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Cross-cultural tolerance is often a one-way street, as exhibited in one of the most bizarre sports-related news stories of recent days, involving German-born Manchester United midfield Bastian Schweinsteiger. Germany’s Bild.de (link not provided due to forced advertising) was the first to report on the story of a Chinese doll manufacturer producing a Nazi-soldier doll called “Bastian” that bears more than a spittin’ likeness to the the 31-year-old Schweinsteiger.
Though the Chinese manufacturer who produced the dolls claims otherwise, the doll carries a striking resemblance to a 2014 publicity photo of Schweinsteiger published by Adidas, one of his and his team’s sponsors (right). It hasn’t taken long for Schweinsteiger and his lawyers to respond to the doll’s release by threatening a lawsuit over image rights, threatening a lawsuit.
Commenting to Bild, German media lawyer Ulrich Amelung stated, “This is a clear violation of Schweinsteiger’s personality rights.  “Everyone has rights to their own image. To see him as a swastika-bearing Wehrmacht soldier also constitutes a gross defamation and insult.” Amelung appears poised to represent Schweinsteiger in a case against Dragon in Dream (DiD), the Hong Kong-based toy manufacturer which claims to specialize in “realistic” life-like toys, though in actuality, as looked at in recent mainstream stories, it specializes in stealing the likenesses of well known actors and atheletes. A recent CNN report identifies the company as having also made dolls appropriating the likenesses of famous actors Daniel Craig, Matt Damon, Robert De Niro and Johnny Depp, among many others.
Of course, there’s a difference between using the face of an actor and that of a footballer whose home country is so mournful over the Hitler-era happenings that many Nazi-referring symbols and references are banned there. Indeed, the swastika and several other bits of regalia clearly identifying the toy as a soldier in several different Third Reich armed-forces units are unmistakable. The doll, pricey by most standards at about £80 ($120), includes several different Nazi-soldier outfits and soldiering accessories. The doll is even called “WWII German Army Supply Duty — Bastian,” and that’s another part of arrogance of the Hong Kong company, which like many others from that part of the world cares little about international laws and trade treaties that might otherwise affect its bottom line.
A DiD spokesman told Bild this: “We don’t sell any figures which resemble footballers. It is a complete coincidence that the figure ‘Bastian’ looks like Schweinsteiger.”
“We thought that all Germans look like that,” the spokesman added. “Bastian is also a very common name in Germany.” This is what is known as a pile of “We don’t really give a damn” crap, since “Bastian” is a somewhat rare variant of Sebastian; Sebastian itself as a German first name is fairly common, particularly in the 1980’s, Schweinsteiger’s birth decade, but “Bastian” (as Schweinsteiger uses it) is not.
However what the story really shows is the utter insensitivity of at least this Hong Kong manufacturer to global, historic issues. One would think a Hong Kong-based toymaker would need look no further than China’s own historic and war-related enmity with nearby Japan to understand why such things as a “Bastian”-themed Nazi doll that’s clearly a ripoff of a popular German sports star’s image just might be upsetting. It’d be the same as producing a popular “Ichiro” Japanese WWII bomber pilot or maybe even putting out a “Liu” (Xiang) coolie doll. This author is of course not suggesting these, but merely noting some cross-cultural and equally insulting equivalencies.
This is one of those cases where you actually have to root for the lawyers, in this case Bastian’s. The problem, of course, is that winning any sort of trade complaint against a Hong Kong- or China-based manufacturer is traditional a very difficult undertaking.