The wildly popular videos/DVDs known as Baby Einstein were pitched by their manufacturer as a learning tool for infants, and were even endorsed in the State of the Union address by President George W. Bush.
But as I wrote about at the time, there was no basis at all for the claim that watching these videos made infants learn anything.
An advocacy group successfully sued the manufacturer, Walt Disney Corporation, forcing it to agree to take back Baby Einstein videos for the original purchase price. Up to 4 videos/DVDs could be returned to the manufacturer for a refund of about $65, regardless of their condition or whether the owner had a receipt.
There are few things that make Americans angrier than the thought that their children have been exploited or harmed by a big corporation. One might expect therefore that millions of outraged parents would have flooded Disney with old Baby Einstein videos both to pocket the $65 and to teach Disney a lesson.
Yet 6 months after this rebate program ended (and from what the Internet Wayback machine tells me, also during it) Ebay is carrying countless used Baby Einstein DVDs/videos selling for as little as two bucks. Why didn’t the people who unloaded these videos take the bigger payout and express their righteous outrage at the same time?
Some of this may be put down to parents not knowing about the rebate (although it got extensive media attention), but I suspect that another reason is that many parents didn’t feel ripped off at all. That is, they wanted a break from their kids and the videos gave it to them, and they never really believed that their children were becoming little Einsteins.
But the product did deliver something better than free television, and hence was worth the investment from one perspective. What I observed in the hyper-achievement-oriented Bay Area is that the purpose of these videos for some parents was to advertise their putative superiority to other parents, i.e., “You may flip on some crap on the TV when you are at our wit’s end with your kids, but I, who never get overwhelmed or need a break from parenting, have decided solely for my childrens’ benefit to give them an enriched educational experience. Sad that you don’t care as much as I do, but not everyone can raise future Harvard graduates….”. In short, these parents, whose sanctimony exceeded that even of the most self-congratulatory Prius drivers, didn’t ask for their money back because they were in on the con.