Thursday, December 28, 2017

Some thoughts on toys

If the producers of CNN's documentary series are moderately educated baby boomers, then the producers of Netflix's new series The Toys that Made Us are moderately educated Gen-Xers and older Millennials.  Are are predominantly male and without children.
The series focuses on eight toy lines ranging from the enduring (Barbie, Lego, G.I. Joe, Transformers) to the flash in the pan toy lines that are only relevant to hard-core collectors (Masters of the Universe).  Most of the brands were popular during the 1970s and 1980s (Star Wars, Hello Kitty, and the aforementioned Masters of the Universe.)  An OK start, but not enough.  To my mind, a series like this needs to focus on toys with staying power.  Toys that our children will be playing with, or are playing with.  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Teddy bears.  What could be more quintessentially American than a toy named for a U.S. president?  In production since 1903, teddy bears are everywhere, and in all forms.
  • Slinky.  A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing!  Everyone knows it's Slinky.  Whether in metal or plastic, most of us have owned at least one at some point in our lives.
  • Play-Doh.  This staple of preschools has been going strong since the 1950s, and has been produced in a wide range of colors, with all sorts of extruders and molds to fit your imagination.
  • My Little Pony.  These colored plastic horses with butt tats (or "cutie marks") have been a staple of little girls' play since 1982.  The animated series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic not only kept interest in the toys alive to this day and introduced the Generation 4 design, but expanded the fanbase to include men (bronies.)
  • Silly Putty.  Tan putty in a red egg, it wasn't as versatile as Play-doh, but how many of us picked up transfers from the newspaper with it?
  • Mr. Potato Head.  Another staple of preschooler play, the original iteration made you supply an actual potato.
  • Fisher-Price preschool toys.  From the telephone on a string (the one with the eyes and the mouth) to the colored stacking rings, these are the toys are babies will be gumming on for the next century or so.
  • American Girl.  I hesitate to include this, as it only really caught fire during the mid-1990s.  Originally conceived as the anti-Barbie, the sale of the brand to Mattel meant the Barbification of the brand, with the childlike dolls receiving colored hair extensions and cars in place of the historically accurate schoolbooks and china tea sets.  However, it has all the imaginative potential of Barbie and none of the body image controversy, as the dolls represent children with stocky bodies, and come in a range of facial molds, hair colors and styles (or not) and skin types.  However, while the dolls cause little controversy, the price point certainly has (remember "homeless" Gwen, retailing for $115?)
  • Etch-A-Sketch.  How many of us fiddled with the knobs, trying to get the line where we wanted it to go?

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