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Posts tagged ‘toys’

Fight Like a Girl!

When I was younger my house was always chaos, mostly because I had six other siblings. Of the five girls in my family (fours sisters, two brothers, plus me equals seven), I was always labeled the tom boy and playing rough came with the title. Because of my love for rowdy play and wrestling, I remember receiving one of my favorite Christmas gifts of all time, the Sock’em Boppers!

Sock’em Boppers were inflatable boxing gloves that children would blow up and place over their fist then proceed to punch each other. They were very popular among kids of the 90’s but were produced in the 70’s. They resurged in the late  90’s with a slightly different name, “Socker Boppers.” They can still be purchased at any major toy store and can even be bought on for around thirteen dollars.

Despite the unavoidable fight that came with every purchase of this toy, the commercial ads depicted Sock’em Boppers as nonviolent play and even used the slogan “more fun than a pillow fight.” Honestly, I can remember on numerous occasions being “socked “in the faced with in one of these and it was not always pretty. Of course this toy was supposed to be played in the presence of adult supervision who could advise the “not in the face” rule but let’s get real; when two kids are alone playing with these oversized fists of fury it can get pretty brutal.

So who was it that said television, games are what make/made children wiolent?

Lynn Spigel, author of “Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs” argued that “so long as the young are protected from certain types of knowledge” they will stay an “innocent and pure” youth (146).  By “certain types of knowledge,” Spigel meant television. But while television may have been the source of commercialization of toys such as Sock’em boppers, the act of playing with this toy was the form of violence that altered the “innocence of youth”. This leads me to another reading that blamed the rotting of children on Television and technology, Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt.” Bradbury’s story also creates the technology in George Bradley’s house as the antagonist. The conclusion of the story outlines the children’s vicious act in forcing their playroom to eat their parents.

In the end, I am simply arguing that while television, video games, and other technology may have some violent affect on the nature of children; let’s not forget that playing outside with a pair of Sock’em Boppers can force children to think and act just as violent. Rowdiness and aggression is many times an inherent nature of some children, and ultimately as a child, how they release that inherent nature of rowdiness lies in their own hands, with slight parental supervision of course.

Here’s is a commercial ad from 1997 of the Sock’em Boppers.

Just a quick side note, I find it funny that there is not one single girl in this commercial.

Care Bears Birthday

I watched an episode of the 1985 Care Bears season. When the opening song came on, I immediately saw signs of Cross’ argument that the Program Length Commericals created a separate world for children not related to the realistic one that they would grow up in. During the opening song, one Care Bear sings “I don’t want to be a cook or a fireman, I don’t want to play trombone in the marching band, I just want to be a Care Bear like you!”. This shows that the children were being told not to have ideas of growing up to be something realistic, like a fireman, but instead being told to wish to “be a Care Bear”. During the episode however, the Care Bears visit a real boy who is upset that his parents are neglecting him and not throwing him a birthday party because his baby sister is being born. He’s resentful and angry at his parents. His friend tries to convince him to make a mess of his house to “get back at his parents, and although he’s a little hesitant, he still does do it some. The episode is all about the Care Bears trying to teach the boys a lesson of caring and understanding. The Care Bear’s attempt does reference the real world, as it tries to teach its viewers a moral of the story lesson. In the end, like all happily ever afters, the two boys learn to “care” because of their lesson, and they are happy about seeing the little baby sister. The birthday boy says he understands why his parents couldn’t throw him a party, and he still loves his new little sister. This episode does contradict Cross’ argument, as the Care Bears are trying to actually teach kids a lesson, as opposed to giving a thirty minute, unrealistic commercial of their toy.


I watched the pilot for the original Transformers animated series, which premiered in September 1984. The name of the pilot was More Than Meets The Eye. In the episode we are transported “many millions of years” before the present (1984) to a planet called Cybertron. This is a technologically advanced planet populated by shafeshifting machines. The planet is being ravaged by a civil war being fought between two sides- the Autobots and the Decepticons. The Decepticons are said to be greedy, evil machines bent on total domination; the Autobots, on the other hand, seek only to stop the Decepticons and return peace to their beloved planet. The energy sources on Cybertron are depleted, so both sides leave the planet in search of alternative sources with which they can fuel their ongoing battle. They end up crash landing into a volcano on Earth, where they lay in wait for four million years until the Volcano erupts, somehow switching their power switches back on. The Decepticons regroup decide to mine Earth for all its energy supply, then return to Cybertron to create a weapon capable of dominating the universe. The Autobots take it upon themselves to stop the Decepticons, and protect life on Earth at all cost. With this, the stage is set for the rest of the series.

The Transformers animated series is basically the embodiment of Gary Cross’s argument that

The old view that children should learn from the past and prepare for the future is inevitably subverted in a consumer culture where memory and hope get lost in the blur of perpetual change. (course packet page 290)

The world which the Transformers inhabit, Cybertron, could be the pictorial representation of the word fantasy in the dictionary. It is a distant planet, tucked into some obscure corner of the universe. The beginning scene of the animated series’ pilot involves a period of “space travel” as an introduction- no doubt meant to communicate to children the remoteness of this faraway land- isolating them from their worldly surroundings while simultaneously engaging their focus with measured buildup. As we meet the Transformers, they are amazing marvels of engineering. Otherworldly aliens that, oddly enough, when shifted resemble vehicles we normally encounter here on Earth. The sight of a car speaking in the first scene, then later empathizing with his fallen comrade quickly remove all semblance of familiarity. These are not vehicles like we have on Earth- these are much cooler. As we shift scenes from battling on Cybertron to intergalactic space travel and later to mid space battle, the characters somehow end up on Earth. The scenes on Earth are deliberately staged in areas where humans would not inhabit: the desert, open ocean, a volcano. Even when humans appear in the series, they are tiny, thoughtless, impulsive beings. Their role on the show is much like a mouse or a dog would be portrayed on a present day sitcom- our function is to be weak, frightened lifeforms dependent upon the autobots for our salvation. There is no tie in towards learning from the past. Absolutely no mention of how children should prepare for the future (unless calling down forty foot robot guardians from space counts as a plan- pretty sure Newt Gingrich would approve). There are no lessons taught, to be quite honest. Even though the show takes place in our world, it strives to maintain its “other-worldliness” by reducing mankind and its achievements to a mere side-show- “ants” that the glorious Transformers may step on at their will. The show is about one thing and one thing alone- promoting the Transformers toys. The real world has no relevance here…

Sanrio: Friendship Characters

Ah, Sanrio. The company behind Hello Kitty and all those other Japanese kawaii characters. Everyone knows who Hello Kitty is, however I may have had a slightly different experience with Sanrio characters because I spent every summer of my childhood in Hawaii. Hawaii has a very large Japanese population, and Sanrio is a very Japanese phenomenon which became wildly popular among children in America, but especially children in Hawaii. I, like all other children in Hawaii, owned numerous items covered with images of these characters. I remember loving my Keroppi lunch container and taking it to school with me every day, using my Hello Kitty chopsticks and plastic-ware often at dinner, wearing my Pochacco shirt to summer camp, writing in my Little Twin Stars notebook, and drinking out of my Chococat mug. Every drugstore in Hawaii has an entire aisle devoted to Sanrio characters. I remember whenever I would go with my mom to the store, I would spend the entire time walking down the Sanrio aisle and begging my mom to buy me a toy or some new item with a Sanrio character printed on it. There was an entire Sanrio store in every mall and I would visit it with every mall excursion. Even when I got older, I still looked upon the Sanrio characters with a smile because they reminded me of summer and my childhood.

Sanrio products similar to ones I owned in the 90's

According to Sanrio’s website, the company “was founded in 1960’s Japan by Shintaro Tsuji, whose simple dream of bringing smiles to people’s faces, grew into the brand’s ‘small gift, big smile’ philosophy”. An online company history of Sanrio states that the company launched the Hello Kitty character in 1974, originally aimed toward girls too young for barbies or similar toys. This spread beyond the intended age group partially because it tapped into the Japanese ‘kawaii’ trend, the obsession with cuteness. They sell anything from tiny toys, erasers, and candies to big things like suitcases, golf clubs and TVs, all with an image of a character and the brand-name pasted on each item. In 1976 the company set up a base in San Jose CA as a result of growing popularity in the U.S. and set up licensing agreements which brought Sanrio characters into toys included in McDonalds children’s meals. In 1988 Sanrio came out with its first boy character, Keroppi the frog, whose success caused the creation of new gender-neutral characters to bring boys into the market. In the early 90’s, two theme parks were built to keep up with the craze: Puroland and Harmonyland. Sanrio also created TV shows in the 90’s based on Hello Kitty and friends.

I never knew the friendship stories behind the characters, and I never watched the TV shows that accompanied them, but I still loved the characters anyhow. Sanrio characters play into the idea of the PLC, or “program-length commercial” mentioned in the Spinning Out of Control (Gary Cross) reading. Cross says, “These programs were ‘originally conceived as a vehicle from providing product exposure to the child audience’” (295). by providing an extensive story and extra characters around the Hello Kitty trend, the TV series surrounding Sanrio characters served just to market more toys and items with the brand to children. Cross also talks about the problem this causes for parents: “PLCs stacked the deck against parents by manipulating young children into wanting a particular toy while ostensibly entertaining them” (296). The Sanrio characters also show the idea of how toymakers “also shaped little girls’ play around licensed characters and fairytale story lines” (299).  In these characters and storylines, most of the time characters “worked together for the common good and did so in a world largely free of adult authority” (300). The Sanrio characters seem to follow the trend of Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Herself the Elf, and other ‘friendship’ characters of this kind of formula.

The Game of Life

Image from

The beloved board game has a longer history than you might think! Originally, the concept for “The Checkered Game of Life” was developed by the successful lithographer Milton Bradley, who was famous for his portraits of President Lincoln. In 1860 however, when Mr. President decided to grow a beard, Bradley’s clean-shaven representation was not longer favored by the American public. Looking for a new way to support himself, Bradley inadvertently developed the first of many in his successful board game business. He sold 45,000 copies of “The Checkered Game of Life” in one year. Although no price was listed for the initial cost of the game, it currently sells for around $20.

It was in 1960 that the current version of the game was developed by Reuben Klamer, as a celebration product for the 100th anniversary of the Milton Bradley Company. In 1984, the game became part of the world’s largest toy company Hasboro, when the Bradley company became a division in the company’s empire. In 1992, the board game received further modifications with the addition of “Life Tiles”-a type of chance card available upon landing on certain spaces on the board, rewarding players for things such as recycling, learning CPR, or saying “no” to drugs. According to the game description on the Hasboro website, in The Game of Life, “Take that path and see how many kids you’ll have! Will you venture down the risky road where fortunes can be won… and lost? Do whatever it takes to retire in style with the most wealth at the end of the game.”

This description provided by the manufacturer, depicts the goals of the game as being those that many associate with white middle-class families. Although the game supports Gary Cross’ view that toys should prepare the child for real life situations, the game of life seems to focus on a narrow category of the child population. With pink pegs and blue pegs, the player initially must identify themselves as an organized form of gender separation and continues to be rewarded throughout the game for marriage, children, and other “desired” qualities of the American Dream. It is clear that this board game helps in exposing children to situations they could expect, however as many toy products and popular culture through out history, those situations simulate only white middle-class.

Giga Pets

In the Gary Cross reading he begins saying that, “By the 1980’s play was divorced from the constraints of parents and the real worlds …The dolls and playsets that encouraged girls to act out their mothers’ roles were replaced by Barbie’s fantasies of personal consumptions.” (290) However, my favorite toy from childhood combined elements of fantasy and “playing mom,” I’m referring to the pop culture phenomenon of the 1990’s, the “Giga Pet.”

Giga Pets were launched by Tiger Electronics in 1997, and were the “it” gift that holiday season.  Luckily, they were rather affordable at just $9.99 and kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds could afford them. You would care for virtual pet on a knuckle-sized screen that was connected to a keychain. You were responsible for feeding your pet, making sure it slept, and playing with it.  If you could not fulfill these responsibilities then your pet died.

I often wondered if my mom was as obsessed with me as I was with my Giga Pet dog.  I remembered I was almost eight years old when I received my first one, and the following day I went to the zoo. I didn’t notice a single animal though, neither did my two cousins, sister, or the two neighbors we went with as we all were looking down at our virtual pet key chains the entire time. Finally at lunchtime my dad and my uncle confiscated our “toys” as they were annoyed they had paid for us to come to the zoo to play with fake pets when live animals surrounded us.  I felt like someone had kidnapped my child and I should call the police.  What if my dog died while in my dad’s pocket for the next few hours?! When we got back to the car my dad handed back our pets, and they were all safe and sleeping. A week later I lost my Giga Pet and was on the next thing.  So, Gary Cross while toys might change, one thing doesn’t, kids will always lose their toys.

Giga Pets Commercial by TheDlisted

Red Rocket

Gary Cross’ article, “Spinning out of Control,” states that “the old view that children should learn from the past and prepare for the future is inevitably subverted in a consumer culture where memory and hope get lost in the blur of perpetual change.” I would agree for the most part, that most children’s television shows are pointless and mindless entertainment. However some shows were able to capture young audiences as well as teach them valuable lessons.  G.I. Joe is a good example of a perfect balance between fantasy and (somewhat) reality.  The episode that I watched was entitled “Red Rocket’s Glare,” which was about Cobra Command trying to blow up the world (surprise, surprise ).  Cobra Command was able to buy out a lot of small locally owned businesses across the country and turn them into a series of fast food restaurants called, Red Rockets.  The Joe’s first discovered that something was a midst when they took a short leave of absence to visit one of their teammate’s Aunt’s newly owned Red Rocket restaurant.   There they discovered that a biker gang (with ray guns) was hired by Cobra Command to harass these restaurants so they could lose money and have to sell their business to evil conglomerate Extensive Enterprise, which (surprise, surprise ) is owned by Cobra.  The Joe’s are able to fend off the bikers but in turn trigger Cobra’s attack on the world by launching all of the rockets on top of the restaurants which turned out to be actual rockets and not just props (surprise, surprise ). But in the end, the Joe’s prevailed again through teamwork, intelligence, and some really good resources.