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Posts tagged ‘toys’

Strawberry Shortcake in the Big Apple City

In the “Strawberry Shortcake in the Big Apple City” episode (part 2, part 3), Strawberry Shortcake travels to New York to compete in a baking contest with her nemesis, the Peculiar Purple Pie Man.  He sets many obstacles for her so that she can not make it to the competition or beat him. Luckily, Strawberry Shortcake meets a gang of friends along the way that help her overcome these setbacks, making her trip end on a happy note when she beats the Purple Pie Man in the competition!

This episode does go along with many of Cross’ arguments because the towns and buildings are that of a fantasy world, often made out of common desserts. Snail mail in this world is literally delivered by a snail, and airplanes are simply butterflies. This is a world in which the sun talks and when bad things are thrown in Strawberry’s way, such as the Purple Man catching her airplane (or butterfly) with a butterfly net, happy thoughts can save the day. Many things such as this, obvious signs of “moral tags” (296), are evident in the episode. These moral tags were meant to justify the PLC’s and make them seem better for children. Other examples include quotes such as “Never say never” and “Be good losers. Victory lies in the struggle, not in the prize.” The various friends made by Strawberry in the episode affirm the idea that “friendship” toys for girls were being made instead of home-making or mothering toys.

While many of Cross’ points and arguments were shown through the Strawberry Shortcake episode, there were also a few references to the real world. The Big Apple in the title refers to New York City and the bake-off is held in Times Square. One of the friends Strawberry makes is even from London. Some things from the real world stay the same, such as video cameras and tv’s. The Strawberry Shortcake world is not entirely fantasy. One part of the episode that somewhat defies one of Cross’ arguments is the lack of gender roles in toys. A friend made in “Spinach” (aka Greenwich) Village, Lemon Meringue, is a model and is constantly primping and saying how pretty she is. However, this is the only clear gender role shown in the episode.

Overall, the episode seems to reflect many of Gary Cross’ arguments and doesn’t necessarily negate many of them. While I definitely thought it had no educational value, due to the moral tags, it could be said to have some kind of merit. However, I believe that this PLC, although not necessarily all PLC’s, was mainly for the purpose of consumerism. Viewing this one episode, I agree with Gary Cross, although after viewing more of this show, or perhaps some other PLC’s, it’s possible I could change my mind. I sincerely hope all PLC’s were not as horrible as this episode of a girl named Strawberry Shortcake.

Technology in Today’s Toys

According to the article “Go Directly, Digitally to Jail? Classic Toys Learn New Clicks” (Stephanie Clifford, the New York Times, Feb. 25, 2012), retailers in the toy industry are beginning to modernize classic toys by integrating technology into them. Despite the fact that Barbie, Monopoly, and Hot Wheels have sold millions throughout past generations, retailers feel the need to modernize these classic toys. Monopoly can be played on a digital tablet that can count the money, taking away the pain of all the simple math. An iPad screen can now be used to watch Hot Wheels blaze across the track, as if imagination wasn’t enough. And Barbie? Oh, she just has as a camera embedded in her stomach, which allows children to take pictures and even transport the storage files (with the help of parents.)  The cause of these technological advancements is said to be a result of a disappointing 2011 for retailers, including Hasbro and Mattel, as children are wanting more tech-savvy toys, such as the LeapPad LeapFrog Explorer. John Alteio, director of toys and games for Amazon, says the reason kids want modernized toys is because they want to play with toys similar to the gadgets they see their parents using. While many toy retailers are beginning to modernize their toys, some critics think that the trend will soon fade away due to the high price of the toys compared to the toys that are cheaper because of the technology they do not possess.

This ties into our reading of Bradbury’s “The Veldt” focusing on technology taking over children. This is because children are beginning to lose their imagination as technology becomes more and more prominent in their lives. They are upset if they cannot have their tech-savvy toys, such as when the parents take away the technology from the kids in the short story. In order to steer our young generation in the right direction, retailers need to decrease the amount of technology in toys or, like in the story, a bad ending may be inevitable.

Video Girl Barbie

Baking is for Girls

Easy-Bake Oven in the 90's from Website Children of the 90's

One of my most prized possessions throughout my childhood was my Easy-Bake Oven. I loved to spend all my time baking things and pretending I was a real chef. Easy-Bake Ovens were first came out in 1963 and are now manufactured by Hasbro. They first used a lightbulb to cook the products and now use an actual heating element to bake. The Easy-Bake Oven is created for girls to mix and bake cookies and cakes to decorate and eat. It is a small version of a real oven and is safe and easy to use for kids. There have been many different versions throughout the decades that it has been around and is still sold today. When you bought the oven it came with a few mixes and the result would be a very small cake, cookie, or brownie that you would eat. The price for an Easy-Bake Oven now can be anywhere from $40-15. In 2007 Hasbro had to recall over 900,000 Easy-Bake Ovens because kids could get their fingers caught and potentially burn their hands.

As a kid I never realized the implications this toy had for gender roles. It was a baking kit made for girls. Looking at this now it is funny to see how stereotypical this product is for women and their domestic role. In class we discussed the different ways toys and television shows can effect children and the Easy-Bake Oven is a good example of how girls might think it is their job to be the domestic one in the family. They later came out with a boy version in the early 2000’s but it focused on making gross looking food like mud cakes. This toy is promoting a clear separation of what girls and boys roles should be as kids. When I used this toy almost every weekend in the first grade I didn’t realize that it could have lasting impacts on my model of what a woman should do. Considering that I still love to bake now it could have had an impact on my life, but I don’t think it had any serious affects relating to my role as a woman.

 

Is Reality Enough?

The Brutality of Virtual Reality

In an article from the New York Times titled, “Go Directly, Digitally to Jail? Classic Toys Learn New Clicks” the topic of how children’s toys are becoming more integrated with technology is discussed. Specifically, children no longer are simply just playing with their physical toys but are now interacting toys with mobile devices.  For Monopoly there are now iPhone apps available that count everyones money (I guess it stops people from stealing from the bank!). In Barbie, there is a lens in her back and the captured camera image appears on the front of Barbie’s T-shirt. The topic that most caught my attention though, was an app for Apple products that shows “live video of the environment overlaid with graphics”. An example of this would be a child pretending to shoot his TV and the TV blows up on the Apple product display screen. Could this new app possibly be a step towards virtual reality becoming the preferred reality for the younger generation as in Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt”? In “The Veldt”, there is a nursery room in which “Whatever you thought would appear” (pg. 164). I interpreted this to be symbolic for the increasing stake children have in the consumer landscape (preteen children bought $30 billion worth of goods in 2002. pg. 176) and companies producing products rapidly to satisfy there wants. If children start to prefer virtual reality, then virtual reality will be produced. The parents in “The Veldt” become scared when the virtual environment has become “a little to real” (pg. 162), and I sense that actual parents will too, become scared. I would not blame them either because as human-beings we have a socially internal need to be, not only with each other but, with nature. Bradbury refers to this bond as “living” (pg. 169). I cannot further articulate what the social bond with other living things is so I will borrow an excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Nature”, “In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part and parcel of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintences, master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.” 

However, hypothetically, if virtual reality does advance so much that it is impossible to decipher it from actual reality, who decides this is a bad thing? Who decides that the feeling of reality is not as good as reality itself?

Video of “Bad Robot Interactive App” that lets you stream ”live video of the environment overlaid with graphics”. From http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjra0Fw_Anw

Furbies

In 1998, the widely known childhood toy, Furby, was launched to the public. Furby was a furry hamster like robotic creature that could talk and turn its head and bat its eyelashed. Furbies had two languages built into them, furbish and english, and were said to speak less furbish and more english as they grow. Tiger electronics began selling these furry robots for $35 and as they became more popular around the holidays, some parents were paying up to $300 per toy.  At first they were a cute, fun, toy for children until they started getting labeled, “creepy,” and were becoming banned across America. As this toy grew in popularity, some could argue that it became a moral panic.

At the peak of the Furby’s popularity, rumors started spreading and putting a negative light on Furby.  Because it gradually learned english, adults were worried that the toy actually repeated words said around it. Some parents swore that their children were able to teach furby curse words for it to repeat back to them. Americans were saying that this toy is an “immediate and real danger.” The National Security Agency thought that when people would take the toys home, they would repeat secret information that they had heard. Some bloggers even said that Furbies were a “chinese spy targeted at the youth of America.” With negative headlines labeling these toys as dangerous and creepy, they were quickly removed from homes across America.

At this time, some Americans believed that Furby was a threat to social values, while others argued that it was an innocent toy. Parents argued that children were taking an interest in learning new curse words to teach to their toy and Americans were worried that their private information was being stored in Furby. While these rumors were eventually proven as false, there was a period of time that Furbies caused a moral panic throughout America.

Kitchen Playsets

"My Very Own Kitchen" by American Plastic Toy, $32.99, Amazon.com

When I was younger, I, like most of my friends and family, had a miniature kitchen playset. I had plastic bowls, utensils, pots, and even plastic food. I loved to make multi-course meals that I would force my brother to “eat.” I logged so many hours over the stove that eventually, many of the knobs, doors, and handles fell off, leaving me with a long laundry list of household repairs, much like my parents encountered in real life.

While modern kitchen sets have not always been around, I’m sure kids have been playing with their parents’ pots and pans since the invention of the pan, until someone finally thought to create miniature sets for play. A variety of companies make them and they come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. My brother even had a mini grill, complete with sound effects. They’re affordable, in the range of $50 to $200, and they come with all kinds of fun, fake accessories.

I think that one of the main appeals for these mini kitchens is what Cross talks about when he explains the necessity of mimicry (43). Mimicry is a form of learning and is something most kids do in order to associate themselves with the adult world. Mimicry is fun, although I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that the things kids imitate are usually not as fun as they are when you’re pretending. I hate cooking and doing the dishes, which are two of the very things I used to do with my kitchen set.

In class, we talked about toys for boys and girls, and I think that kitchen sets can be very gender neutral, which is another reason for their popularity. Yes, some are clearly meant for girls (the bright pink ones) and others for boys (the grill my brother had looked “manly” in red and black colors), but many of the sets on Amazon have gender neutral colors and show boys playing with them in the pictures. My brother always played with mine when we were little. Maybe this gender neutrality is recent due to shifting gender roles, or maybe not, but either way, I think that kitchen playsets can be for boys or girls. I don’t think that there is any stigma about boys pretending to cook, especially since many men cook now.

However, I can’t say that other types of toys are always gender neutral. I remember the year I stopped getting the same toy as all my male cousins. It was sad to see them all shooting each other with their nerf guns while I stared at my stupid charm bracelet wondering how I could steal my brother’s gun without my parents noticing. However, life goes on.

Kitchen playsets are a fun way for kids to imitate their parents and enjoy their childhood. If only doing the real action were half as fun as pretending.

 

The Return of the Superhero

With the upcoming 2012 Toy Fair looming in New York City today, children, adults, and toy fanatics alike are anxiously awaiting the release of the year’s newest playthings.  People from all over will flock to New York to have a special look into the newest special action figures, games, and other child playthings making their debut this year. Playthings from the ever-popular Mattel, LEGO, Hasbro and Diamond Select toy-makers will be previewed in at the annual event.  Previews have suggested the return of everyone’s favorite comic book superheroes, most notably Batman and Superman.

Mr. Potato Head as Superman for the 60th Anniversary of Mr. Potato Head products

Superman, a favorite superhero and “Champion of the Oppressed” during the Depression Era (Hajdu 30), returns in new form, this time coming to stores as a Mr. Potato Head. Batman will also be returning in Potato Head form, in the first time DC Comics will be represented as the iconic plaything. Toy-makers are going beyond the Potato Head toy to bring the ever-popular Batman into this year’s newest toys. Mattel and LEGO are joining in on the revived DC Comic superhero fanatics and bringing the comic heroes even more into the spotlight. LEGO is bringing in new sets of the favorite superheros from the DC Comics, formerly known by National Periodicals, of the previous century with Batman, the Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America. (Hadju 31)  Mattel is staying to true to the popular trends of the current century by building and continuing their line of Batman action figures and toy sets.

The 2012 Toy Fair brings toys from all facets of current popular culture  in the New York debut, but continues to hold onto to the favorites created during the early comic era, appealing to children and adults alike.