Message mutates on market's cue COWABUNGA!

January 10, 1991|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Evening Sun Staff

Tuesday, Michaelangelo, leader of the Teenage Mutant Turtles, had just completed his anti-drug message to a gathering of first- and second-graders -- all wearing complimentary Ninja eye bands -- at Baltimore's Johnston Square Elementary School, in the shadow of the State Penitentiary. "That's like the Turtle message, dudes," he concluded, " 'cause you don't need to mutate."

Then, the bilious green, muscle-bound reptile called for questions. One young boy cut to the quick: "Where your #F weapons at?"

"We left our weapons in New York City, dude," the Turtle replied in signature surferspeak. "We get farther with our guitar solos than a pair of nunchuks. . . . It's a totally cool step for us."

Another student persisted. Are the Turtle brother weapons homemade, he asked.

We buy them in Chinatown, Michaelangelo replied.

For their "Coming Out of Their Shells" tour, at the Baltimore Arena through Sunday, the famously famous Turtles have laid down their arms for their instruments, figuring tot-rock is mightier than the sword. (Actually the nunchuks, as well as a variety of plastic swords are still available at the merchandise stands where the Turtles perform.)

It seems their producers have decided that a "say no to drugs" approach, minus the karate chops and punches, is as timely, and thus as lucrative as licensed TMNT bed sheets, dolls, cookies, toothbrushes, soup, lunch boxes, cartoons, movies -- and now the album and concert tour -- all of which have grossed millions.

Besides, unsettling developments, such as the ban last year in ++ many Australian schools on Ninja weapons and toys, have probably forced a new take on TMNT marketing strategy.

Who knows, maybe parents all over the civilized world are stepping in and making informed consumer decisions for their children who often cannot. Hey, dudes, the Ninjas are willing to mutate as the public demands. It's worth it.

But the support of a noble cause by four reptilian superheroes, the brilliant invention of corporate America, is, in itself, a double-edged sword.

Now that promoters are touting the TMNT product as morality play, not sword play, children are even easier prey to their cunning marketing practices. It's a perfect method. Overwhelm children with a stress on violent play. And then try to remedy the aftermath with a new, anti-violent, anti-drug message. It's consumerism at its most clever, playing both sides of the street.

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