When I visited the Bethnal Green  Museum of Childhood, it gave me much new food for contemplation about both contemporary and earlier toys, their development over decades, and new tendencies in the ideology behind the  mass-production of toys in the second part of  the 20th Century.

 

The earlier Victorian toys were exclusively made, had evident quality, and special beauty.  It seems they were more for admiration than for playing with.  They lacked that addictive quality evident in contemporary toys, that seductiveness that is the very driving force of consumer society.  Not that all mass-produced toys possess such compulsive properties: the image of the hero figure - the first  Superman emerged in 1938, and then his 'cousin' the first Supergirl appeared in 1959) - began as simple, even naive figures.

 

The toys began to be 'self-consciously' fashionable from the 1970s.  Toys that were made after the extremely popular, and commercially successful, "Star Wars" movie took on that element of 'branding,' of belonging to a cultic following.  

 

This is the aspect that I find the most fascinating: when and where the stereotype transforms into an untouchable icon and how an image comes to be rendered into a specific consumer product.   For example, the Cindy doll has been changed over the five decades.  She was a smart girl in 1950s, with the proportions of a normal girl with brown hair.  Since then she has been given more and more shiny blondeness  and acquired deep blue eyes.  Cindy's body has been getting progressively smaller,  whilst the legs get longer,  the skin becomes ever more tanned and cosmopolitan, as opposed to the original plain white skin-tone. Nor are these trends restricted to the female figures, the male characters have also undergone a corresponding transformation.    

 

These facts, as presented by this museum, reinforce my supposition that contemporary toys now occupy the place and, to some degree, function,  previously assigned to domestic gods, and thus have become the new icons.  The toys have appropriated some of the glamorous features of celebrities, who are themselves contemporary demi-gods in flesh.  The toys are now able to reflect those alluring and addictive properties - as we find in the demi-gods that we follow so compulsively, our  celebrities - so that they are themselves contemporary gods in plastic. 

1/8

© Anastasia Russa 2020