I've been having another one of those "end of civilization as we know it" moments lately. It started when my wife and I began Christmas shopping for our daughters and were overwhelmed by the seemingly unending universe of toys from which to choose (don't even get me started on how the Christmas season is now starting just after Halloween!). The moment of discomfort became more acute when I read a truly depressing article about toys in a recent issue of The New Yorker. As the writer, Patricia Marx, noted, "So many of them [toys] contain electronic components -- one expert puts the figure at fifty percent -- that playtime can be a matter of pushing a button and watching as the toy has all the fun."
The moment was exacerbated by several online lists of the worst toys for girls. The lists included Barbie Totally Stylin' Tattoos (nothing like sending healthy messages early and often), Pole Dancing Dolly (early career tracking?), Breastfeeding Baby (tagline: "Because you shouldn't have to wait until you have breasts before you start breastfeeding your baby"), Princess Maid (now that's an oxymoron) and Future Hooters Girl t-shirts (What?!?!). I could go on and on (and include worst toys for boys), but I'll leave you with just one more that will entertain your daughters and sons for, well, seconds at best, Playmobil [Airport] Security Checkpoint (insert joke here).
A brief tangent. I'm sorry to bring economic theory into this, but I can't help it. After seeing the truly appalling toys available to children this Christmas, can anyone seriously believe that the free-market economy still works? So, the foundation of the Friedman economy is that companies will produce goods when there is a demand for them, right? Well, I just can't imagine any child or even a mentally ill parent clamoring for any of the toys I just mentioned (or the thousands of other truly stupid toys that Santa might be bringing children this holiday season). And do the toy manufacturers really believe that parents would buy these toys for their daughters and sons? They must, otherwise they wouldn't make them, right? But I digress.
One of four things (at least that I can think of) is happening here. Either kids have devolved to such a degree in such a short time that they have lost the ability to play and entertain themselves? I know I sound like a fuddy-duddy (just using that phrase marks me as one!), but didn't children used to entertain themselves with things like sticks, boxes, stuffed animals (that just sat there), old clothes, and, well, nothing. Has childhood fallen so far? I just can't accept that.
Or are parents so pathetic that they are drawn to the inane, yet oh-so-seductive siren call of toy marketers who promise that their children will be so totally enamored and enrapt by this or that toy that parents will be magically transported to those dreamlike days before marriage and children when they actually had time to themselves? My opinion of American parents isn't always that high, but I can't even believe that is possible.
Or is it that parents have lost faith in their children? If I were a child, I would be insulted by these toys if my parents bought them for me: "Gosh, Mom and Dad, give me a little credit here. I may be young, but I'm not an idiot. I actually am capable of using my hands, my imagination, my friends and just junk laying around the house to entertain myself. I understand that you need a break sometimes to bathe, have an adult conversation or have a vodka martini. But, really, I don't need this junk. All I need is your love, attention and time."
Or I am totally clueless and the toy companies have produced these toys after focus groups have demonstrated them to be guaranteed bestsellers? If so, my "end of civilization" moment has become a reality.
I hope I don't come across as holier than thou here, but, as for my wife and me, no trips to Toy"R"Us, that's for sure. And what awaits our girls under the Christmas tree this year? No electronics, make-up kits for little girls, fashion accessories or anorexic or sexualized dolls. Santa will be bringing a new bike, puzzles, books, art supplies, and clothes. Our daughters probably won't be the envy of the neighborhood, but at least, hopefully, we're showing them the respect they deserve and helping them to preserve their childhoods just a little bit longer.
Oh, just so I don't end this holiday season on such a cynical and dreary note, I wish all of my readers, even the Scrooge-like ones who attack my every word, a wonderful holiday season (whatever your faith) and a new year filled with peace, joy and jobs...