Archive for December 5th, 2011

As the creative adult needs to toy with ideas, the child, to form his ideas, needs toys—and plenty of leisure and scope to play with them as he likes, and not just the way adults think proper.  This is why he must be given this freedom for his play to be successful and truly serve him well.  –  Bruno Bettelheim

At this time of year it’s difficult to avoid thinking of toys, even if one is a childless adult; stores devote much greater space to them than usual, Christmas displays and illustrations feature them prominently and even seasonal songs often mention them.  Modern middle-class American children, showered as they are with toys on every conceivable occasion (or even just to shut them up in stores), cannot conceive of what toys meant to us old folks when we were kids; as late as the 1970s most middle-class children got toys only at Christmas and birthdays, and (as depicted in the wonderful movie A Christmas Story) the process of obtaining a much-desired toy could become a sort of miniature Grail quest.  It’s likely that this is one of the culprits behind modern parents’ perhaps-misguided generosity, and judging by their irrational behavior it seems that obsession with toys has grown into a full-fledged neurosis among many adults of my generation and the Baby Boomers who preceded us.

Take Barbie, for example.  My column of one year ago today explained her origin as a gold-digging German secretary who later became a doxy, and commented on the absurd controversies sick-minded adults have projected onto her:

…like any attractive woman who dares to be sexual, Barbie has inflamed the passions of losers everywhere.  People with a lot of free time and more math skills than sense have published complicated calculations showing that at 1/6 scale, Barbie would be 5’9” tall, with measurements of 36”-18”-33” and a weight of 110#.  University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland actually announced that Barbie lacks the 17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate; it’s good to know that the Finns are so healthy that University Hospital has nothing more important to do than theorize on the menstrual irregularities of plastic dolls.  Most of this nonsense is based on the ludicrous notion that little girls have such a highly-developed sense of proportion that they can actually perform these ratios in their little heads without the help of calculators, neofeminists or bored Finnish doctors…[in 1992] middle-class feminists with no actual problems started spinning their heads around and foaming at the mouth because ONE of the 270 possible phrases “Teen Talk Barbie” might say was “Math class is tough!”  Apparently, these women were concerned that the phrase would magically leach math skills from the brains of young girls and thereby render them unable to calculate the proportions and body mass index of dolls.

The neofeminists’ real problem with Barbie has nothing to do with her figure or academic credentials; they hate her because she is unashamedly sexual, just as they hate all women who are unashamedly sexual.  The campaign to suppress or neuter Barbie derives from the same repressions and insecurities as the campaign to ban porn and abolish prostitution; neofeminists are uncomfortable with any sexual depiction or function of women, even tiny plastic women.  The oft-repeated rhetoric that Barbie “causes little girls to develop unrealistic expectations” (one wonders what caused those same unrealistic expectations in the millennia preceding 1959, but we’ll let that go for now) is  a cover for their real fear, that Barbie might help young girls to see themselves as sexual beings rather than androgynous eunuchs.

Nearly every new version of Barbie which comes out spawns another brouhaha, and this year is no exception:  back in October a limited-edition Barbie intended for adult collectors ignited a furor among the easily-upset  because she had pink hair and (hide the children, Prunella!) tattoos!  Moralists anxious to predict the downfall of Western civilization were not discouraged by the fact that this was not actually a child’s toy, and social-engineering-crazed feminists went the other way with inane statements like “I much prefer tattoos to unrealistic proportions and the message that the most important thing is to be pretty and get a boy. Good for you Mattel for making a doll a little more like the rest of us.”  Because, you know, it’s important that all toys be strictly realistic (after all, we wouldn’t want to promote imagination or anything), and certainly most of “us” have pink hair and huge tats on our upper torsos.  How about this for a novel idea:  why don’t adults STFU about kids’ toys unless they’re actually dangerous or something?  If you don’t want to get a toy for your kid, don’t.  It’s a doll, people; get over it.

But it isn’t just Barbie who inspires frighteningly obsessive behavior in deranged adults; one Swedish preschool micromanages the color and placement of toys, and a school in Toronto recently banned balls.  Meanwhile, the EU (you know, that organization which bankrolled “end demand” ads despite the fact that prostitution is legal in most of its member nations) ruled that children under eight must be supervised when blowing up balloons and declared blowout noisemakers “unsuitable” for kids under 14.  Obviously, a lot of this is just part of the modern obsession with “safety”, but that doesn’t explain the twisted need to employ toys as brainwashing tools intended to turn children into whatever adults want them to be rather than letting them develop as strong, self-reliant individuals through the magic of unstructured, self-directed play.

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