How Journalism Works Part 95

How Journalism Works Part 95On November the 11th, Bleeding Cool reported the story that there is to be a new Transformer toy called Spastic. In which we pointed out the different cultural contexts of the word in the USA and in the UK. It got a lot of hits, a lot of retweets, a lot of attention. Nice. Job done.

The next day, the story was picked up, uncredited, by the British tabloid, The Daily Record. The piece focused on debate between US and UK fans.

Transformers fan site Seibertron contacted Hasbro about the issue and got a response on November 16th, in which they stated that the toy "will not be available via traditional retail channels in Europe" though they don't say if this was decided in response to the name controversy.

On November 18th, the Daily Mail , The Sun and the Metro suddenly picked up the story, referring to the response Seibertron had gotten from Hasbro (but not crediting Seibertron as a source), interpreting the statement in ways that are not apparent from the official answer (but it's doubtful that they bothered to contact Hasbro themselves).

Also, they construe the above statement about the toy not being available in Europe to imply that the name controversy caused the decision to cancel its UK release. Somehow they even get the impression that the toy was expected to be the biggest seller of next year, when in fact it's Just Another Random Toy in the line. And a redecorated of a previous toy on top of that. The story even made the news in Australia.

Turns out that the late "mainstream" coverage was due to a self-appointed White Knight, an outraged UK fan who was eager to "teach Hasbro a lesson" even after they had already confirmed that the toy would not even be sold in the UK.

As someone on the fan site The Allspark said:

"Wow, an issue that activates two of the Internet subcultures that irritate me most: British linguosupremacists ("Americans use their words wrong!") versus politically-incorrect-and-proud glibertarians ("if my privileged disregard offends you, suck it").

This is officially my most unfavorite Transformer ever."

So how about some facts?

As TFW2005 pointed out "The overall response from TFW2005.COM UK members? "Like we get wave 3/4/5 of ANYTHING anyways.""

This is a pretty accurate statement. Compared to the much faster turnaround rates of new product shipments of Transformers toys in the USA, European Hasbro branches typically just ship one or two waves to stores and then discontinue the assortments (or just ship out more of the same), because there's already a new sub-line on the horizon. So "Spastic" was probably never even going to see UK shelves no matter what.

And lastly, TFW2005 posted a news story (which has since been taken down) citing one of Hasbro's designers. The relevant bits:

"the outcry from some in the U.K. regarding the word's use as a slur has resulted in a name change, even though the set was not scheduled for release in the U.K. This was posted on facebook by Hasbro PCC lead designer Eric Siebenaler to TFW2005 member Draven earlier today.

[…] Replacement names that have popped so far include Drag Strip, Decepticharge (ugh, that poor Alternator) and Spasma (as in the Headmaster partner of G1 Apeface)."

So a small number of highly outraged Brits managed to stir up major trouble at Hasbro, and a small number of equally outraged Americans have created the "Spastic Fan Club" in response to the reaction from the Brits.

To sum up, par for the course. And people wonder why I don't like to be called a journalist.

Thanks to Little Bleeder "Nevermore" for his insight.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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