I feel like my last few posts have gone a bit much down the nationalism/anti-nationalism path so I thought for a bit of light relief I'd recount the stories of three toys/children's playthings that have caught my attention recently.
The first of these is a toy that Bogi owns which is one of those plastic boards with holes in in which you can make pictures with different coloured pegs. I presume those things have a name, but I don't know what it is. Anyway this one is Chinese and the box is covered in various pieces of "information" in English, which is obviously somewhat offbeat. Nothing particularly new there, obviously, but one of the important selling points of this particular item is that it "Grows in interest and creativity the sex". (I wanted to take a photo of it but my camera is crap at that kind of close-up work). Now, Bogi is 8. I don't want her to grow in interest and creativity the sex. Well, I hope she does one day, but not for a good few years yet. What is this slogan saying about us as a people? I don't know, you can buy vibrating cock rings in my local Merkur supermarket these days too (true). What next? [After, a great deal of pondering I have come to the conclusion that the original phrase thus butchered probably meant something more along the lines of "This is a good toy for both girls and boys"]
The second is one which I haven't seen in the flesh (or in the synthetic polymer, I guess), but it is advertised quite often on one of the cartoon channels that we have. This is "wethead". Basically it is a plastic helmet with lots of rods sticking out of it. You fill it with water, put it on, and then spin it around. You (or your friends) then remove one of the rods, which may or may not cause you to be drenched with water. It is, with very few modifications, a way of teaching children about the joys of Russian Roulette. Is there a teenage version where you "just" break an arm if you are unlucky, or does one have to go straight from wethead to The Deerhunter?
The third is not exactly a toy, but a book. This is the very small children's version of that popular Disney classic "The Little Mermaid" (yes, I know). Anyway, this book, finely crafted from the finest thick cardboard to thwart attempts to destroy it by illiterate toddlers or exasperated parents, is not very long so I will recount the story in its entirety to you here.
Ariel is a mermaid. She has many friends in the sea. (picture of mermaid, crab (I think), fish, and seagull) Flounder is Ariel's best friend (picture of cartoon fish). Sebastian loves music (crab, or feasibly lobster). Scuttle likes to joke around (seagull holding fork, for unknown reason). Ariel chooses to live on land with Prince Eric. (kiss)
Wow. What a brutal ending. Very brave of the authors to go with the "no plot" approach. Obviously there is some in depth character development, but suddenly we reach the traumatic denouement of what passes for the story. What brought on this abrupt lifestyle change? What of her so-called friends, so cruelly abandoned? We will never know. One is left with a sense of alienation, of tragedy, and of the desperation of the migrant experience. In the end, the reader is asked all the right questions relating to the very contemporary theme of assimilation and what it means for identity. In the end we realise that the author's minimalist approach to plot and storytelling is a device intended to ensure that we are not distracted by extraneous information. He or she has taken Hans Christan Anderson's timeless classic and re-imagined it for the 21st century. The crux of the matter is presented in sharp detail, and the reader is invited to make up his or her own mind. I don't know if it was in the shortlist for the Booker Prize in whatever year it was published, but it really ought to have won.