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On American Toys

The terrorists are working quietly and efficiently to destroy New York City. There seems to be no hope for the ten million innocent lives, and yet at the last moment (as always), the secret agents arrive with the usual BBG (big, bad gun) equipment and blow the evil threat to America's security away. The audience experiences a genuine sense of relief after having seen movies with just the same plot many times during their lives.

Parts of this dream-like world are slowly instilled in the masses, convincing them of their governments competence, technology's unlimited power, guaranteed triumph of "good" and other parts of the elaborately staged play. American toys are made to be a part of this dream in which much of America lives. It's a dream because it is at once convincing and utterly unrealistic, because it is a flow of events over which one has no say or control. The dream that may well be the ultimate weapon of social control, as it enslaves people while leaving them think they are free.

For example, action figures and Barbie dolls have little, if any relation to reality. Instead, they impress the dream world on the child. A cartoonized world in which "superheroes" blow apart monsters and women have wasp waists and giraffe legs, but a world that's part of the larger dream. These toys channel the imagination just like the world of practical and realistic French toys described by Roland Barthes. These toys, however, do not prepare children for their lives as adults, but instead prepares them for a disappointment. There probably was a point in almost every child's life, when he/she realized that it's almost impossible to be a Barbie, and that there is no place in society to accommodate a live Batman.

When children realize that their worldview is but a dream, they, instead of discarding the dream, treasure it still. The dream to them represents a memory of a cloudless and simple childhood of no difficult choices and special effects. This memory they keep and reinforce by moving further along the dream line using the same types of toys, except with adult subject matter for extra fun. The children of these children will in turn live in a modification of the dream, and so the process goes on.

Of course, not all American toys are part of the hallucination. Lego produces a large proportion of the few toys that allow children to take their own path. Yet even Lego sets occasionally echo the motives of the bigger dream. Lego System(tm) sets are almost always divided into the "good guys" and the "bad guys" with the appropriate characteristics, and necessarily come with a set of instructions to build the "standard" model.

Current toys serve to define the function and structure of the world that the children believe themselves to live in, and only allow exploration within the limits of that dream. Toys are wrapped up with enough information to keep children bound by these limits. Hope for future improvement remains, but until toys are given without the context-defining wrappers.

This essay is Copyright (C) 2000 Alexey Spiridonov. All rights reserved

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