Hack #2: An Overt Redressing

Let me preface my hack:

do not endorse these racial opinions and do not mean to offend anyone of Latin descent through my art or design. I am making a larger point and critiquing the toy/game industry.


Our second hack asked us to transform a toy in order to evoke critical play, “careful examination of social, cultural, political, or even personal themes that function as alternates to popular play spaces” (Flanagan, 6). I argue that toys and games often go unnoticed for their ability to impact cultural views at a larger scale because they are designed and marketed towards children. However, I believe that toys can consciously affect society through subtle, and in my case not so subtle, design choices because they plant subliminal seeds in the minds of said children. Though my hack does not remix the toy itself, it critically redresses the packaging of the toy which ultimately impacts how the toy is viewed and played with.

On the surface, the Mexican Jumping Bean is a harmless toy that aims to amuse children through its magical energy that sends it flying into air. In reality, it is a seed inhabited by larva that serves to shelter the insect until it reaches maturity. Additionally, much of the in air acrobatics can be relegated to some shuffling across the floor. The “toy” has been around as early as 1923, and has never really gone out of style. I remember getting one as a kid and being mystified as to how a bean could seemingly come alive inside the palm of my hand. Looking back at the toy in 2019, and the promotion surrounding it, I think there are some racial implications that I think have come up as our society shifts and changes.

Sample packaging provided by Mike Mozart on Flickr

Packaging of the bean depicts stereotypical Mexican bandits cartoonishly, and put simply, could be taken out of context or offensive to some people of Latin descent. Though I am not of Latin descent, I understand that cartoonish portrayals of cultural groups can misrepresent said groups and cast derogatory connotations. To parents buying this toy for children, they see a harmless, low cost entertainment for their child but what most probably don’t realize is that they are reenforcing racial stereotypes presented by the design of the toy. For the hack, I wanted to see if I could make this racial undertones so overt as to make my point apparent that toys can affect cultural views. Additionally, I wanted to raise moral and ethical questions through the packaging as to evoke critical play through what I call reverse play. I ultimately decided to make a mock I.C.E. detainment center that asks the player to keep the Mexican Jumping Bean from getting back to Mexico.

The packaging is an Immigration Customs and Enforcement detainment center.

Flanagan talks about a form of critical play called redressing, where a toy is disguised to create subversion, an undermining of some establishment (Flanagan, 10). I wanted to create new packaging for the Mexican Jumping Bean that played with the racial tensions that exist between the US and Mexico today in 2019. To me, that means talking about President Trump’s wall and the current immigration reform happening in our society. To begin, the top of my toy’s packaging depicts an I.C.E. detainment center for illegal aliens. Not too long ago, it was reported that the US border patrol documented 22 deaths inside their own premises. This raised a larger question as to how we are treating illegal immigrants inside our walls and whether or not we are giving them adequate shelter until they are able to return home or get proper identification. I thought this artwork would give some cultural context to the toy and perhaps morph the packaging into a symbolic and literal prison for the Jumping Bean. By disguising the package as a prison, I am bringing cultural context to the toy that otherwise would not be present and am questioning the ethics presented by the toy.

Front packaging.

Parallel to the packaging of the original beans, I wanted to depict a stereotypical image of a Mexican, but also make it playful enough to maintain its appeal towards children. I have a comical bean jumping around so much as to lose his sombrero and rattle his maraca. The racial stereotypes presented here are just as blatant as the original packaging, which is the basis of my argument. Through overt redressing, I am trying to make well aware that the toy and its packaging reenforces racial stereotypes which ultimately makes its way to the children playing with it.

Raising moral questions about the toy itself.

Moving to some of the other side packaging, this is where I start to evoke critical play. I drew the bean behind chain linked fence and asked the “player” whether or not they could stop the bean from jumping back to Mexico. Immediately, I am forcing the player to be complicit with how I designed their magic circle. This relates to Sicart’s idea of a wicked problem. There exists two options in how I designed my toy, either open the box and play with the bean or keep it inside the box. Loosely, if you take the toy out of the box, you are essentially releasing the bean from I.C.E guard and allowing him to jump back to Mexico. On the other hand, if you keep him inside border patrol’s captivity, you are essentially breaking the purpose of a toy – to be played with! I think this critical play also brings up Sicart’s idea of a “contradiction between the modes of usage and its cultural meaning” (Sicart, 85). You want to play with the toy, that is its purpose. But by opening the box and letting it out, you are contradicting the instructions on the packaging, breaking the rules I have created for your magic circle. I call this reverse play because it encourages you not to play with the toy, thus reversing the purpose of the toy itself.

What makes the Mexican Jumping Bean so great anyways?

I included a special features section on the packaging, not unfamiliar in the toy industry, that reenforces racial connotations and stereotypes of Mexicans. Additionally, I drew the bean jumping over the wall to draw on some cultural context. I think this creates more critical play because it forces the player to think deeper about the cultural impact of this toy and whether or not they are okay with what it implies socially.

What a tan!

Again, I am giving cultural context to the toy through redesign and careful word choice. Obviously, one of President Trump’s main mottos is Make America Great Again. Through the purchase and play of this toy, you are validating his motto and agreeing to do your “American duty”. I am essentially created a contradictory rule book for the players to follow. You are tasked with keeping the bean inside border patrol captivity (the box) but you are also tasked with playing with the jumping bean, which requires you to take it out of the box. Additionally, there is cultural context surrounding this toy and overtly creates racial tension based on the illustrations and design of the box.

Don’t let them get back to Mexico!

To finish off my packaging, I wanted to drive home the point that the beans are being held captive in their own box and that it is up to the player whether or not to break them out or let them sit. This again creates a moral dilemma, do you approve of the racial undertones present in the toy itself or do you dismantle the idea of play altogether? Do you agree to play with a racist toy or do you agree to play by the rules I have created and keep the bean in the box?

My hack references two of Flanagan’s types of critical play, unplaying and redressing (Flanagan, 33). My remixed toy begs the question of whether or not it is okay to play with the Jumping Bean. Should you let the illegal alien out of I.C.E detainment and risk letting him get back to his home or do you keep him inside the guard of the border patrol. Culturally/socially conscious participants will likely let the bean out of the box so that he can get home but that means they are doing the opposite of what the toy is suppose to do. If they keep him in the box, they are then refusing to interact with the toy and are complicit with the racial undertones. There are still problems with my hack however. One, there exists people that would still buy this toy because it is racist as they themselves are racist. I hope that my toy would bring light to the matter however through absurdity and overt design. Two, people that are not culturally aware of this problem may not get the references I have laid out. The US-Mexico disputes, though grand in media coverage, are not directly world issues. Though the issue of racism is in the scope of the world, the border dispute is strictly between the US and Mexico. Similar to the original creators of Monopoly (Flanagan, 10), I wanted to critique culture, more specifically racial undertones in toys/games, through ironic means. I hope that by redressing the packaging to fit absurd and overt racism, I am making well aware that toys can plant subliminal messages in the children that play with them.

 

Sources:

Flanagan, Mary. Critical Play : Radical Game Design, MIT Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/davidson/detail.action?docID=3339056.

Sicart, Miguel. Beyond Choices : The Design of Ethical Gameplay, MIT Press, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/davidson/detail.action?docID=3339668.