It is official: The holidays have arrived.
I noticed it first when the incessant Christmas music invaded mall
PA systems back in early October. Then, it became pretty obvious
when Christmas ornaments appeared stocked on shelves next to the
Halloween masks and fake blood. But, the real holiday spirit takes
over right around Thanksgiving when I, along with the rest of the
nation, realize jolly, old Santa Claus is about to swoop down from
the North Pole with no gifts in tow, and we flock to the
stores.

Janna Hutz

But this year, upon entering each new store, I was surprised to
see just how much the holiday shopping experience has changed.
Instead of the overwhelming presence of Harry Potter memorabilia
and cheap Japanimation toys (the latest being Yu-Gee-Oh) crowding
the aisle ways, I was confronted with what appeared to be hordes of
characters from my early childhood. It’s not as if I
hadn’t seen this phenomenon before my frantic expedition, but
somehow, the sight of these ’80s treasures seemed more
reprehensible on this trip.

First, a small wave of He-Man action heroes trickled into the
male-dominated aisles alongside the classic X-Men figurines and
Transformers of my youth. Next, novelty T-shirts brandished with
Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears dotted mall windows. Yet, these
occasional sightings were nothing compared to the utter
infiltration that had taken place a few weeks ago.

In addition to regular toys, good old Strawberry lends her face
to wrapping paper, toothpaste tubes, lunchboxes and pillowcases
throughout the store. Look for My Little Pony on all the latest
school supplies, and check out the plethora of Care Bears plastered
on everything from sweatshirts (both big and small) to steering
wheel covers.

While these old-timey friends are most prominent in the toy
department, marketers have discovered a way to corner their real
targets: The first generation of loyal fans, the parents. Cell
phone covers and floor mats don’t exactly seem like a
child’s dream present on Christmas morning.

After an episode of “I Love the ’80s” aired
featuring the lovable Glo-Worm, I had suddenly noticed the little
bug wriggling its way back into the baby aisle of my local Target.
As charismatic as VH1’s strange hit may be, it’s hardly
geared toward that young of an audience.

It’s not that these plush creatures were educational or
otherwise beneficial in their original forms either. Most were
produced as a joint affair with some cheesy television show; and
both had been used to rake in some serious dough for corporate
America. Yet, they still had some semblance of uniqueness the first
time around. Now, it’s fairly obvious these memories are
being used as money-makers, and their presence in the hands of tiny
family members seems just a little sleazier.

At least the cartoons were not intended as subtle advertising
jargon; their entire purpose had been to sell toys. But, this new
tirade has tackled a marketing technique largely untapped in prior
years and appears to be highly lucrative for those at the top. They
are now speaking to the new age parents’ heightened sense of
nostalgia.

Rather than spending thousands of dollars developing original
toy ideas or producing expensive children’s shows in order to
cut down on advertising, toymakers now realize that parents’
own idyllic dreams can prove to be a far more cost-effective form
of marketing. The thought of little Timmy or Susie cuddling the
very same toy you once cherished is certainly a sweet notion. Think
of all the wonderful moments that might ensue as the kids fondly
listen to old stories of Mom and Dad’s favorite childhood
pastimes.

Unfortunately, kids don’t really care about that stuff.
The joy that we once shared with such toys is not a source of
amusement for the younger generations. What we once had was sub-par
in comparison to today’s standards. Where were the lights,
the loud noises and the animatronic movements?

I also succumbed to the urge to purchase a personal favorite for
one of these young whipper-snappers. A few months ago, I proudly
planted a Transformer action figure into the hands of my eager
little nephew, who, for a brief moment, had thought I was the
coolest aunt in the world. Pleased with my success, I launched into
stories of yore when I too had enjoyed playing Transformers and My
Little Ponies just like the ones in the toy box now.

My tales were met with the quick response, “But these are
new. These are better.”

I didn’t feel like I’d shared some newfound magical
connection with him through this toy. I didn’t feel like he
had felt a newly discovered interest in my past. Really, I just
felt old.

So, as I walked by the packed end caps and loaded toy stands on
my shopping venture, I had to shake my head a little and remind
myself this resurgence of my old favorites is merely another
marketing ploy.

And, as I watch my fellow consumers, only a few years older than
I am now, filling their carts with the latest Strawberry Shortcake
accessory, I say: Forget it, kids. My childhood is not for
sale.

— Niamh obviously has nothing better to do than
critique little kid toys. Distract her with e-mails at
“mailto:nikaslev@umich.edu”>nikaslev@umich.edu.

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