Friday, July 07, 2017

Toys They Aren't

Lately, I have found myself perusing the toy section at the local Walmart. Since I have no children and all of my nephews and my niece are beyond the toy age, the only reason I am there is for myself.

This started with the Wonder Woman film, which thrilled me and acted as a balm across my weary, battered soul. I am tired of seeing women in roles on TV that leave them helpless, silly, or less-than any human with a penis. It also brought back a lot of fond memories of reading comic books and playing with little action figures. It also reminded me of the 1990s, when I could watch Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Captain Kathryn Janeway on the Starship Voyager kick butt and take names. Those strong fantasy female role models slipped away after 9/11. (There is a good research paper in there for a college-level class.)

This new interest in toys began as I slid past the toy section as I always had, with barely a glance. Then, to my surprise, a display of Wonder Woman dolls stopped me in my tracks. These were the size of Barbie dolls, larger than I like. I always preferred the 6-8" action figures when I was growing up. I was never big on baby dolls (too sissy) but instead I liked GI Joe, the Johnny West series, and the first small action figure I remember, Action Jackson. These were followed by superhero figures, though I think I had outgrown many of those by the time they came around. My brother, I remember, had a pile of the original Star Wars figures.

Back to the toy department. I looked at the dolls. I wanted one. I am 54 years old, I thought to myself. You don't need a doll. Instead of buying the doll, I wandered the aisles. I ran across a series of Metal DieCast DC figures for $4.97. I bought a Wonder Woman and a Supergirl. (I also love the Supergirl TV show.) Ok, I thought. That's $10 for two things. Good enough.

My odd little metal superheroines,
with a spoon for size comparison.


After I saw the movie a second time (something I seldom do - I can't recall the last movie I saw twice at the theater), my husband and I slipped into Walmart to pick up some deodorant. Despite the fact that the toy section was all the way on the other side of the largest Walmart in the area, I limped over there. I stood in front of the Wonder Woman section.

My husband told me to buy the damned doll. I declined.

"You've looked at them three times that I know of," he said. "Which one do you like?"

I wanted one with the sword but all they had was one with the golden lasso, so I pointed at that one. He picked it up, put it in the cart, paid for it, and we came home with it.

My Barbie-sized Wonder Woman doll.

Today I was in Walmart and I looked at the toys even though I was short of time. I ran across a line of tiny little metal toys. They were 94 cents. Not even a dollar! The Wonder Woman looked cool. I tossed her in my shopping cart.

My very tiny Wonder Woman metal collectible.

But this is not really about my purchasing Wonder Woman items, though that is what has led me to this point. This is about the toys I see on the shelves. I am beyond shocked at the merchandising tie-ins with movies. The stock rotates with every new film. Wonder Woman, Spider Man, Beauty and the Beast. It rotates through once and then again with the films hit the DVDs. The toys are also weird looking. A lot of them have these huge heads and tiny little bodies. Many of them are Lego figures, which have no hands and are square and pixilated and incredibly creepy looking. They must also be quite popular.

The smaller action figures are in the boys' section. Larger action figures, the Barbie-sized ones, are in the girl's section. I do not know why. In the action figures, the manufacturers offer wrestling guys, lots of Marvel Comics characters, Superman, Batman, and a few female superheroes, like the Black Widow. No small Wonder Woman, though. I remember when Stars Wars: The Force Awakens came out, there was a little kerfuffle about the lack of a Daisy Ridley character. This was especially surprising since she was essentially the lead in the film.

I found toys that were remarkably familiar - puzzles, a Slinky, PlayDoh, and games like Sorry! Life! and Monopoly. I saw bubble-blowing goo and bicycles. But most of the items being sold to children these days are simply commercial tie-ins, things to make money for movie stars and the movie studies, including Disney, Pixar, and the like.

I saw too that toys are still divided by gender. Without even thinking about it, I knew which aisle was for girls and which for boys (incidentally, in every store, there are more toys for boys. I don't know what that means but it means something.). The Barbies were on one aisle; the trucks on another.

A part of me wanted to redo the entire department, and mix it all up. Who says girls can't play with dump trucks, or boys with Barbies? How did the smaller action figures become relegated to the boys' section? Are girls supposed to only be happy with Bobble Headed Wonder Woman?

I think a visit to Toys R Us is in my future, if only to get a better sense of what the children are playing with these days. I don't understand the weird looking figures, the crazy Lego items, the completely unrealistic nature of some of the things I saw. I like fantasy, but I also like for it to make sense. A weird-looking little doll with a massive head makes no sense.

My Wonder Woman items, and Supergirl, will go up on the top shelf with my Xena action figure and my Charlie's Angel doll (the Drew Barrymore version). I will consider the collectibles.

I missed a lot of trends by not having children. Perhaps had I spent more time in the toy section, some of the things I see there today would not surprise me. But I always bought books for my niece and nephews. I did not buy them toys. I left that to their parents.

The merchandising tie-ins with movies troubles me. Childhood should not be so commercial. It should be a time of freedom, a time to see a movie and enjoy it. I don't recall ever seeing a movie as a child and then clamoring for the toy that tied in with it. However, now that I think about it, I know I received a watch that had Alice on it, for the Disney Alice in Wonderland movie.

I remember receiving a Batgirl doll that tied in with the old Batman show featuring Adam West. Gumbi, I think, was a cartoon character. Obviously by the time Star Wars hit this merchandizing tie-in was well in place, but I was a teenager by then and into books, music, and boys, not dolls.

As part of our capitalistic culture, it never occurred to me to question the merchandizing of everything. But I think it is past time that I did so.

Something about this whole affair troubles me. I can't quite put my finger on why it bothers me so, except that it is terribly exploitive. Expect to see me revisit this issue again.


Yes, I loved the movie. Yes, I will own
the DVD. I will watch it many times.
I will memorize the dialogue.
I am weird.

3 comments:

  1. I do enjoy the smaller toy figures and have a few on the top of my roll top desk right now. Enjoy life and buy the doll!!!!!!!!

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  2. Of course you should buy the doll. I also agree that children are being used to drive a big mega market that stretches all the way from Disney to God knows where. Ours never watched commercial TV, except in the evening when the children's advertising was mostly over, and, thus, they had no collections.
    And you should be able to have fun doing what you want with life. It is yours. Being weird is half the fun! ;o)

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  3. yes, the toy section is rather boring and strange...we were just in the walmart one last week looking for a stuffed animal for dalton to give to his girlfriend...it was difficult to find just one normal stuffed animal! i think it is so sweet your husband forced you to buy the doll...made me laugh :)

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