A recently closed pizza place just a lonnnng dough toss from my home on Chicago's North Side bragged that it served "the best pizza on Earth." And a Mexican joint not far from there advertises "burritos as big as your head."

In both cases, I chalk it up to hyperbole: I'm sure the owners of Katacomb never won a smackdown against any Roman pizzeria. Nor will a lawsuit force La Bamba to correct its slogan to read, "Burritos as big as a rhesus monkey's head."

So sloganeering represents nothing new, though the fine line between bragging and outright lies can prove a tricky, treacherous balance -- especially where our kids are concerned. Now it comes as no shock to me that Baby Einstein has admitted that it won't make my kid into Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer or even Al Franken. Truth be told, never did I expect to stick my kid in front of the vids, leave him in the cathode-ray oven for a few hours, then have him emerge as one smart cookie.

But here's what I do find disturbing, and why I suggest you put in for the $16-per-video refund (limit four) if you bought between June 5, 2005 and Sept. 4, 2009. The name "Baby Einstein" (concocted by creator-mom Julie Aigner-Clark at her home in Alpharetta, Ga. in 1997) implies an undeniable connection between the product and some sort of brain development Junior would enjoy from watching it.

And according to a New York Times piece, the videos could have the exact opposite effect on kids under two. The Times quotes a letter from lawyers for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood: "The Walt Disney Company's entire Baby Einstein marketing regime is based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development. [Those claims are] false because research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children."

Ugh. I have to lie enough to my kids, what with the Easter Bunny, Santa and all that. Now Mickey Mouse is lying to them, too. (Disney bought Baby Einstein in 2001, and created a spinoff for older kids, "Little Einsteins.")


My 7-year-old son, who is in the other room building an Android Six Hyperblaster Planet Killer 6000 out of Legos, does not appear to have suffered any brain damage from watching Baby Einstein as a toddler. What's more, I speak as a selfish, exhausted parent when I say the DVDs served their purpose. I'd put Christopher in front of them, and he'd get really, really still and quiet, allowing me to shower for the first time in three days. Watching toy cars race endlessly in a circle to silly toy xylophone sounds will do that to you. Or me.

So maybe Ms. Clark and the Disney Death Star can save face by changing the product name. I have a few suggestions:

  • "BABYSITTER EINSTEIN: THE GENIUS INVENTION FOR MESMERIZING YOUR KID SO YOU CAN HAVE A MOMENT'S SANITY ... or at least a quick shower."
  • Or how about this? "MAYBE EINSTEIN: HONESTLY, WE HAVE NO IDEA HOW YOUR KID WILL TURN OUT."
  • I'm also digging a new product line, "EINSTEIN, BABY: HIPSTER JAZZ SOUNDTRACKS ACCOMPANY BEATNIK POETRY READINGS OF EINSTEIN'S PHYSICS PAPERS, ENACTED BY HAND PUPPETS IN SHADES."
I'd suggest one of the above over the current moniker for this salient reason: The "Baby Einstein" name has a definite ring of deceit to it. And if Ms. Clark and Mr. Mouse have any integrity, they'll abandon it -- though with $200 million in annual sales on the line, you can guess whether that toy train will ever leave the station.

Still, maybe there's enough backbone at Disney to entertain a new label. And a new slogan, too.

I hear "the best pizza on Earth" is now up for grabs.

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