If someone had told me that watching t.v. can actually make me smarter, common sense would have dictated that I laugh at them. But that was exactly the promise behind Baby Einstein products. When the Baby Einstein phenomenon hit back in the late 1990s, parents across American rejoiced. Suddenly, babies and toddlers quieted while the tunes of Mozart, Beethoven, and other classical greats played to video and images. Children were, as one reporter put it, “enthralled,” and parents were promised that the combination of classical music with images actually made kids smarter.
Except that it didn’t. In early 2009, as the New York Times ran the story “No Einstein in your crib? Get a refund,” Disney, the owner of the Baby Einstein line, was in the process of granting refunds for the products. The NYT reported:
They may have been a great electronic baby sitter, but the unusual refunds appear to be a tacit admission that they did not increase infant intellect.
“We see it as an acknowledgment by the leading baby video company that baby videos are not educational, and we hope other baby media companies will follow suit by offering refunds,” said Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which has been pushing the issue for years.
Baby Einstein, founded in 1997, was one of the earliest players in what became a huge electronic media market for babies and toddlers. Acquired by Disney in 2001, the company expanded to a full line of books, toys, flashcards and apparel, along with DVDs including “Baby Mozart,” “Baby Shakespeare” and “Baby Galileo.”
The videos — simple productions featuring music, puppets, bright colors, and not many words — became a staple of baby life: According to a 2003 study, a third of all American babies from 6 months to 2 years old had at least one “Baby Einstein” video.
Baby’s weren’t any smarter, but Disney was a lot richer. Even with the offer of a refund, it’s doubtful if every parent, especially if one in three babies has a copy of the program, has heard of or has the time to actually return the video. As a parent myself, it’s hard not to see the allure of an electronic babysitter, either.
Which brings us to the lawsuit (that’s right. This is a site about the law, after all, not pediatrics). The good people over at www.loweringthebar.net have noted, however sarcastically, that in addition to their refund, some past Baby Einstein consumers want their pound of flesh, too.
A complaint filed in Orange County, California, on January 22 alleges that the makers of “Baby Einstein” videos and the Walt Disney Company (which bought the original company) falsely claimed that the “Baby Einstein” videos were educational products that would make babies smarter, although, to plaintiffs’ great surprise, they allegedly do no such thing[.]
Um, a little common sense, please?
The complaint asserts that the defendants (Disney) knew better. Listen to the way they put it:
Defendants implied that the “Baby Einstein” materials could in fact transform their children into “Baby Einsteins,” increasing their intellectual capacity and inculcating in them significant levels of knowledge and education without any effort on the part of their parents or other adults. . . . [I]nstead they] were, and are, nothing more than mind-numbing electronic babysitters that induce torpor rather than produce genius.
Love it. At least the plaintiff was smart enough to know that when you don’t get what you pay for, even if it defies common sense, you sue. Because that’s the American way. (especially in California)
Find the complaint here. Stay tuned for more updates on this fascinating and gripping legal thriller.