I suppose it’s too much to ask a major environmental group to say something funny about lead-contaminated toy exports from China. Which is why I didn’t ask. But the Sierra Club, the US’s leading environmental advocacy organization, decided to try their hand at lead-related humor, anyway, and the results – in cartoon form – are now available for everybody to see. Entitled “Happy HoLeadays” [note to Sierra Club: not clever], the Sierra Club’s perky flash animation turns out to be a minor (and surprising) surrealist masterpiece starring a creepy little character named “Spacey the Lead Elf.”
[that's a Chinese toy factory in the background; more screen captures after the jump.]
It’s really unclear to me whether Spacey is supposed to appeal to children or parents. To my eyes, he’ll frighten/traumatize the younger set, and alienate the older one (bitter sarcasm has a very limited public interest audience). Case in point: early in the cartoon Spacey stands in front of a group of mentally disabled children, who give way to a disembodied brain, and delivers this message:
Thanks to the lead we’re putting in toys and other fun kid products we can make your childhood last forever … by stunting your brain development and causing learning disabilities! [pauses for sadistic, high-pitched laughter] Lead is fun!
Uh, hilarious — again, who is the intended audience?
Spacey isn’t shy about pointing fingers. During a brief sequence that takes him to a Chinese factory [see image below], he gleefully announces:
With the help of big manufacturing companies in places like China, we’re able to make millions of contaminated toys, sicken factory workers … and make billions of dollars for corporations in the process.
[Note the lead-contaminated Chinese workers slaving behind Spacey.]
I’m sure someone will argue that Sierra Club is being ironic, and I’ve fallen for the gambit. Maybe so. But in my overly serious defense, note that the club is encouraging visitors to “[p]ut a Happy Holeadays badge on your page or site” so that “everyone can enjoy the cartoon!”
What’s not to enjoy?
As much as I’d like to have a clever comment to wrap this up, I’m really at a loss. Is this a misguided attempt at humor? The bitter venting of a frustrated American environmental movement? The best surrealist short since Buñuel’s heyday? Beats me.