Sisterhood Blog

Playing with Playmobil: Fun With Pharaoh

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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I love the shopping circulars that come with the Sunday Times (which really arrives on Saturday). I’m a big browser – and not the Internet Explorer kind. Well, I browse online too. But back to one of the few remaining circulars that arrive in the print newspaper.

In this weekend’s paper arrived the Toys R Us “Big Book,” which my youngest still pores through as if it holds the secret of happiness. Perhaps for an 8 year old, it does.

Featured was the newest line from Playmobil: plastic representations of the marvels of ancient Egypt. You can buy an Egyptian pyramid (only $105!) and Sphinx, along with a “Royal Ship of Egypt.”

All sorts of things Egyptian are available in this New! featured set.

You can get an Egyptian family and a Pharoah, even Egyptian soldiers and a masked robber on horseback.

But something seems strangely missing. Where are the little Israelite slaves who built the Sphinx and pyramids? How about a mini-Moses – then you could set up all the little Israelite slaves behind Moses, following him out of slavery.

Now that I’m taking a closer look at the website, I notice something striking; in addition to an airport and a circus, along with a wedding set (featuring a church), Playmobil seems to have a proclivity for making tiny plastic versions of persecutors of the Jews. In addition to the Egyptians Playmobil makes an extensive line of Roman soldiers. Somehow I didn’t notice an “Inquisition” line, or any little plastic torture devices.

For just $14, though, you can buy a set of lance-bearing Roman soldiers and for the low, low price of $10, a “Firing Catapult,” complete with plastic flames to shoot.

Hey kids, if you get your parents to buy you a Playmobil castle set and a few Roman soldiers carrying spears and shields, along with the catapult, you can re-enact the siege on Jerusalem! You can practically hear the screams of the Roman Empire’s Jewish victims.

Fun for all ages!

Of course, you know where the company that makes Playmobil is based, dontcha?


Leah Mon. Nov 2, 2009

Oh, Playmobil. I agree with you that their product line is far from inclusive. Have you seen their "Native American Indian" set? I played with it as a child, and was then (mildly) shocked to see it on display at The Jewish Museum in Berlin as part of an exhibit on stereotypes. It was displayed right next to every "ethnic" Barbie that has ever been made.

This is a great post on Sociological Images that shows all of Playmobil's "ethnic" offerings.

Still, Playmobil was my #1 favorite toy when I was a kid. If only they could use their awesomeness for good, and create more inclusive and culturally-sensitive collections.

Leah Mon. Nov 2, 2009

Whoops! Here is the link:

Jack Wed. Nov 4, 2009

I saw the Egyptians in the “Big Book” insert as well, and my first thought was “What this set needs are some Asiatic/Habiru/Shasu nomadic pastoralists à la the tomb painting at Beni Hasan 2." (As a thought, it was much more elegant.) Nice touch, though, the horseman in playset 4245 has a khopesh. Ah well, there’s always the Brick Testament

Leah, looking at Playmobil’s western-themed playsets —Cowboys, Sheriff, Goldmine, Classic Western Stage Coach, etc.— they seem to be informed as much by the writing of Karl May as anything else. As for Playmobil’s social construction of race, the non-historical family groups come in four shades that describe the main clusters of variability in human skin tone. Their heads are all the same perfect spheres, and their facial features are —with few exceptions— the same. Playmobil was not intending to accurately portray scope of human physical and ethnic variability, just suggest it and let kids’ imaginations take care of the rest. Hence, a generic Asian family instead of Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian, Thai, Tibetan, Viet.... Still, it would be interesting to see the descriptors in company’s German language lit.

Exploring the Playmobil site further, I see they have Gauls and unspecified Barbarians. Mebbe Playmobil could provide a Teutoburger Forest playset with trees, hills, and a dike, where Herman and his Germani could slaugher the Roman legions?

barry dov lerner Mon. Nov 16, 2009

Unfortunately, too many are unfamiliar with the actual history of the building of the pyramids and Sphinx which were not built by Israelite slaves based on text and chronology. Rather, the Israelites built some of the storehouses for grain, as described in the TaNaKH in the Book of Exodus.

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