Recently, I became indoctrinated into the world of 21st century "toys" when I made a visit to the local big box toy store in search of a gift for my granddaughter's first birthday. Of course, my goal was to find a nice simple wooden airplane toy, hopefully painted with non-toxic paint, without any lead whatsoever, and possibly Made in America.
You see, the last time I looked at toys, I was about eight years old, and Tonka trucks ruled the day. O.K., Hot Wheels were pretty groovy too, and I'm guessing both of these product lines were made somewhere in the Heartland of this country by hard-working Union men and women who earned decent wages and had very nice health care and retirement plans.
Oh how times have changed:
As I walked along the endless aisles of the Big Box toy store, I quickly became aware of two things. (1) There were very few airplanes to be found, and (2) each and every "toy" was not a "toy" at all, but some sort of branded promotional item for a movie, TV show, boy band, or any number of hot fads fabricated out of some marketing department to sell stuff to brainwashed little people. Yes, there was "baby's first" everything, most of it made by a large company a guy named Walt founded way back when his "Land" was known for a Matterhorn ride instead of 1,001 "toys" branded with their logo.
One of the things that was a possibility on my list was a spaceship/airplane ride-on toy made by a venerable company from my past, Radio Flyer. Of course, the item looked great online, but was not available in stores. In fact, what was also missing in action was a good old fashioned Radio Flyer red wagon. That is blasphemy in Toyland. While I could not find a little red wagon, I could find some of the tackiest crap this side of a swap meet:
There was the two-foot-tall remote control dinosaur, which reared up on its hind legs and roared so loud, a child might actually injure him/herself as they escaped sure death in the jaws of this Chinese beast with glow-in-the-dark eyeballs. Gee, I wonder what fun materials were used to get that dramatic effect. Hope it wasn't spent nuclear waste painted neon green. Then there was everything Barbie, all boxed in hot pink packaging and all wearing very little doll clothing. I am not a prude, but is a crop top, hot pants, Go-Go boots and big boobs the look you want your little girl to strive for? Then there was the Fairy Princess lounge pillow, with gold lame' ribbing and a sorry excuse for a decal on the back showing three unidentified princess-type ladies...one of them might have been Snow White, not sure, no Dwarfs would be caught dead anywhere near this "toy" trainwreck.
We left Big Box Toy World very disgusted with the current crop of what the toy industry calls "toys". On every shelf down every aisle we saw promotional items being shoved down Junior's throat in the name of fun. I am not kidding when I say that over in one corner of the large store was one tiny shelf with "Wooden Toys", about 20 items, none of them with wings.
My step-son and daughter-in-law are adamant about never bringing their daughter any sort of Hannah Montana paraphernalia, or anything that sells our granddaughter a brand. No, they want her to be brought up in a world where she makes her own decisions about things without having to like Thomas the Tank Engine just because everything she owns has his face on it. Now that I have delved into the dark underbelly of today's "toy" industry, I fully see their point and if I somehow fathered a toddler today, I too would do everything in my power to make sure they are not brainwashed to HAVE to own everything Wally World sells with a princess on it.
The takeaway from this lesson is this: There are a great deal of very cool toymakers in this country that build high quality wooden toys, including this company that makes completely awesome wooden airplane toys in Wisconsin. And when you really think about it, doesn't it just make sense that really sweet airplane toys are made just a couple hours southeast of Oshkosh?
Makes sense to me. Sounds like I will have to place an order with these guys soon.