Sunday, 23 October 2016

A Golden Age of Childhood

I'm sort of wandering whether I should be posting this in my travel blog considering that it is about a museum that I visited while I was in Singapore, or whether it is suitable for this blog, which tends to have a more thematic focus that generally doesn't involve traveling or visiting places. Okay, I did write a post about my trip to the Singapore Art Museum, but the thing with that post was that I was writing about the exhibition as opposed to the museum itself. However, if I put this into my travel blog then it is just another post that is going to be crammed amongst a huge number of other posts (and won't be published for a while, particularly since I am currently writing about the various places that I visited). So, while this will technically be a post about the museum, I will instead focus more on the toys than on the museum.

Actually, as I think about it, since the MINT Museum is a museum wholly dedicated to toys it is actually going to be pretty hard differentiating it from the museum since the museum is, well, all about toys. Anyway, this is actually the second time I've been here namely because this time I brought my brother to Singapore with me (even though we were on our way to Europe, the last time we went to Europe he insisted on looking around the city and the only time we were able to do that was when we were on our way back to Australia, and I was so exhausted that I spent the entire tour asleep). Since I had been here a year ago there were a few places that I thought he might like to see, one of them being this particular museum. Mind you, he didn't seem to be all that thrilled with the place, but as for me, well, I have to admit that I think the place is awesome.

As I mentioned it is a museum that is devoted to toys, but not just any old toys - well, okay, there are quite a few old toys in the collection, but the museum generally focuses on toys released between the fifties and the sixties, though there are some older, and newer, toys on display. The museum is divided into six levels, and I will explore these levels one by one, starting at the top and heading down (which is the way the curators suggest you do it). The thing that I noticed is that many of the toys come from the fifties and sixties, which is around the time the babyboomers were children. It is also interesting that the term teenager was coined around this time as well. The thing was that the baby boomer generation represented a huge potential, especially since there were so many of them. Almost from the time they were born the marketers targeted them in many ways - whether it be through toys as children, clothes and music as teenagers, travels and homes as young adults, and investments as they approach retirement, it seems that the baby boomer generation was the laboratory for a new wave of capitalism.

Space and Beyond

The top level was definitely the level that I really connected with because it was full of science fiction toys. In fact it would probably be considered to be the level that was mostly focused towards the boys, but then when I think about all the other levels that I visited it seemed as if a bulk of the toys in the museum were  targetted towards them as opposed to the girls. As I look back into the mists of my childhood I remember that the boy's toy boxes were usually full of cars, construction equipment, and guns, whereas the girls tended to have their dolls and the houses in which they lived. Actually, it is rather interesting the gender stereotypes that these toys tend to impose on us, but that is something that I will get to in a little while (and now that I think about it I'll probably refer back to it throughout this post). Instead, let us have a look at some of the generic toys on the level.

One of the things that I saw lots of in the museum were robots, though it is a shame that the photos didn't turn out all that well (it was quite dark inside, and as is the case with most museums you aren't allowed to use a flash). Anyway, in the display case that contained the miscellaneous collections there were, as I mentioned, lots and lots of robots, and each one of them was slightly different, which makes me wonder what the deal with the robot was. Well, like most (if not all) science-fiction toys, the robot is generally equated to the boys and I feel it appeals to certain parts of their nature. First of all, they tend to be quite powerful, which is why robots tend to be a favoured enemy in movies. Secondly, they are very technological, which tends to appeal to the side of boys who want to fiddle with things to see how they work. Thirdly, they are alien - one thing I have noticed is that boys tend to have a greater attachment to fantasy elements than the girls do - their toys tend to be more grounded in reality (well, maybe with the exception of My Little Pony, and the Little Mermaid).


These days when I think of lasers I can't help but think of Austin Powers and Doctor Evil, particularly since energy weapons seem to be called anything but lasers. However, as a kid, they were always lasers, and I was always fascinated when my Dad told me that he actually worked with them, though I was really disappointed when he also told me that you couldn't use them to blow anything up. These days I don't think many people connect lasers with energy weapons, or science fiction, particularly since they are pretty much a part of everyday life. However, as a kid they weren't, and there were also the plethora of toy lasers that you could buy.

My parents hated guns and if there was one type of toy that I wasn't allowed to get and that was a gun. Well, I do believe I may have had a western six shooter, but other than that guns, even toy guns, were not allowed in the house. However, lasers sort of were an exception namely because they aren't really guns in the traditional sense. I remember having that six-shooter and you could load it with caps and fire it and it would go bang - not as loud as a real gun, but bang nonetheless, and would also leave the smell of burnt gunpowder. However the toy lasers not only looked nothing like real guns, but they also made completely different noises. In a way, they moved away from the harsh reality of the gun to move into the fantasy world.

One thing that is almost a given for the science-fiction level of a toy museum are the good old Star Wars figures. In a way, robots, lasers, and spaceships aside, they are the quintessential toy of the genre. They aren't the only, nor where they the first, range of toys that were connected to a film or television series, but they are definitely the most well known, and most popular. I still remember when I got a handful for my eighth birthday and then got a few more in the years after that - I loved them and would spend hours playing with them. The funny thing was that my sister ended up with the Princess Leah figurine, namely because she was a girl and boys don't play with Princess Leah figures. The thing was that I only ever had two storm troopers, one in their standard uniform and one in the Hoth uniform, with was a little annoying because they are soldiers, and having just one sort of undermines the realism of it. Still, it wasn't as if I was wargaming - I was a kid so it was just having them run around on my toy cabinet in my room.

They are also collectable, but like the first edition Spiderman comic, the last thing that a kid is going to think is 'I better not open the shrink wrap because these will be worth bucketloads of money in the future'. No, on the contrary, kids will want to rip the packages open and play with them (and proceed to lose them) as soon as they end up in their hot little hands. Similarly, with the comics - we don't buy them to keep them stored in the event that in the future they are worth a lot of money - we buy them and read them, sometimes multiple times, until they are in such a bad condition that they are no longer readable. Mind you, if everybody kept their Spiderman comics (or their Star Wars figures) in the shrinkwarp then they probably wouldn't be all that rare, and as such not worth as much as they are now.

As I mentioned, Star Wars certainly wasn't the first (though I suspect the Doctor Who merchandise came after the success of the Star Wars franchise) because films, especially kid's films and TV shows, were being merchandised throughout the fifties and the sixties. For instance, there were a number of toys relating to Buck Rogers (though this series was released in the 70s), Flash Gordon, and Dan Dare. However, these toys didn't seem to play a huge part of my childhood, but that probably has more to do with the fad having passed as opposed to them not succeeding. However, what Star Wars managed to go was not so much start up a fad that would quickly pass away, but created a cult following that meant that the merchandising could continue long after the original trilogy had finished.

All this talk about merchandising and television shows ironically leads me to the next floor down:

Heroes and Villains

Well, it's not quite Heroes and Villains, but more of an overflow from the Science Fiction level in that we encounter some of our childhood favourites from the early days of Japanese Manga, including Astroboy, but also merchandise from television shows such as Popeye, and books such as Tintin. Actually, come to think of it, this level probably isn't so much an overflow, but rather a continuation of the previous level where the characters here aren't necessarily connected with the science-fiction setting, with the exception of Astroboy, but then again he also falls into the Japanese setting (though since pretty much all of the Japanese toys were based around a science-fiction show it sort of felt a little out of place down here).

While I could talk a bit about Astroboy and Tintin in this section I think instead, I will say a few things about a couple of other characters that appear here: Popeye and The Flintstones. The reason I am heading down this track is because I watched a Youtube video, based on this article, from the Cracked Website that sort of set my entire childhood on its head. For instance, the reason that everything is dilapidated and crumbling in Scooby Doo is because they are living in the midst of a major economic depression (and also notice how the villains are all really intelligent and highly skilled individuals?). As for Popeye the idea is that they are living in a period of eternal war, and the reason they say that is because of the fact that not just Popeye, but everybody, gets superpowers when they eat Spinach. Also notice how Popeye always appears in a naval uniform.

However, the thing that really caught my attention from the article was how Popeye appeared to be somebody, when compared to the other sailors, to have been suffering from a stroke. Mind you, I find it difficult that such a character would even make it into the navy, and it doesn't necessarily seem as if he is a high ranking officer either. Mind you, if my memory serves me correctly, I do remember him being a captain of a small boat. However, I was never really a big fan of Popeye, though I do remember that as a kid I always wanted to have spinach because I believed it would make me strong like Popeye. As it turned out, my parents grew silver beet in the backyard, which I hated (and still do), and even though my Dad told me that it was like spinach, I still refused to eat it.

Anyway, here is a Popeye Cartoon for old times sake.

As for the Flintstones there is this theory that they don't actually live in the distant past but rather in the distant future. The story goes that the world was destroyed in a nuclear holocaust and the survivors fled into the sky to live in floating cities which eventually set the scene for the Jetsons. However centuries after the Jetsons, when the Earth once again became habitable, humanity returned to the ground and established a new society, this time eschewing modern techonology. Mind you, the arguments behind this are pretty lame - they live in what is effectively a modern society; they have all of the modern conveniences, however many of the duties that machines performed are now performed by genetically engineered animals; the animals talk; Fred has four fingers; and in a Jetsons movie they went into a time machine to go into the future, and landed up in Bedrock which means that Bedrock is set in the future.

As it turns out the theory is rubbish and only exists to send what was basically a satirical look at modern society in to a much darker world. The thing about the ground never being seen in the Jetson is rubbish - it is an example of mind control - we are told that we never saw the ground in the Jetsons and as such we then realise that we don't ever remember ever seeing the ground. In reality they do go to the ground, and they don't live in the sky because of some nuclear war, they live in the sky because they basically want to.

However I still believe Scooby Doo is set in a severe economic depression.

Cuddly Friends

This is probably the level that interests me the least namely because it is full of Teddy Bears and dolls. However, I guess this gives me the excuse to talk about toys and gender idenity, and how the nature of toys tend to define how we develop into our later lives. Consider this - boys toys tend to either involve building things, or destroying things - mechano, tonka trucks, and guns. This suggests that what society is trying to do it to say that boys, who become men, become either the labourers, or the soldiers. In fact look at how Hollywood paints the glamourous life of the soldier and the police officer. Okay it isn't always glamourous, but in some cases they are - Top Gun, Die Hard etc. In fact it was because of Top Gun that I wanted to become a fighter pilot, until I discovered that I was too tall. It was also the time I spent playing with Lego that now creates that urge in me to start pulling apart computers to see how they work.

However, let us look at what we find in the world of the little girls - dolls and doll houses. Okay, when I was in London in 2011 I went on a tour of Windsor Castle, which is where the Queen lives, and in the residence keep there was this huge dolls house dating back to the time of Queen Anne. However that is beside the point, or maybe it isn't. Girls play dressup with dolls, and when Mum isn't looking, with her good clothes and her jewelry. Isn't it interesting that while girls are allowed to play dressup, boys aren't. If a boy starts playing dressup then there is something wrong with him (this may not be the case now, but it certainly was when I was a kid). Yet there is another aspect to the whole dolls house concept - it is training girls to grow up and become housewives - in this conservative world the women aren't supposed to be out in the world earning money, sitting in congress, and running for President - they are supposed to be in the home, and this is what the dolls house, and the dolls, seek to drill into them.

Of course there are Teddy Bears (named after Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt, who was president at the time they appeared), but in my mind they aren't actually toys, not they aren't now. To me teddy bears sit on the beds of old ladies and are meant to be decorations as opposed to toys. In fact you can pay a pretty decent sum of money for a well made teddy bear. Sure, the image of the child cuddling their teddy bear while trying to go to sleep is a popular image, but to me they aren't toys, they are decorations.

Old Favourites

Well, I finally find myself down on the second to last floor (though there isn't really anything on the ground floor except the desk where you pay to enter and a couple of displays that act as teasers for what is inside the museum. Come to think of it one of the annoying things about the museum was that while they had an awful lot of toys, there was little explanation beyond the fact that they were toys. Then again a lot of the exhibits really don't need any introduction, and if you don't know who Chewbacca is, knowing that it is Chewbacca and it comes from a film known as Star Wars is probably not going to help (though you could look up Star Wars on Wikipedia).

Anyway this final level was what could be termed the collectables, or the level for the toys that don't really fit in any of the other levels. Then again if you have ever had to categorise things you probably know how hard it can be at times. Take animals for instance - sure, we have five categories of animals (mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and insects) but then you have a bunch of animals that don't neatly fit into those five categories, such as spiders, slugs, and sea anemonies. Okay, Magic Cards can be categorised reasonably easy, but that is because the creators created them to be categorised. However, there is always going to be a folder in your file system (or in your filing cabinet) that is going to be named miscellaneous (or misc for short). In a way this is what this level felt like.

I was going to suggest that there was a large collection of toy cars (something that many a boy would have when I was growing up - in fact having a box completely full of matchbox or hotwheels cars was pretty much a given, though I believe that the ones that I owned have long disappeared, or simply are sitting somewhere in my Dad's back shed). As it turned out there were more than just cars - there were planes, tanks, elephants, cats, and monkeys. In fact there seemed to be anything and everything, though the one thing that did stand out a lot happened to be the lunchbox collection in the hallway. I don't ever remember having a fancy lunch box like some of them, however the fact that there was a Futurama lunchbox in the collection suggests that they are still being made.

The final couple of things that I saw down here included a collection of memorabilia from the Beatles, and also Queen Elizabeth's coronation. In light of my Beatles discovery it might be a great opportunity to finish this post off with a song from the Beatles.

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A Golden Age of Childhood by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

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