People are always talking about how this slacker generation doesn’t have the imagination of previous generations. Looking back I have to agree, although I can’t say for certain whether that’s a good or bad thing. I think they’re just different and I didn’t really feel that way until I took a good look back at what has passed for childhood entertainment and realized that there have to be some differences in the end product because the kids are growing up in a completely different world when it comes to the demands placed upon, or not put upon, their budding imaginations.
I think more than enough stories have been written about how technology has dulled the younger consumers of video games and such, although just because something has been written to death doesn’t usually stop me from throwing another opinion into the mix because people just assume that I’m just as bright as the last author they read on the topic and I get some secondhand credibility, but in this case I will instead throw my gaze upon what had kids passing the time in decades past.
The action figure.
I’m telling you, there was no greater toy in the world than the action figure when I was growing up. I must have had a dozen boxes of them. Every super hero, every Star Wars character and most of the various good guys and bad guys that appeared on the Saturday morning cartoon shows. On any given morning I could march down into the basement and come up with some amazing conflict that typically started with a little pushing and shoving between Aquaman and Boba Fett and quickly escalated into an all-out brawl between dozens of unrelated figures. I’ll just stop here briefly and mention that if you don’t immediately know who Boba Fett is you’ll do well to stop reading now and head for the fucking hills. It only gets nerdier from here.
Here’s where the imagination comes into play. I’m not talking about coming up with a credible reason for Marvel and DC characters to inhabit the same universe, I’m talking about overcoming a myriad of logical obstacles to making such encounters plausible. Once you get past the first hurdle of meshing Batman and Space Ghost realities the far bigger issue is the various sizes of the figures. While all of the Star Trek figures were the same size, their scale in comparison to the Thundercats was downright puny. And speaking of puny, for some reason my Incredible Hulk was the smallest figure I owned so despite the fact that he was the strongest one he usually had to use that strength in punching his much larger foes in the junk. I can’t tell you the number of times an overconfident He-Man took one right square in the nuggets mid-boast.
Video games today are so straight ahead in their presentation. The child sits there absorbed, moving through whatever obstacles are presented, but out-of-the-box thinking is rarely involved in attaining whatever result they are seeking. While perhaps superior in the fact that these games can sometimes be somewhat social- if they play online with headset- compared to a lone dork crouched in his basement alone for hours, that about wraps up any advantages these games have over action figures when it comes to developing imaginations.
Where else could Rambo, GI Joe, Hulk Hogan, Shaggy and Iron Man face off but in the smoothly-running mind of a child? Obviously having arms that bend is a huge advantage and went a long way in explaining why Hulk Hogan had few allies (the short shorts and yellow feather boa didn’t help) and even fewer wins when it came time to throw down … despite his chiseled physique. It was due to these exaggerated examples of the human body that led to the very short stay of Wonder Woman among my toys. I think she only lasted about three gang bangs before her arms and legs were torn off in the excitement. I tried my best to have her just fight alongside the other guys but it always ended up that her top was torn off by Godzilla and before she knew what hit her everyone, including the adorable Ewoks, were having a turn.
How this helps my case of action figures being a better vehicle to develop the imaginations of children I’m not sure, but I wrote it down before I could think it through and I have a strict policy of not going back and removing things that make me look like an idiot, so there you are.
The largest of my toys were the Johnny West figures. I had him, General Custer and Geronimo and they towered above all the other figures in my warped little universe. To this day I’m surprised that the Old West doesn’t play a more significant role in my life given that these characters were not only huge but had bendable elbows and knees and weapons that were so large they never got lost. They even had horses.
A fact which was not lost on Wonder Woman.