Do Toys Promote the Status Quo?

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In a little Parisian toy shop, of which the city has almost 800, there are toys so beautiful that it takes my breath away. Wow. I am transfixed by the elegance of the designs – more art than toy, almost. It suggests that children play differently in France, and thus grow up generally to be more gentle and refined, perhaps?

Toy_storeThese beautiful French toys are to be played with gently, treasured by parents, and perhaps by the children, as well? Certainly they are meant to be passed down to succeeding generations. Even the displays in the toy shops are elegant, artistic even.

How do toys differ from country to country, I would like to know. How do they differ from culture to culture, and how do these toys promulgate cultural mores and distinctions? How does toy culture differ from Germany to France to Italy? How do these countries' cultures differ, if that may be dispassionately ascertained? How do different cultures influence the toys enjoyed within them, and how do those resulting toys influence and sustain the respective cultures, reciprocally?

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We here in the US have specialty toy stores that differ considerably from mass-market toy venues, and we may fairly generalize that more affluent consumers purchase disproportionately from these specialty stores. In fact, one could say that the more affluent the consumer, the greater percentage of toys that are purchased from such specialty toy stores, while many consumers from lower socio-economic brackets purchase the preponderance of their toys from mass market and second hand outlets.

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How do these toy choices affect the children of these higher and lower economic strata and affect and influence them as adults? Do the toys these children play with perpetuate the key differences that affect those children as adults in each demographic?

Do toys promote the status quo? I wonder.

3 thoughts

  1. Thank you both. I think the role of play, and toys, on culture is understudied, and little understood. Toys are part of a childs upbringing, and can be as powerful an influence as their caregivers and environment in which they are raised.

  2. Bruce, we couldn’t agree more that the values of parents and their culture are reflected by the toys they buy their children &, more importantly, that children’s values can be shaped by the toys they play with. To the extent that children from the most affluent homes have access to more cutting edge educational toys, the economic differences are probably perpetuated. (At our organization we have tried to counter this with donations to Head Start and other charities.) To the extent that, in America, most kids seem to play with certain mainstream traditional toys during their childhood, the American cultural values may be perpetuated.
    I have never visited a toy store in another country (aside from museum gift shops, where I did purchase some great educational toys). I will definately do some scouting next time I am abroad!
    I also thought you might be interested in a NY Times article called The Playroom of Modern Art (you can find it on the page below), which discusses the attempts of some of Hollywood’s high income earners to influence their chidlren’s artistic sensibilities:
    http://amazingwizkids.com/latestnewsandarticles.aspx

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