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Who Cares About The No. 1 Toy When You Could Have No. 2?

<strong>G.I. Woe:</strong> Mattel's Flushin' Frenzy sends a brown plastic poop flying into the air. It's pictured above at Toy Fair in New York in February 2018.
Mark Lennihan
G.I. Woe: Mattel's Flushin' Frenzy sends a brown plastic poop flying into the air. It's pictured above at Toy Fair in New York in February 2018.

Who wants to play with toys that poop?

Seven year old Jack Reynolds does. The second grader in Denver, Colo., enthusiastically showed off his collection via video to a reporter. It includes an adorable pooping stuffed animal, a bathtub game called Fishin' For Floaters and fuzzy brown poop emoji bed slippers. When asked why he likes such toys, Jack was unequivocal.

"Because poop is stinky!" he announced. "Gross! Smooshy!"

It's also ubiquitous. Candidates for your 2020 holiday gift list might (or might never) include the Gotta Go Flamingo, the Poopsie Slime Surprise unicorn doll, which cleverly combines toy trends by pooping sparkling slime, or the Hot Wheels Ultimate Garage dinosaur, which eats little cars and poops them out.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Poopsie Slime Surprise (@poopsieslimesurprise)

"This is some incredible marketing here," marvels Susan Livingston. She's an academic and artist who teaches ceramics classes to small children. Pretending to play with poop is normal, she says, as well as developmentally healthy, and not necessarily as expensive as the toy industry would have you think. Her young students do it whenever she shows them how to make clay pots.

"You roll these coils," she says – and you can imagine what she has to say next: "We all know this looks like poop. Let's get this out of our systems."

For her Ph.D. in art education, Livingston wrote a dissertation called The Gooey, the Bloody and the Just Plain Gross. So her discourse upon toys that poop is uncommonly elevated, with references to such French philosophers as Julia Kristeva and Georges Bataille. "Toys teach us to manage our disgust," Livingston explains. "They help us understand who we are. Poop is part of you, but it's not. It's something that's transformed inside of you, and that's fascinating. It's a sign of a well-regulated system, but it's gross."

"It's a very light taboo," agrees Mary Higbe, the good-humored director of marketing for Goliath Games, the third largest toy manufacturer in the U.S. One of its top sellers is a game called Doggie Doo. Higbe is quick to point out its prosocial messages of good citizenship.

"You have a farting, pooping dog," she concedes. "But you've also got the lessons learned because you have to clean up after the dog."

This trend may have something to with the proliferation of children's books such as Everyone Poops and the "Captain Underpants" series, as well as the popular poop emoji. Not only can you buy any number of poop emoji toys and wearables for the special children in your life, there's poop emoji air freshener and poop emoji wine for adults.) In 2017's The Emoji Movie, the poop emoji character was voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.

More evidence of civilization's decline? Jack Reynolds in Denver would beg to differ. For him, poop emojis provide an opportunity for ontological reflection. "I think poop emojis poop out poop emojis," he says. "And that just keeps going on forever."

Even toys that poop, it seems, can be flush with meaning.

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Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.