Even before the day I saw four different Shrek the Third-licensed impulse items at the convenience store cash register, the work of artist Chris Jordan and author Loree Griffin Burns had gotten me thinking about the magnitude and toll of our society’s appetite for disposable stuff. On a restaurant patio this evening, an abandoned Shrek figure sat on the table next to ours. At no point during our 45 minutes there did a puffy-eyed child or relieved parent show up to retrieve the lost injection-molded companion.
I have no idea whether author and illustrator William Steig was an environmentalist, but I’ve got to believe that this — the production and packaging and eventual discarding of all this stuff — was not what he had in mind when he created his fable now more closely identified with Cameron Diaz than with Steig himself.
For all the joy that readers have gotten from Steig’s story, and all the joy that viewers have gotten from the movies based on that story, the most lasting legacy of Shrek! may well be all the plastic stuff with the ogre’s name and cinematic image plastered on it. I think that’s sad.
But I also think that this would be a hard lesson for any children’s book creator — not typically the most financially secure person in the building or on the block — to apply to him- or herself should well-heeled corporate licensees come along waving wads of cash.
I’ve long admired Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson for exercising his prerogative not to merchandise his characters beyond the compilation books that have been loved to pieces in my household. I’ve always seen that as a principled artistic choice, but whatever his intention, it turned out to be an environmental choice, too. Our landfills and oceans aren’t populated by likenesses of that boy and his tiger (not legitimate ones, anyway), and I sure do appreciate it.