THE BLOG

Cock Ring Ken: Dumping Western Consumer Products in Eastern Europe?

There's a conspiracy afoot.

The door on my brand new Samsung washing machine didn't close properly and leaked water all over the floor. My Nardi refrigerator--also purchased new--made a noise like an incoming mortar round and we had to call customer service immediately. "Oh, these all have that problem," shrugged the repairman, as if the greater part of his work was following brand new appliances from the showroom to the customer's home. Last week, I bought a new Samsung telephone. Broken, of course. Everyone who called me complained of an echo.

Sometimes, especially during a long streak of cold, gray days, I am convinced of a conspiracy. I imagine manufacturers' warehouses full of defective appliances awaiting shipment to Eastern Europe where many customers haven't yet a clue they're supposed to be king. Does this, in fact, happen?

In 1993, the Mattel Company, maker of the universally popular Barbie doll, unveiled Barbie's new, updated boyfriend, Ken. The Ken doll sported an earring in his left ear, blond highlights in his traditionally brown hair, a purple mesh shirt, lavender vest, and a thick chrome ring worn on a necklace. The doll was officially named "Earring Magic Ken," but within weeks the world had dubbed him "Cock Ring Ken." Unwittingly, Mattel had made Ken gay.

A cock ring, for those who live outside the Barbie culture, is worn to trap blood in the penis and prolong an erection and orgasm. Almost immediately, kitsch-minded gay men gobbled up Cock Ring Ken making it the best-selling Ken doll in the company's history. Mattel denied emphatically that Ken was gay--"We're not in the business of putting cock rings into the hands of little girls," said a company spokesman--and argued that the cock ring was, in fact, a "circular charm." The company discontinued and recalled the doll.

Or did they?

In 1994, I walked into the toy department of the largest department store in Tartu, Estonia, and found the shelves packed with the purple-shirted Cock Ring Ken. There were hundreds of frosty-haired twelve-inch boxed homosexuals gazing out into the aisle. I don't have trouble imagining the conversation in the Mattel boardroom.

"Let's burn them."

"No, then we'll be called fag haters."

"Hey, let's ship them to Estonia and sell them there!"

"Estonia? Never heard of it."

"Exactly!"

To be fair, I doubt citizens of Tartu were the only consumers blessed with a shipment of Cock Ring Ken. He was probably sent all over Eastern Europe. But if any once-upon-a-time little girl from Tartu reading this thinks she may have a Ken doll somewhere in the closet, I suggest she go take a look. Cock Ring Ken does a bustling business on eBay.

But my conspiracy theory goes beyond toy companies.

The Estonian military, for many years, was the West's charity case and received their old, run-down vehicles. The Estonian National Guard received WWII-era Swedish bicycles. Their usefulness wasn't quite apparent to anyone. "If war breaks out," a guardsman told me, "then I'll drive to the armory and assemble my bike."

I don't have an elaborate plan to end Estonia's status as the dumping ground for the West's old or defective products. I have a simple plan. Never accept second best when paying full price. But, as they saying goes, people treat you like you treat yourself. And Estonians have yet to start demanding their rights as consumers.

One of my colleagues recently invited me to the office parking lot to witness the job Peugeot had done on her car. A minor accident necessitated the painting of her car's trunk, and the dealer had painted it a different color than the rest of her car. She complained, and after several grunts of protest, the dealer relented and agreed to do the job right. But she had to wait two weeks. His guys were busy fixing other cars.

What should she have done? In some cases, and this is one of them, physical violence is an appropriate response. Had she immediately grabbed the dealer by the testicles and forced him to endure a short speech about common sense, good manners, and the general rights of human beings not to be made fools of by car dealers, I think any good judge would have let her off without even a fine. It would have been a clear case of self-defense.

In the name of consumer rights, I've started to ask probing questions when purchasing appliances. "How many of these refrigerators are broken?" I asked a salesman just last week. "Sir," he replied, "we sell new appliances." I then related my story of the Great Conspiracy. I told him about useless bicycles, bad paint jobs, and, of course, the detailed saga of Cock Ring Ken. He studied me for a long time before replying.

"So you think these refrigerators might be gay?"

That wasn't my thought exactly, but I had to admit he might be right.