Bobamento

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In the summer of 1979, there was much to be excited about for me. Van Halen II still had singles in heavy circulation, Alien  and Star Trek were in movie theaters, and Trivial Pursuit was a brand-new source of intra-family strife on board game night. Hell, it snowed in the Sahara for thirty minutes that year; anything, it seemed, could and would happen. It was in that spirit of unbounded excitement and possibility that I ripped open a padded mailer from the Kenner corporation to reveal an action figure I knew absolutely nothing about.

Boba Fett was a giveaway in the summer of ’79. Collect enough proofs of purchase, and he was yours, but with a catch: Kenner told you next to nothing about Boba, because they didn’t want to give the plot of Empire away. Still, he was yours to do with as you saw fit between June of 1979 and May of 1980, when Empire came out, and we found out who the hell he was. But for those glorious eleven months, I had the time of my life with Boba, who was one day a rogue with a heart of gold, assisting the Rebellion in its takedown of the mighty Empire, and the next a soulless blackguard who would sell his grandmother’s ashes for beer money. Boba had no story, and, conveniently, no memory from day to day of who he was or what he did the day prior; he might as well have been Guy Pierce in Memento. Boba changed allegiances and personalities at a pace that would have made Loki ill, and I often paired him up with another group of masterless ronin, the Micronauts, a translucent army of action figures imported wholesale by Mego without so much as a thought for backstory or explanation. The Micronauts had only titles and suggestive coloration; Baron Karza was, likely, bad, just as Force Commander was probably good, but who knew? Even the Star Wars figures I had to play with in 1979 were near-ciphers themselves, since we had little concept of what a Jedi Knight even was, let alone the enigmatic Clone Wars. Without an ethnography of the Jawas, or a robust explanation of who Jabba the Hutt might be, I just forged ahead devil-may-care and made up my own stories for all of them.

Flash forward to November of 2013, and the Collective’s Christmas lists are decidedly hesitant. E wants a compound bow, but beyond that, she’s pretty much left things in my capable hands. A, similarly, has designs on a few items, but they’re not just more than broad strokes, and A might be the most toy-detached of them all. The reality is that they grow less interested in traditional toys with each passing year, and I can’t honestly say that I blame them. Toys come with baked-in universes anymore: everything has either an online tie-in, or a supporting TV show, or another culturally circumscribed environment that’s belted so tightly that there’s not much to do but to act out what’s already happened on one screen or another. Where’s the fun?

If Kenner existed today, there would be no possibility whatsoever of a ten-year-old opening an action figure that had no rigorously developed backstory, online product push, television tie-in, and, probably, soft drink promotion at 7-11 tied into it. Everything, it seems, has converged on the concept of play guided by consumerism.  Even Legos, the most historically stalwart of open-ended playthings, has succumbed to this. Everything in Legoland is now a set, and builds a defined entity (or, if you’re lucky, three), but that’s it, and God help you if you toss it into the Lego bin intact for repeated rummaging to begin abrading that completed vehicle into its component blocks.

In 1979, I built an entire army of X-wings out of Legos, and every single one was a ragtag assemblage of rainbow-colored blocks, as if the Rebel Alliance had hired the Teletubbies as its fighter repair mechanics. When one broke, I fixed it. I came across an X-wing that A and I built for his birthday in 2012 in the Lego bin the other day. It was substantially still together, but missing some key chunks. I asked A why he didn’t play with it anymore, and he shrugged and said it had gotten to be too hard to fix. It was, too; it was too close to perfection for intensity to tackle, whereas my godawful rainbow X-wings were usually just a brick or two away from being pressed back into service against the Empire. But creating X-wings from bricks I already own has no value to the Lego corporation, and the more kids are told, stepwise, what to do, the more dependent on Lego ‘set logic’ they become.

The reality is, that was we face off against another holiday hijacked by the consumerist economy we live in, we’re increasingly confronted with what one blogger called ‘junk toys’ -mindless, scripted-recreation plastic that does nothing to let our kids expand their creative horizons and everything to line the pockets of corporations.  It’s strange, that as we’ve begun to purport to value creativity more in our society, we’ve actually provided our kids with toys that encourage less creativity: just follow along with the script, no thought process allowed. It’s for that reason that they’ve come to count on me – in the form of a Christmas who-kn0ws-what-you-might-get construct called the Randometer – to find cool stuff for them. I can’t disclose what this year’s Randometer might bring, since they read this blog, too – but I’m confident that what they find under the tree on Christmas morning is going to encourage out-of-the-box thinking.

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