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Thursday, June 11, 2009

McDonald's Recalls Custer Toys from Lakota Country Happy Meals

Hat tip to AllGov.com!

Marketing rule #1: Know Your Customers. That might include knowing your history. It might stop you from doing silly things like handing out General George Armstrong Custer dolls in Happy Meals in Rapid City, where Native Americans constitute 10% of the population. The figurines are a tie-in with the new Night at the Museum movie. Tim Giago reports from the metropolitan hub of the Republic of Lakota:

Bobbie DuBray, Administrative Assistant for the Lakota Peoples Law Project was not only shocked by this apparent display of racial insensitivity, but also angered by it.

DuBray says, "I went through the drive thru at McDonalds on East North Street to get a Happy Meal for my five-year-old son. I got home and my brother opened the meal and found the Custer doll." She said he then asked her to come and look at what he found. To her shock it was Custer toy. Her son wanted the toy and she told him, "No. that's a bad toy." She said that her 10 year old daughter did not understand why the toy was bad. She and her mother, Betty Handley, then gave the girl a history lesson "My daughter was not taught about this in school. What are they teaching our children?" she asked.

DuBray, visibly upset by this experience, said, "I think it's insulting. It's like handing out KKK dolls in the south where there are a lot of Blacks" [Tim Giago, "Custer Rides Again in McDonald's Happy Meal," Huffington Post, 2009.06.09].

Interestingly, one observer lays blame on the very East Coast elites we like to think are the big liberals:

[Oglala Lakota Jason Wolters] added, "Most advertising agencies are in the east and the people who put the ads and flyers together have absolutely no idea about the demographics out here in Indian country. We Lakota never see an Indian in the flyers of Kohl's, J. C. Penney's or Wal-Mart. They never stop to consider that our Lakota children never see people like themselves in the flyers and ads they send out here and yet you can go to Chicago or San Francisco and see ads with African Americans and Asian Americans" [Giago, 2009.06.09]

McDonald's appears to have quietly pulled the figurines, which feature Custer riding a motorcycle, from Rapid City stores.


  1. So now Custer doesn't exist in the minds of Native American Children?

    This is a bit of unreality like the Chinese students of today not having ever seen the so-called "man in front of the tank" photos which Google, etc conveniently won't find when Chinese computers search Google and other search engines.

    In any case, it seems to me the tribes slaughtered Custer and few hundred more.

    There are specialists of cultural superiority who can make a living keeping raw sores open for generations. See Bosnia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and tribes in Africa slaughtering each other based on 1000 year old religions and myths.

  2. I think there's a difference between being informed of the existence of a historical figure and having one as a toy/prize. Kids should learn about Hitler but he shouldn't show up in their Happy Meal.

  3. And Custer does exist very prominently in the minds of the Native Americans. Their parents just don't think Custer dolls are appropriate toys, any more than would be a little Hitler doll that chirps, "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein F├╝hrer!"

    On the China comparison: The folks complaining aren't whitewashing history. There's a big difference between an authoritarian government censoring history to quash opposition (bad) and a corporation recalling a toy from certain stores (I haven't heard if they've pulled it from other regions) after realizing it was a really dumb marketing decision.

    "tribes slaughtered Custer"—well, yeah, kind of like we slaughtered a few Nazis on D-Day and our march across France. (Uh oh... I'm not ready to tackle that comparison in its full richness... I haven't had breakfast yet!)

  4. Thank for the tip! I passed it on to another reporter and we got some commentary on the air.

  5. The fact sheet for the toy seems spectacularly clueless. "General Custer – General Custer’s battle strategy is, 'I will proudly announce we are not going to
    attack. And then…we will attack!' Pull back the toy then insert the trading card to make General
    Custer race forward into battle."

    If you were going to design marketing materials that would remind people of the U.S. government's history of breaking treaties, that "battle strategy" would be a pretty good way to do it.

  6. Any time resort to Nazis is the primary basis for a post, it indicates the level of desperation in finding a valid argument.

    There is a classic "law" of fora predicting the time to use of "nazi" in posts and then the ends of the discussions.

    If a Custer figurine reminds people of broken and kept treaties, so much the better. I doubt many schools teach much about treaties trumping enacted law of states and federal government.

    I do not really understand the connection between Custer on a motorcyle and a McDonald's hamburger, fries, or drink in any case. This seems to be another big wasteful corporate bit of silliness.

    The children of Native Americans would be better off if they never ate a McDonald's meal anyway. A Native American boycott of fast foods would be a good idea no matter what ostensible justification.

  7. I've heard that Nazi argument. I'm not sure we can make it a universal law. There are times when it can be instructive to make a comparison that mentions Hitler or death camps or some other aspect of Nazi Germany. Here, Kelsey isn't saying, "Now you're acting like Hitler," which seems more often the sort of hyperbole that shuts down an argument. She makes a reasonable comparison, showing how an unpleasant historical figure may be a reasonable topic of discussion in the classroom but not a reasonable choice as a children's toy.


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