The Toy Revolution: A Decline of Imagination in the American Empire

The Toy Revolution: A Decline of Imagination in the American Empire


Kenneth Kuykendall

As a child, I remember that if you gave me a card board box to play in, I was happy as a “jay-lark” in spring.  I would ride down hills on my big Tonka 18 wheeler trucks like they were roller-coasters, give me some old lawn mower wheels, and a soap-box racer (or a sorry excuse for one) soon would roll off my own “make-shift” assembly line.  Old boards, some rusty nails, and some old rope or cable, man I had the makings of a brand new tree-house!  I could jump more hot-wheels with my bicycle than Evil Knievel could jump buses, and who cares if the narrow ramp (usually a board leaning against a cinder-block) would sometimes slip off the block causing devastating crashes for me.  I still have the scars on my knees to remember those death-defying stunts of my wonder years.

But as I grew older, I noticed my brother collecting all these expensive plastic He-man dolls, GI-Joes, and Transformers.  We were still living in a world of imagination and fun, but it seemed to take more and more money and plastic toys to get there.  Of course, at the time I didn’t know better, but ATARI made it all clear.  I loved Defender, Space Invaders, Combat, and Centipede!  But with the advent of video games, and all the games and accessories you had to buy to keep playing, fun and playing in a “world of imagination” (now inside the TV screen) was becoming an expensive endeavor.  Plus, looking back now, I have to ask myself, was this computer generated world of imagination really inspiring me, my brother, or other children to really still even use our imaginations and sense of wonder?  We played in those imaginary worlds, but under very set patterns, and with specific levels and themes.  Then again, Nintendo did have awesome Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong games!  And if you could get to level 8 you were a “true gamer!”

However, sometime after candy cigarettes went out of fashion, and ring pops lust their luster, I realized things were getting out of hand in the toy department.  The whole world seemed tangled up like a runaway slinky, and I just felt like my life was becoming a rubix-cube I couldn’t solve.  Barbie and Ken were still around, but Barbie was becoming so independent, and Ken’s role now seemed nothing more than that of holding Barbie’s purse.  Of course, he could still get a ride in the passenger’s seat of Barbie’s big red sports car, but rest assured, he was definitely no longer in the driver’s seat (if he ever had been).  The Care bears helped me to regain some perspective on things, but then the Telli-tubbies came around by the time I was in college, and confusion once again reigned supreme.  Ironically though, considering the types of imaginative trouble I was getting into at that time, their happy giggles just seemed “right up my alley.”

It is clear however, that all this stuff, all these plastic symbols of love, cheapened that love somehow, because they all served as stand-ins for the real thing.  Baby-sat by the TV, pre-occupied by the computer, but what happened to my boyhood imagination?  What happened to kids being entertained with something as simple as a card-board box?  I can’t help but wonder, as I sit her typing this story on my expensive plastic covered lab-top, what did happen to our imagination, is it still out there somewhere waiting discovery yet again?  Am I tapping into it now?  I hope so, because I miss my childhood fun in the sun with nothing more to entertain my brother and I than our imaginations and the surrounding countryside.


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