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Education

Trashy Humor

February 19, 1986 2 min read

Acne Amy, Greaser Greg, Dead Fred, Foul Phil, and the rest of the Garbage Pail Kids are turning up in elementary schools in ever increasing numbers--to the dismay of some principals and teachers.

The Garbage Pail Kids, who look like their names, are cartoon figures sold in packs of five cards with a stick of chewing gum. The figures peel off to become stickers.

At the Brunswick School in Greenwich, Conn., the cards were banned from campus this month because students were “just getting carried away” with collecting and trading them, according to Rob Peterson, the head of the lower school.

“It was becoming a distraction,” he said. “Also, some of the students thought they had a license to kid a boy because his name was on a card. For some, it hurt.”

Mr. Peterson’s action sparked a local newspaper article, which was picked up by a wire service, which spawned more newspaper stories, recent articles in Newsweek and People, and more expressions of adult disgust and concern.

“From that point on,” said Norman Liss, a spokesman for Topps Chewing Gum Inc., “sales just zoomed.”

Topps introduced the Garbage Pail Kids last June, he said, “but sales really didn’t pick up until September and October, when the kids were back in school.”

“Now we just can’t get enough of them,” Mr. Liss says. “We’re hearing reports from all over the country that some stores are rationing them. Most stores are sold out within an hour after they get their shipment in. In some places, people wait in line to get them.”

What puzzles Mr. Liss about the uproar is that the Garbage Pail Kids are not exactly new.

The product contains several elements “that we have used over and over again in different forms for more than 20 years,” he says. Caricatures and weird names, reminiscent of Mad Magazine, have proven to be durable standards.

Even the garbage motif has been recycled. In 1975, Topps introduced candy in the shape of fish heads and old shoes, packaged in a garbage-can container. It sold well.

“Our product-development people are very attuned to what amuses children,” says Mr. Liss. As in any successful marketing firm, Topps tests product concepts on members of its primary target group--children ages 7 to 12--to see what works and what does not.

Obviously the research findings were accurate. As Mr. Liss says, “Kids are very much into garbage.”

Meanwhile, the students and staff at the Brunswick School, where the furor began, are hard at work on a positive alternative. Andrew and Matthew Dudley, 2nd-grade and 3rd-grade students respectively, have formed a company to create and sell cards of “Apple Pie Kids” with names like Smart Art and Clean Jean, who represent “positive virtues,” says Mr. Peterson.

“Every class from the 1st through 5th grades has been submitting drawings on a daily basis,” he says. The brothers Dudley are selling them before and after school, in a book of 10 for 25 cents. The proceeds help support a child the school is sponsoring through the Save the Children campaign.

“We felt it was a nice follow-through,” says the principal.

A version of this article appeared in the February 19, 1986 edition of Education Week

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