American Consequences - December 2017

and friendly and innocent – come with microscopic, sharp-edged add-ons that are certain either to disappear or worse, reappear unexpectedly, within a week of purchase. Just try keeping track of the pair of earrings miniaturized to fit the pierced lobes of your American Girl, the finger rings, too, and the little bracelet you assemble yourself. Today’s parents must learn the lesson that my wife and I learned 20 years ago, and that my mother and father never needed to learn 30 years before that. A house can become a minefield. Little items bring big pain. And most likely the children, observing carefully, will learn a colorful new word. No parent of a young child can walk shoeless to the bathroom or across the floor of the den without facing danger: If the splinter-sized saber of a pirate of the Caribbean doesn’t dig deep into your heel, the tiny plastic stiletto slipper from Cinderella’s miniature shoe closet will puncture your instep. And if you step on the old prospector’s mule cart ... you don’t want to think about it. Little items bring big pain. And most likely the children, observing carefully, will learn a colorful new word. From what I can tell, there were at least two ideas behind the Toy Big Bang – one high- minded, the other commercial. The first was the notion of constant entertainment. The range of playthings had to be so vast as to eliminate the possibility of

son fell victim to Star Wars , the Death Star and Millennium Falcon came with scores of movable, extractable, easily losable parts, each no bigger than a toddler’s toenail. The most notable contribution to the expansion came, of course, from Legos. For years Legos had been a collection of relatively identical building blocks that could be assembled this way or that, according to each kid’s fancy. Without warning in the 1990s, the company shifted its product lines to elaborate renderings of detailed fantasy scenes: a princess’s castle, an Indian encampment, a Gold Rush town, Cape Canaveral, and many more. Each scene was peopled by a dozen or more figures. These were called minifigures, appropriately enough, because each was an inch high. Each minifigure, in turn, required multiple accouterments even mini-er than the figure – crowns, feathered headdresses, pickaxes, fuel lines, ammo belts. And the physical environment in which the minifigures disported with their miniaccoutrements required many more detachable parts as well (trees, shrubs, weathered stone, wooden shacks with tiny swinging doors distressed with age). The verisimilitude was dazzling. So was the detailing, if a parent could see it. Lots of the new Lego parts featured details so small as to be barely visible to the naked adult eye. The trend toward toy disaggregation has only accelerated since then. Even traditional-styled toys, such as the American Girl line of large dolls – appearing, at first glance, so humble

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