Skip to main content

When Toys Were For Playing With

 I am about to share an opinion that I believe may be highly unpopular. I feel that the 80's are highly over-mythologized, romanticized, even fetishized. Let's face it, music was better in the 70's, movies were better in the 90's, and television was better in the 2010's. One area where the 80's did excel however, was toys. My family didn't have much money, so I didn't have an overabundance of toys, but they still managed to factor into a few memories.

The first toys I remember really being crazy about were these sets with a cardboard background that would be printed to look like New York or Metropolis, and they had these vinyl cutout figures that you could stick on it. I would spend hours just creating little scenes. I would make an entire story around the one action scene I had created. I loved toys that allowed you to be creative. I remember I wanted a Lite Brite so badly for years. For Christmas when I was 9 I finally got one. I made so many pictures and patterns with that thing. 

Before the Lite Brite I got my first action figures, although they were about the size of a Barbie so they might more accurately be called dolls. These particular dolls were Bo and Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard. I even go a General Lee that was big enough for them to fit inside. At that time there were two cars in pop culture that were the ultimate in cool, Kitt from Knight Rider and the General Lee. (As a kid in the south no one was talking about the negative connotations of the Confederate flag, so it never occurred to me that it was a problem for it to be on top of the car featured in a major network show.) I always wanted and never got a toy of Kitt, but I had the big plastic General Lee that my Bo and Luke dolls could ride inside, and the smaller Hot Wheels version.

Which of course brings me to Hot Wheels. I loved my Hot Wheels. I used to race them. I would smash them together and do a demolition derby. They were very cheap, so this was the toy I had the most of. I remember I had one orange race car that was my favorite. I lost it at one point and I was super bummed out. I told my mom about it and she suggested I pray that God help me find it. Soon after the car reappeared in my toy box. I was ecstatic that my prayer had been answered. Then a few days later I found it under the couch. Only it was also still in my toy box. I expressed my confusion to my mom about how I now had two of the same car, and her response was that God works in mysterious ways. Of course I realize now that she had replaced the car, not expecting me to find the original again.

There were four big toylines when I was a kid that were kind of the holy grails of toys. The first was He-Man. I had a few figures, and even had a Wind Raider and Battle Cat, other than my General Lee the only vehicles I ever got for my toys. The best thing about He-Man were the little comic books that came with them. They showed you the character of the figure you just got. I also remember being super excited to get the figures that had the battle damage armor. The front piece would spin to show increasing damage. It was great, because now the battles had real, viewable consequences. 

Some battles had consequences even without "battle damage". When I would go to one friend's house we would play G.I. Joes. I had a few, and he had a shit ton, including vehicles. We would stage enormous battles with them and play out all the scenes. At the end of each skirmish we would dig tiny little graves and bury every figure who succumbed to his wounds in battle. He had so many figures and was always getting more, he didn't notice the loss of a few each week. I only had a few, and getting one was a big occasion. So unbeknownst to him, I would sneak out to the field of battle occasionally and dig my figures back up, and pick up a few of his while I was at it. That's how I managed to grow my G.I. Joe army. I'm willing to bet there are a few little plastic soldiers still buries out there to this day though.

Of course Star Wars was maybe the biggest toy line. I had a few figures that I'd love to get my hands on now, as they have skyrocketed in value. I had a Luke Skywalker from the first run, and a Darth Vader with the telescoping lightsaber. I actually got 3 of those, because for some reason his head kept popping off. My parents felt sorry for me, so they replaced him when it happened. He had the vinyl cape with the holes you had to put his arms through, so it was really more of a vest than a cape. I had the Leia bounty hunter and a couple of Gamorrean guards from Return of the Jedi. I had one Ewok. My friend had a Death Star play set. The trash compacter monster was green and looked like the Loch Ness monster. The trash compacter itself was filled with water and pieces of foam. He also had a ton of Ewoks. His mom built an Ewok village for him that was really cool.

The best toy line, in my opinion, was inarguably The Transformers. I first became aware of them when I bought a book at the book fair at school. There were only a few characters in the book, Cybertron wasn't mentioned, and Optimus Prime had a mouth. There was r race that the Autobots were taking part in, and the only part I really remember is Rumble making an earthquake to disrupt the race. Then the cartoon came out, and I was hooked. I wanted Transformers like a fish wants water. I begged to get them for my birthday and for Christmas. One time my dad got a bonus and decided to take me to K-Mart to get a Transformer. We got to the store and I was vibrating with excitement. Then we were told that they were out of Transformers, but they had plenty of GoBots. So I ended up going home with Cykill. I did get a few Transformers later on, but never any of the really cool ones I wanted. I got a Bumblebee, and later on the redesigned Goldbug. I had Wheelie. My cousin had Skyfire, and he didn't like Tansformers so he let me have it. 

When I turned 13 I decided I was too grown up for toys, so I gave them to my little nephew, along with my comic books. It's a decision I grew to regret and have ever since. Of course all of the toys were lost or destroyed within a few weeks. Now I can't but think about how a few of those toys could have paid for college for my kids. As an adult I did start to collect some toys again. When they started releasing Star Wars toys in the late 90's I bought a lot. By then I had a job and my own money, so I was able to collect away. Then I had kids and they got old enough to play with them. So I opened the packages and let my kids play with all of them, including my X-Wing, Millenium Falcon and Naboo starfighter. My fellow collector friends were horrified, but remembering how much fun they had, I am certain I made the right choice.


Popular posts from this blog

Movies That Really Changed My Life

I have talked about a couple of early movies that changed my life, like  Star Wars  and  The Rocky Horror Picture Show , but I didn't go into detail about how they did so. Star Wars, of course, changed everyone's lives. It was one of those things that made us rethink how we could tell stories and how movies could be made. It nerdified an entire generation and can be said to have led to the culture we have now, dominated by comic book movies and video games. The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened my mind up to different ways of life and expressing sexuality while also promoting messages of positivity and courage in life. (This may not be what people think of when they see that movie, but it's in there. Don't dream it, be it.)  Another movie that really hit me was Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe's not-quite-biographical movie about a kid working as a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine in the early 70's. The Tiny Dancer scene made me think of times when music had helpe

How Pop Culture Made Me Kinky

Fetishes seem much more prevalent these days than they were in the past. Of course moralists will say it is because our society is rotting in decadence. Others will say it is because we are more open and free to express ourselves. Maybe both are true to an extent. But I believe that pop culture has played a part in whatever the reasons are. I believe I can personally trace some of my fetishes back to pop culture, specifically t.v. and movies.  I think everyone knows that there was a bondage element built into Wonder Woman by the creator William Moulton Marston. Well, my very first crush was on Lynda Carter, the actress who played Wonder Woman in the 70's t.v. show. I was too young to watch in first run, but I saw reruns, and it was true love. It may have been in part die to her charm and her wholesomeness, but it also had no little part due to her almost spilling out the top of her red white and blue bustier. Batgirl on the Adam West Batman show had a similar if less strong effect

Devil Music

I grew up in the Bible belt. Furthermore I grew up in the Bible belt during the time known as the "Satanic Panic" during the late 80's and early 90's. In fact, if you are familiar with the West Memphis Three, I am around the same age as them and could drive there in in a day. I had parents who sent me to a Christian school for the first 6 years of my education. So you can imagine the consternation when I started playing  Dungeons and Dragons  and listening to  heavy metal .  I had a friend who gave me Motley Crue's Shout At The Devil album on vinyl. The tape just had a picture of the four members of the band in their faux Road Warrior outfits, and probably wouldn't have caused that much of a fuss. But the record was a gatefold cover, with the front being a black on black pentagram. My mom saw that and had a conniption fit. She took the record and the song titles God Bless the Children of the Beast and Bastard convinced her that this record was not only satanic