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Points of Articulation

yo go re
Days of Future Pastimes

As the rest of the toy world salivates lasciviously at the prospect of Toy Fair '04, we here at OAFE celebrate Old Toys Month. It's foolish to compete with all the news sources that are looking forward, so we take the opportunity to look back. You might think, then, that we're really into the whole retro flavor of toys right now.

To be honest, there's nothing further from the truth.

A recent program on the History Channel took a look at the evolution of toys through the ages, from Egyptian action figures (even the Mesopotamians had better articulation than McFarlane) to the embossed tin soldiers enjoyed in France (G.I. Jeaux?) to the mass merchandising tie-ins of today. It was truly an entertaining and educational look at the history of our hobby.

for the next generation
of nostalgia

Beanie Babies
Bucky O'Hare
Magic the Gathering
Mortal Kombat
Retro-styled Power Rangers ✓
Sega Saturn
Tickle-Me Elmo
Captain Planet
Disney afternoons
Eek the Cat
Full House
Gargoyles ✓
OJ Simpson
"Be like Mike"
MC Hammer
Crystal Pepsi
Laser pointers
"Magic Eye" pictures
Eventually the program took a look at adult collectors. Their interest was mainly chalked up to nostalgia: grown-ups trying to recapture their childhood by hunting down the toys they had as wee lads and lasses. The program talked with an elderly woman who had once gathered up and sold off all her son's Matchbox cars; she was interviewed at a toy show, rifling through the displays in an effort to replace the toys she'd gotten rid of so long ago.

That really made me think; like most collectors, I have a story about my mom throwing out something I would rather have held onto. But unlike that woman's Matchbox collecting son, I don't really have any interest in finding those figures again. Yeah, I remember exactly what they were, and yeah, I remember being pretty upset at the time. But you know what? We've got better toys today than we did back then.

Poe likes He-Man because he had lots of He-Man figures as a kid. I like He-Man because the Four Horsemen did such a cool job of updating those cheeseball characters into something better. The GI Joe relaunch isn't good because it's GI Joe, but because Hasbro took the time to make nice figures. Transformers are better, with the toys looking much more like the cartoon designs than their G1 counterparts ever did. Even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are improved.

Nostalgia may be the driving force behind all these lines' resurgence, but that doesn't mean that the toys from your youth are better. Compared to what we get now, the toys we had as kids were pure, unadulterated crap.

Nostalgia is a relatively new phenomenon; as the saying goes, you can't miss something until it goes away, and until modern times (and the rapid sense of change brought with them), one day was pretty much like the next. Traditional agricultural societies are crazy that way.

In fact, the term "nostalgia" originally referred to a deeply pathological case of homesickness - it was something to be avoided. Nostalgia as we know it only started to be labeled as such after World War I, but a longing for the past (and perceived "simpler" times) came about in the early 19th century, just after the industrial revolution began in England. There were fads for chivalry and Romantic literature as second-generation city folk grew disenchanted with their urban lives. They had lost their connection to the land, they felt, and began to sentimentalize nature, childhood and the past.

And thus began the 20-year nostalgic cycle we know today, as recent college graduates who find themselves with more disposable income yet less free time think back to the things that delighted them during their formative years two decades before. As Poe said:

In the '70s people watched Happy Days and American Graffiti and had a general nostalgia for the '50s; in the '80s the yuppies fondly absorbed aspects of '60s popular culture to relieve some of their profound boredom; and in the '90s we were gifted with Boogie Nights, That '70s Show and whatnot.

And so the '80s become ascendant, bringing their toy licenses back with them. So, you know, "hooray for nostalgia" and all that, but still; the toys of yesterday can't compare to the bounty that awaits today's collector.

I don't miss the toys of my youth. They were bland, immobile and haphazard. Give me McFarlane Toys over Kenner any day. Galoob doesn't stand a chance against Art Asylum. Poring over the pages of the Sears Holiday Wishbook may have been fun back in the day, but now we've got the internet. It's a lot nicer. Mainly because the Sears catalogue only had pictures of bras, not what was in 'em.

So yes, we OAFEs are celebrating Old Toy Month and, logically, old toys. Now, I can't speak for everyone else, but me, I dig the new old toys. In ten years when there's a big push for Sega Dreamcast shirts, Animaniacs DVDs and retro re-released Beanie Babies, I'll probably still dig the new versions. Change is good, and progress is better.

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