Daryl Hannah revealed the hoax on behalf of the infamous global toy-subversion collective Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO), which had been mysteriously dormant for 30 years, announcing their re-emergence with a psychedelic subversive video revealing their secret forest hideout.
"I must admit that my heart jumped a little bit for joy when Mattel announced that they were going plastic free," said Hannah, "I think that feeling shows you exactly what needs to be said and what needs to be done… this is a joke but a very serious joke."
The press conference concluded with BLO members Nadya Tolokonikova of Pussy Riot, and a couple of anonymous angry children in pink balaclavas who demanded companies "stop pinkwashing environmental crime" – all the while fading in and out of the virtual background like strident and articulate cheshire cats. The antics were covered in the New York Times, New York Post, Yahoo, LA Times, NY Mag, GreenBiz, the Hollywood Reporter, and many others.
In the 1990s, the BLO was the most feared underground children’s toy-subversion group in the world. Industry pundits dubbed them "toy terrorists" and the retailers like Toys-R-us for the first time hired extra security to watch out for non-employees putting stuff back on store shelves, or what the BLO called "shop-giving." The antics and demands of the BLO pressured Mattel to make Barbie less sexist, and embrace progressive gender roles for the beloved doll. These superficial reforms tricked the BLO into an uneasy detente—until now, as the release of the mega-hit Barbie movie drew them out of retirement for one last fight against greenwashing. The BLO brought together old and new members and teamed up with The Yes Men and Yellow Dot Studios, a non-profit media studio focused on climate change.
Global carbon pollution from plastic exceeds that of the entire aviation sector, as of 2019. As the oil and gas industry invests heavily in new plastic-production facilities, the carbon-pollution impact of plastic in the U.S. is on pace to exceed that of coal. The U.S. petrochemical facilities that process oil, and increasingly, fracked gas into plastic, produce carcinogenic pollution, disproportionately impacting low income communities of color. 90% of U.S. plastic industry pollution occurs in just 18 communities.
The BLO demands Mattel move beyond greenwashing, and stop flooding the planet with petrochemical toys, recycled or not, that poison the world that all life depends on. We demand they ditch their toothless climate “goals,” and transition to ecologically responsible manufacturing. Now is the time for real imagination, and as a leading toymaker, Mattel can set a standard for the global toy industry. But will they lead, or will they be dragged along behind like a badly-aging supervillain? We’ll be watching. Because as we all know, there’s no play on a dead planet.