A Current Trend in Toys:
Aspects of popular culture tend to register current societal fears and fascinations. This phenomenon is obvious in television and movies;but current concerns also show up in less likely places as well. Toystores reflect more than contemporary tastes in children’s toys. The types of toys available and the characteristics of these change with the times and represent society’s changing values. As farfetched as it may appear, distinctive trends in toys at the present time seem to be reflecting both fears and fascination over scientific technology and over the disastrous possibilities of nuclear and chemical accidents. Although toys are created for children, they are invented by the imaginations of adults and appropriately therefore betray adult concerns.
An overwhelming majority of children’s toys today are plastic. Plastics are the predominant material even in the traditional, basic learning toys. This is a newer trend. At one time, plastic was considered a threat to ecology. Children used to play with natural wooden toys, such as plain building blocks and Lincoln Logs. These days, however, Legos and other brightly colored plastics are more commonly found and accepted in toystores and toyboxes. Tyco’s set of Superblocks which according to the cannister “works with Lego’s Duplo,” and Parker Brothers’ The Construction Company contain interlocking pieces which somewhat limit the creative possibilities. Also limiting a child’s creativity and imagination, small models of characters with ready-made personalities and functions include the Masters of the Universe and Princess of Power series, Jem and the Holograms, the Hulk Hogan doll, and countless others.
Even religion has fallen prey to this plastic marketing. Parents can purchase somewhat idolatrous toys which represent biblical characters. Mattel, for example, provides youngsters with figurines of Moses and David. Plastic toys, of course, have existed for quite a while; Mattel’s Barbie, now a rock star (presumably to rival Hasbro’s Jem and the Holograms), and G.I. Joe, now a strike force team rather than an individual, have remained popular for many years. But a perusal of toystore shelves will show to what extent the market has become saturated with plastic products to the exclusion of all else. For good or bad, manufacturers are finding it easy to foster an acceptance of plastics among young consumers and their parents.
These days, plastic is not considered the ecological threat it once was, nor do the chemicals used in production cause any stir. In fact, Mattel’s Color Zoo and Sanrio’s Hello Color now make chemicals fascinating. These toys change color when submerged in warm water: truly a delightful bit of chemical ingenuity. Obviously, in the contemporary world, we now have greaters reasons for ecological concerns. The special qualities of materials used in toy manufacturing reflect other potential horrors of the future. Florescent colors, for example, are highly reminiscent of hazardous radioactive energy–an arguably realistic fear in this age. Most manufacturers seem to feel that the cardboard containers for these toys should indicate to the potential buyer that inside are “nontoxic materials.” This assurance can be found on a surprising number of boxes and tags. The toys themselves can often be read as the effects of exposure to toxic wastes and radioactivity. What makes the creatures of Hasbro’s Glo Land glow? Mattel’s Dreamglow Barbie seems harmless enough since only her gown and Ken’s vest are affected. Skeletor, however, from the Masters of the Universe series, is a skeletal figure representing living death. He may be accounted for as a reflection of the fear of slow and agonizing death as a reaction to nuclear holocaust. Similarly, MTC’s Nightmare Warriors include real and literary characters such as Geronimo, Sir Launcelot, Captain Kidd, snd Pancho Villa appearing only as skeletons in their original costumes, with “bones that glow in the dark.” The effects of nuclear radiation seem to have already hit the toystores.
As an extension of chemical and radiation disasters, nightmarishgenetic mutation also appears on the toystore shelves. Once again, fearsand fascination over the possible outcome of scientific technology aretranslated into toys. Coleco creators have invented the planet Symbion,where some shrouded scientific disaster has formed a symbioticrelationship between giant insects and diminutive humans who now arehalf-insect themselves. These Sectaurs and Insectaurs, as they arecalled, battle for “The Hyve–citadel of the ancients! A forbiddenfortress filled with wisdom and mysteries of a ruined Civilization.” Nomore information is offered about the nature of this disaster. TheMasters of the Universe series by Mattel includes Buzz-Off, “Heroic Spy inthe Sky,” who is half-human and half-bee, and Kobra Kahn, “Evil Master ofSnakes,” who is half-reptile. The apparent genetic mutation has not justaffected warrior toys. Hasbro Bradley Incorporated and Walt DisneyProductions present the Wuzzles–Eleroo (half-elephant and half-kangaroo),Bumblelion (half-bee and half-lion), and several other blends of species.
It is unlikely that the inventors of these toys are consciously thinkingof genetic mutation or intentionally preparing children for theanticipated ecological threats of the future; but it seems that these veryfears may be indirectly responsible for the new trends in toys.In effect, the manufacturers of these kinds of toys are relayingtheir own anxieties and their culture’s fears to children. Perhaps thetoys reflect a fascination, as well, with chemicals, nuclear radiation,and the effects of these. Considered most pessimistically, these kinds oftoys are conditioning young people to accept environmental changes. Theyare letting children become accustomed, however indirectly, to bizarreresults of anticipated disastrous circumstances. The toys themselves alsoreflect very pessimistic views among their creators concerning the futurechildren have in store. Let us hope that the natural optimism of childrencan filter out these ominous implications.