The Ebola epidemic has been in the news for months now, but coverage took an unexpected turn recently when stories began circulating about the production and sale of an Ebola plush toy by Connecticut toy company Giant Microbes.

 

Not unexpectedly, many have expressed their shock in response to the product, criticizing it as being incredibly inappropriate and offensive. In reality, however, the backlash against the product may have been rushed, and negativity around the company and the toy seem to have largely forced us to ignore its realities and the context in which we should really be assessing it.

 

Critics have been quick to label the product as offensive, but the attacks may be off-base (giantmicrobes.com)

Critics have been quick to label the product as offensive, but the attacks may be off-base (giantmicrobes.com)

It is entirely understandable that given the current situation regarding Ebola that society at large would have a heightened sensitivity in response to any mention of the disease. This fact holds especially true in the case of what largely appears to be an attempt to link Ebola to a novelty, something we have seen in shameful Ebola Halloween costumes and Ebola fashion items with the tagline, “fashion is infectious.”

 

Having been exposed to such offensive exploitation of human suffering in these products, it follows that seeing the words “Ebola” and “plush toy” being used in conjunction is sure to add fuel to the fire of this controversy. However, by getting too quickly swept up in speculative notions without delving deeper into the whole story to understand this product in the proper context risks drawing false conclusions prematurely. By quickly accepting the toy as offensive, we’ve failed to understand and assess it properly.

 

For starters, it’s important to remember that the Ebola plush toy is not being newly introduced into the market. If this was the case, it would understandably seem more inappropriate in that it would appear to be a product which was developed with the primary aim of capitalizing on the hysteria surrounding a global medical epidemic.

 

However, Giant Microbes has actually been making and selling the toy for years, along with a wide variety of other plush toys resembling microbes. The recent focus in the media is simply a result of the rapid sales of the toy in recent months, and more specifically how it is tied to current events. Recognizing not only that the Ebola plush toy is one of many similar products manufactured by the company, but that it was actually on the market for years prior to the first signs of the recent Ebola outbreak certainly causes a shift in the conversation. It allows us to move past the presumption that this product signifies the company’s swift exploitation of Ebola and to instead consider it in a more rational context.

 

The Ebola plush toy is one of many microbe plush toys sold by Giant Microbes, including norovirus (giantmicrobes.com)

The Ebola plush toy is one of many microbe plush toys sold by Giant Microbes, including norovirus (giantmicrobes.com)

In actuality, this plush toy, in addition to the others sold by the company, are largely intended to be used as educational tools. In addition to Ebola, Giant Microbes sells plush toys of herpes, Norovirus, and Lyme disease, just to name a few. None of these products were created with the goal of trivializing serious medical conditions or for the sole purpose of capitalizing on them — facts which apply just as much to the Ebola plush toy.

 

By manufacturing and distributing plush replicas of different germs, viruses, and diseases, Giant Microbes has sought to create a fun and simple way to teach kids about these topics. As education tools, these toys can actually get kids interested in science and medicine from a young age by presenting it to them in a way that makes learning enjoyable and understandable. This early interest can stay with them as they grow and perhaps shape future aspirations in terms of pursuing careers in these fields.

 

Considered in this context, it becomes clear that labeling the Ebola plush toy as an offensive or inappropriate product is hardly accurate or justifiable. If anything, we should recognize its value in education and let it encourage us to continue developing innovate and fun ways to educate children on complex concepts from an early age.

 

What are your thoughts on the Ebola plush toy? Share them below or tweet me @tamarahoumi