“These are things that generations from now, people will say, ‘What was that?'”
Chris Byrne, a toy consultant, may be holding the wrong end of the stick with this observation. He was talking about inductees to the National Toy Hall of Fame. Granted, the Atari 2600 (inducted 2007) may actually garner puzzled looks from this generation, but it’s hard to believe that even generations from now, folks won’t be able to recognize a doll (2002), a wagon (1999) or a bicycle (2000). You’re probably already guessing the National Toy Hall of Fame might not be the go-to place to get gift ideas for your hard to please kids or grandkids this Christmas—and you’d be right. It was established in 1998 to identify, “toys that have inspired creative play and enjoyed popularity over a sustained period.” Criteria for induction include icon-status, longevity, innovativeness and the ability to foster discovery. Inductees this year were bubbles, little green army men and the Rubik’s Cube. All notable toys, of course, but not likely high on the list of those children who’ve been prepped for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
And speaking of holding the wrong end of the stick, that noteworthy object was inducted in 2008 (right and wrong ends not specified). Hall of Fame curators tell us that the stick might be the world’s oldest toy and I can believe it. As far back as my childhood, kids were battling imaginary Nazis as they attempted to storm our playground. Longer sticks were used to fend off pirates, battle Dark Knights or slay dragons. And these were quality sticks, too, because they never ran out of ammunition or grew dull after a day of slashing and slaying. As much as I enjoyed playing with sticks, I never fully appreciated their value as a, “piece of cultural history.” Now, thanks to the National Toy Hall of Fame’s elevation of this humble kindling to icon-status, I find myself contemplating with keen interest the ancient origins of stick play. Is it possible that long ago little cave boys and girls pointed sticks at one another shouting, “Bang! Bang!” to the bewilderment of their Neanderthal parents? Who’s to say? But whether our sturdy ancestors considered this play naughty or nice, I’ll leave to the Hall of Fame curators to debate.
Sticks and Chris Byrne aside, it defies credulity that generations from now people won’t recognize a cardboard box (2005). After all, if folks didn’t know what a box was, how could they think outside of one? You can bet management consultants will keep “the box” alive as long as there are managements to consult. And that’s a good thing, because like the stick, the box is probably one of the best toys ever. Considering the pedigree of the stick, the modern cardboard box is a relative newcomer having only been developed in 1879. Yet in the years since, legions of kids have been casting aside expensive toys to play with the boxes. Many parents (myself included) have considered putting nothing other than gaily wrapped empty boxes under the Christmas tree but cooler heads in the household generally veto such proposals. Besides kids operate on a general assumption that the quality of the box for play is directly proportional to the dollar value of the discarded toy it contained.
It’s a bitter irony that the best toys are the cheapest but you can’t seriously gift them. Don’t try to make sense of it. And don’t be discouraged when despite your best efforts you find your kids playing with the boxes and menacing their siblings with sticks on Christmas day. —Ebert