Why is it so hard for adult toys to harness the same creativity?

It’s been my long-standing belief that toy design is the coolest. There’s so much that goes into it. First and foremost it’s sociological. How do kids behave? What kind of activities would excite and stimulate them? Can you provoke learning opportunities? Is it possible to make small challenges and tricks inherent to their design so that kids can overcome them and feel mastery? Then there are visual and tactile components, what kinds of colour design can you throw in to make your toy a must have? Do children naturally understand the colour wheel? Or is it possible to invert these supposed rules for a younger audience? How extensively is a new product play-tested with real children? Is it hard finding the balance between something kids would want and parents could see as suitable?

I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS. Is toy design reactive or proactive? Or perhaps a combination of the two? Is there a delineation between those dreamers who imagine novel products into being and those who create within the boundaries of supplied creative briefs? Do designers shelve some designs in the hopes that an apt IP will come along? Are their tiers or hierarchies within the industry? How does one even get into the industry? What education streams lead towards a life in toy design?

I had innumerable awesome toys as a kid. This is no treatise on the state of toys today. I have no idea how toys are these days. I assume they’re just as great as ever, or even more advanced. I’m sure design technology has come a long way. I always thought Transformers were unbelievable. Not only did each toy have multiple forms with which to play, but there was a fun puzzle involved in working between them. I couldn’t believe that a robot could also be a T-Rex or a McDonalds meal. Just trying to conceive how someone’s brain could visualise the conduit between both modes was insane to me. All those twists and turns, clicks and snaps. It was contortion on a robotic level that still had to obey the laws of physics. I loved not only alternating between modes, but playing with different combinations between full transformation. A T-Rex body with a robot’s head, for instance.

I latched onto anything modular (Construx, Capsela, Iron Man, Centurions, Dino Riders, etc), but Lego was on another level. It’s pretty gratifying to see that these days it’s the world’s largest toy manufacturer (no doubt licensing with colossal brands did a wonder for them). Having a toy that encouraged uninhibited creativity (and nailed the advertising to boot) meant there was no wrong way to play. Assembling a cluster of weirdly coloured bricks or a sleek, chic, colour coordinated robot were both viable options. Inevitably (or perhaps because most of my hand-me-down stuff was 80s space Lego) I became Benny every time. Even when I bought new 90s Lego, it was mostly to re-up on cool space stuff (and to obtain those sweet, sweet translucent orange chainsaws for maximum carnage).

Imagine how cool it would be to see kids adoring something you designed. The joy you brought to others on full display. That’s some prime time personal fulfilment. I may have gotten older, but my admiration for toy designers has only grown.

I wonder if Shirley Manson ever did turn the tables.

Did anyone else realise that Frances Bean Cobain was not only not a child, but an actual adult? And an artist? That by the age of 24 she was (past tense intens-ional) married? I only know this because of some headline about her getting a court order to have her father’s acoustic guitar (from the MTV Unplugged performance) returned from her ex-husband. Fancy that, Kurt’s little girl is a person now. For all I know she’s been a person for years, but like Macaulay Culkin and Hayley Joel Osment the world will always think of her as a child. Wait, in the case of those last two, maybe it’s that the world would prefer them to still be children. I kid. The Pizza Underground are a slice of good ol’ American national treasure.

There’s probably some internet neologism akin to sonder about children we once knew/knew of who grew up. It shouldn’t be weird or unexpected, I mean, that’s what time does after all. Still, it gets me whenever I’m faced with an adult I used to know as a child. Hell, I’m sure I’d feel the same about old friends of mine I only knew as children. As if I needed yet another surefire sign I was ageing into irrelevance. My vacation back home was a lesson in the aforementioned as yet unnamed internet neologism (see how much cleaner it could’ve made that sentence?). Not only my two and a half year old niece (who I last saw at four months), but younger cousins (I’d guessed they were about seven and nine by now, not 11 and 13) too.

We’re all too aware of how we grow as we age, but with someone who’s been out of sight it seems crazy. I can wank on endlessly about my mental and emotional progression from 16-30. Concurrently there’s this dumb lizard part of my brain that doesn’t extend the same courtesy to those who I’m rarely near. It’s like my internal logic imagines some Schrödinger-esque quark-y existence whereby they could be any type of person in the time between our last contact. It’s only my proximity that solidifies their personality, before that they’re a jumble of potential, positive or sub-optimal. I’m clearly an idiot and a narcissistic one at that. It’s fine.

Kids’ll often grow up to surprise you. Who knew my niece would be so goddamn intelligent and perceptive for a two and a half year old? Seriously, you’ve gotta watch your mouth around that gal. She’ll pick up any conversational scraps left behind. Who knew my cousins would have their own interests and passions that they’d ardently stuck with? Who knew cute lil’ Hayley Joel Osment could be utterly reprehensible in the equally reprehensible Entourage movie (I mean, Entourage being a odious shitpile surprised nobody)?

I guess it’s just weird to think of somebody else for a change. When I grow up maybe I’ll get better at it.

At least you’ll understand why the soundtrack is under such demand.

There is too much good television to watch. I know the line “golden age of television” may be overtread by this point, but it’s undeniably true. There are too many good shows being produced these days and we have no hope of ever catching up. It’s equal parts comforting and maddening, knowing that we never have to sit through another shitty episode of Two Broke Girls unless we deliberately seek out that kind of masochism. Of all the great content providers, Netflix seems to be dominating the race. They’ve stumbled upon some magic formula of throwing money at skilled content creators and signing off on creative control. If it wasn’t crazy enough a notion, paying people to make their visions come to life. It’s unbelievable, but it’s working. I guess they’re raking in enough subscriber fees that they can afford to pump money into endeavours that might not themselves be blockbuster programming in the making. They can afford to cater to niche audiences, because the mass audiences funding it just want to binge watch old TV shows. It’s brilliant and I couldn’t be happier that it’s a resounding success.

Which is a short way of saying, within the past 24 hours I finally watched Stranger Things. I promise this is a spoiler free post.

The show is exactly what people have been saying it is. There are elements of the supernatural/sci-fi set in small town USA. The whole thing evokes a massive sense of 80s throwback culture in everything from production design to directorial mode. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a Spielberg piece, steeped as it is in his style. There’s a lovable cast of characters, with a truly endearing bunch of little kids. Maybe it’s an element of seeing myself in them, the nerdy misfits/outcasts, but I was instantly gripped and felt a part of the world of the show. If you’re between the ages of 25-40, the mise en scene will pull at something deep inside you. Props, fashion, and general decor, its the 80s come to life. More than that, there’s a sensibility to the characters, dialogue less dripping with the cynicism so endemic to a post 9/11 society.

The music is goddamned incredible. From some almost on the nose pop/rock choices, to the dense synthwave atmos, it’s immaculate. The title music feels perfect and tells you exactly when/where you are. I’m sure there was the temptation to weave this into a dark, drab tale, but colour is everywhere and it’s all for the best. The show vacillates so readily between hope and despair that the moments of levity carry it all. We’re manipulated into falling in love with these characters so quickly that being drawn down into negativity would be the death of a show like this. The kids themselves are stars and we’re so obviously pulled along with that youthful naivité (coupled with the fact that these are really smart kids), that it lifts the show with it. Given that it’s a tightly packed season (eight episodes all an hour or so), there’s very little in the way of wasted space. Almost everything (with only one scene I can think of) propels the narrative or character development.

In short, the show is fun as hell, the production values are outstanding and the casting is perfect. As an overall experience, take a day (or two nights) and have this experience. It’s so worth it.

Or, y’know, be part of the audience that keeps Two Broke Girls on the air.

Is that what they call forced perspective?

I was walking in the park this afternoon playing Pokémon and stumbled upon a kids’ birthday party. There were helium Star Wars balloons, a table of snacks and a gazebo tent thing. Adults were standing around, chatting. An adult male was dressed in Luke Skywalker garb with a wig, wielding dual foam lightsabers. A few metres away was a line of children all wearing long brown cloaks, wielding foam lightsabers of their own. ‘Skywalker’ was calling them each up, one at a time, to charge and take a couple of swings. For each child, he’d offer some congratulatory comment. “Great swinging”, “awesome running” and the like. The kids were getting charged up and excited to take their turn.  They couldn’t have been older than four or five years, but the simple act of running up to play sword fights was filling them with elation. “Great work padawans” Skywalker would yell and they’d get amped up for another run. I watched out of the corner of my eye for ten minutes or so, genuinely stoked to see these kids having such innocent fun. It took me back all the way to my third or fourth birthday.

It was a McDonalds party, which must’ve been the easiest hand off for parents organising a birthday. It was Ninja Turtles themed and we’d decked out our booth with decorations. Someone came around to paint faces, which led to a bunch of kids with greenface and blue/red bands painted around the eyes. Maybe a couple of Michaelangelo and no more than one Donatello. This was in the 90s when nerds were still maligned. We stuffed our faces full of chips and cheeseburgers, then ran outside to wreak havoc on the playground. There tiny human turtles dangling from the cell bars of Officer Big Mac and swaying in the spring-loaded grimace. Surprisingly, I don’t think anyone threw up. We were all loaded back to the table where I blew out candles and we all gorged on cake. At that age, this was my picture of paradise.

For a long time I thought there was this dampening down of excitement happening. Without any intended ageism, I assumed it was generational and based on excessive stimulation. Life these days is stimulation overload to the point where it almost dulls the senses. Everything is big, bright, loud and flashy and there’s this ever-present arms race to get our attention. I know it’s harder for me to get excited about almost anything these days because I’ve done or seen so much before. If we live in a world where we can have whatever we want delivered at the press of a button or with the scan of a card, the stakes seem lower than ever before. If things are too easy, where’s the excitement in that?

I’m rambling, so I’ll try and find a point. Is there a way to seek out new and original simple pleasures? I feel like no more than a month and a half ago I was flipping my lid over how fun tie dying was. An activity like that isn’t a big buy-in. Get a kit and some friends who want to give it a try, put in some time and bang! A whole new experience. The easiest thing is be cynical and stop seeking out novel activities. What’s the point? I often think. That’s dumb, simplistic. Really though, as an adult how often do we get to feel that burst of excitement that comes with feeling something unfamiliar but pleasant? How often do we get to be in a different element or light, enjoying ourselves because of what something represents rather than how tailored it is to our burnt out receptors?

At the end of the day, who doesn’t want to be a jedi or ninja turtle for once?

So how many dirhams for one Four Loko?

Because we’re all about pleasing our audience here at I Have My Doubts, today’s entry is gonna run as an arbitrary listicle of things that have made Leon happy today:

  1. I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm. This entirely kicked out the cobwebs of grogginess that usually accumulate when I’m unjustifiably roused from my slumber by the generic rising alarm sound.
  2. I found fifty dirhams on the TTC floor. Currency from the United Arab Emirates. Looking up the value of fifty dirhams, I discovered it was tantamount to finding $5. When is that ever not a good thing?
  3. My twiddly ID card clip thing broke while crossing the street to work. This in itself wasn’t worthy of celebration, but a guy was nice enough to point out that I’d dropped it (while I obliviously kept listening to “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”), then when I failed to notice, he walked out on the road, picked it up for me and put it back into my hands. I thanked him profusely, then went back to the music.
  4. When explaining the dilemma of my broken twiddly thing to some guy in the elevator, he invited me back to his office to get me a new one. Apparently he was some sales VP. Another nice guy.
  5. I zoomed through all my work at peak efficiency. As such, I finished basically everything I needed to do by 11am.
  6. Discovered a new band: Pinkshinyultrablast. Super fun upbeat shoegaze. I’m in for a penny and a pound. Maybe also a kilo.
  7. I added to my pokédex in a meaningful way. Disregarding the unreasonably low CP level of everything, I got a vulpix, growlithe, magneton and porygon. I also ran into some of the same people I’ve been seeing around town at other catching sites. I’m pretty sure this is how gangs start. One of the guys introduced himself and we shared our recent catching escapades. Three nice guys in one day? Is this a new record?
  8. I got to leave work early. I guess this was part and parcel of the aforementioned work zooming, but also standing my ground, deleting the “just”s from my emails and informing the necessary departments that I was leaving at 2pm. I advised them to send their requests for anything they needed much earlier.
  9. Had a productive session with my therapist that’s extending towards tackling some important personal issues. Pull quote from the session: “Please don’t turn to bulimia to lose weight. It’s a terribly inefficient method.” I assured her that my delight at finding cheap cheese sales and love of pooping would probably inoculate myself against future eating disorders.
  10. I’m heading off to my first Canadian cottage experience up in Georgian Bay. It’s gonna be outstanding. It’s a bunch of excellent people I know and other excellent people I have yet to know. With this group, I have no doubt of that. We have Four Loko and Manischewitz and actual legitimate alcohol. We have meal plans. I’m going in a car full of verified good peeps and the whole weekend is gonna be a blast. I’m hoping internet access is gonna be a thing, otherwise I’ll do an update dump on Monday when I return.
  11. I’m an uncle again. Third time. There’s gonna be another “little” underfoot in my January trip home. I don’t really know how to play with infants, so I’ll probably have to learn to juggle. How heavy are children? Can I juggle them? That’s all I care about. Oh, I guess I care about the kids too, but in truth they’re just stepping stones in my path towards circus superstardom.

Toon deaf.

I’ve discovered the secret to happiness. Or fleeting, temporary happiness in any case (isn’t that what all happiness is? -Ed). It’s meant easier mornings and enduring feelings of contentment that last until at worst 11am. That’s a victory in my eyes. It’s simple (relatively speaking). When I departed New Zealand I hosted a Comicon themed leaving party. To cultivate a certain atmosphere, I made a six hour playlist containing 250+ TV theme songs (which probably took a mere 12 hours. It’s about priorities, people). Out of mostly flippancy (and to kill time) the other night I threw it on while my girlfriend and I cleaned up post dinner. Something stirred in me, feelings of nostalgia, comfort and inner elation. It was electric. For the past three days I’ve listened on my way to work, on the way home and ridden those feelings in both directions. I can tell you now, it’s pretty damn difficult to hold a dour expression while Samurai Pizza Cats worms its way through your brain.

Wait, let’s just take a minute to appreciate the absurdity of Samurai Pizza Cats. From a brief wiki read, due to poor or non-existent translations of the Japanese version, the US dub took a complete overhaul of the dialogue. It was littered with relevant pop-cultural references and quick witted humour, a far cry from the considerably less ridiculous original. It shows even through the intro, which as a 29 year old still makes me laugh. “They’re stronger than old cheese!” The singer proclaims. “They’re stronger than dirt!” Either this means they did a hellava job pitching beyond their target demo or I still possess an infantile sense of humour. The verdict’s out on that one. The show is straight up bonkers and well worth the few minutes I’ve spent reminiscing over it.

That’s what this playlist is though, constant reminiscing of rosier, innocent times. It’s reaffirmed my belief that I have no place ever talking smack about the programming kids watch these days, because without a doubt I viewed dumber shit. Would you believe me if I told you that back in the 90s Disney leveraged their ownership of the Mighty Ducks franchise into an animated series? Would this entirely believable scenario seem a smidgeon more peculiar if I said it involved anthropomorphic alien ducks from an frozen planet devoted to ice hockey coming to earth and thwarting evil with weapons centred around ice hockey gear? Because that happened and I LOVED IT.

This playlist has made me realise that my favourite cartoons as a child could best be summed up by a Venn diagram featuring the circles “animals/dinosaurs”, “super heroes” and “robots”. It explains my love of Denver the Last Dinosaur (dinosaur circle, obviously), Batman the Animated Series (also just an impeccable cartoon) and Transformers. It points out why the Dinobots were my favourite Transformers (intersection of dinosaurs/robots), but also my love of Dinoriders and Dinosaucers.

It’s easy to see why this playlist perks me up so easily. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, but it’s more than that. Intro songs are meant to get you pumped up for what you’re about to watch, right? There’s usually a jaunty tune, or in the case of shows with a convoluted sci-fi plot they’ll often do a full spoken word plot outline to ease you in (as I’m sure anyone who gets a memory triggered by the words “our world is in peril” can attest to). There’s something truly uplifting about being constantly bombarded with flashbacks to things that were frivolous and easy to buy into. The days when you could just casually watch a show with no concerns for continuity, before we binged everything as a matter of course. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way we watch now. I want to be gripped, to be immersed so fully into a world that I can identify with its characters. As a child though? With the kind of attention span children have?

Well I just wanted cheesy intro songs that explicitly described everything I’d see if I stuck around.

 

Somewhere in my stomach is champagne toast.

Here is a brief list of things I’ve consumed in the past 24 hours:

Baby carrots. Buttered toast. Scrambled eggs. Bacon. Pancakes. Blueberries. Raspberries. Honey. Hash browns. Candy coated mini eggs. Icing. Gorgonzola cheese. Cranberry covered goat cheese. Cheddar. Marble cheese. Jalapeño cheese. Mini toast crackers. Roasted garlic cloves. Sundried tomatoes. Artichokes. Pulled barbecue chicken. Pulled pork tacos with coriander, onions, cheese and hot sauce. Chilli. Roasted root vegetables. Vegetarian meat balls. Bean salad. Gluten free mac and cheese. KFC chicken breast. Fries in gravy. Oreo cheesecake. Barbecue chips. Spanakopita. Spring rolls. Canadian Club maple with ginger ale and lime. Tequila. Sangria. Champagne. Lemonade. Irish coffee. Water.

2016 has started out alright.

It was a boon to try things in a different light than I’ve been used to. No club environment, we opted instead for a potluck house party with a bunch of good friends. Obviously there were vittles and libations in abundance, which I made a point of celebrating. The party went from zero to onesie clad in under 30 minutes. A lot of people in one house meant layers were shed around the place. Twerking lessons were more physically demanding than I’d expected, so I stepped out of the onesie instead of turning it into a sweat sack. The most important tip I picked up was to twerk on the balls of my feet instead of heels. Like taking a good shit, it keeps things loose and flowing nicely.

As much as the night was a blast (catching up with people I hadn’t seen in far too long. Conversing at length in the perennial prestige party spot, the kitchen), it was the morning that really defined what a good choice of celebrations we’d made. Waking up in an immensely comfortable and spacious king sized bed with my girlfriend, the room was soon invaded by an excitable four year old and the adults who’d managed to stumble into consciousness. As my girlfriend and I snuggled, the others played and joked with the little dude. Hearing his unmitigated joy as he played and rolled around the bed was a ton of fun. Someone else came to crash with us and a friends flowed in and out of the room. Eventually the procession migrated to the lounge, where we tumbled into a cuddle puddle of literal and emotional warmth. There were no stresses to be had. The hosts were generous to a fault with top tier hospitality. We were treated to a huge breakfast platter, coffee and films. There was no insistence that we leave; we were free to chill (and Netflix) to our heart’s content. It’s not possible to overstate how gratifying it was to bask in a love-filled atmosphere as snowflakes blanketed the outside world. This could be a portent of a great year to come.

Or karma could be about to take a monumental shit on my head.