With the closure of the last major provider of “conventional” toys–Toys ‘R’ Us–could this signal the collective congealment of children’s brains from lack of cognitive use?
It’s likely not a coincidence that Charles Lazarus died just a week after the announcement that Toys ‘R’ Us would be no more. Considering that the impassioned toy purveyor had devoted his life to the business, it would seem tantamount to losing one’s wife and then dying of a broken heart (even if, admittedly, he was already long in the tooth).
Originating from a children’s furniture store he opened in 1948, the iteration of Toys ‘R’ Us that would come to capture the materialistic hearts and imaginations of children everywhere began in 1957 after Lazarus reoriented the business model solely toward toys. A word increasingly too anachronistic for anyone other than those with kinky boudoir needs to understand. And now, with the liquidation of all inventory comes, in turn, the liquidation of the last vestige of what it meant to have a childhood. Where once the formation of the mind was contingent upon the tactility of things in order to incorporate all of the senses, that of touch is a thing of a bygone era. While brands like LEGO and Mattel have managed to hold out as a result of the classic go-tos that still manage to appeal, it’s impossible for other manufacturers to stay afloat in a climate that promotes a child’s dependency upon screens earlier and earlier. What’s more, hand-crafted toys are most certainly out of stock, so to speak, unless you happen to be in a neighborhood filled with parental pretension (e.g. Williamsburg or Park Slope).
With all of this in mind, it’s of course no surprise that Toys ‘R’ Us should be closing–it is, in fact, a marvel that it held out for this long in the face of such staggering statistics as 91% of kids play video games or traditional playtime now over by age of seven.
After the company went public in 1978, sales only continued to skyrocket, with a financial boon in the 1990s, in part thanks to its infectious advertising campaign declaring, “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us kid!” It’s the campaign so many millennials remember. A mantra so ingrained in them while their brains were susceptible to suggestion that they took it to heart and decided to be perpetual adult babies.
Tech savviness is a different and valuable form of intelligence, to be sure. Yet, nonetheless, the emotional and cognitive outlet provided by playing cannot be undervalued.
As technology became more pervasive in the mid-aughts, paired with competition against cheaper online retailers like Target, Wal-Mart and, worst of all, Amazon, Toys ‘R’ Us was sold to a trifecta of private equity firms that ultimately left it saddled with just over five billion dollars in debt. It was clear it would never bounce back from that debt. Indeed, it smacks slightly of the fate that befell Tower Records. And while some kids who are still in the under three age bracket might be upset, for the most part, there simply isn’t enough enthusiasm for the breed of toys the iconic store is known for–even if it, too, offers (offered) its fair share of gadgetry. And so, as though to poetically coincide with the ceremonious death of childhood as we all once knew it, Lazarus’ demise occurred in practically the same breath as the announcement of the store’s closure.
His successor to the role of CEO, Michael Goldstein, remarked of the toy tycoon, “He knew the toys and loved the toys and loved the kids who would shop in the stores. His face lit up when he watched kids playing with toys.” Redundancy of the sentence aside, it sounds vaguely like the character of E.F. Duncan (Eddie Bracken) in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) (though Duncan’s Toy Chest was really F.A.O. Schwartz–the only other behemoth that Toys ‘R’ Us managed to outlast). And what’s even rarer? An aged man with a perpetual childlike spirit (as opposed to the toady white boy millennials you see constantly playing video games–there’s a difference). With this empathetic perspective, Lazarus could relate to children, until a certain threshold was reached with regard to their technological zeal, formed earlier and earlier.
The lack of interest in old toys in the present era is disconcerting. It means parents have surrendered their children’s minds so easily for the sake of a robotic babysitter. It also means that the poorly executed in cinematic terms concept of Idiocracy (2006) will undeniably come to fruition. In fact it already is. Being that the “obsolete” form of play was far more useful to a child developing his or her cognitive skills (don’t give me LeapFrog as a fucking substitute either), the lack of imagination that comes from decreased ability to expand one’s dendrites–which gain promoted dendritic branching from the active use of one’s mind (as opposed to its passive use via a screen), creates a globe of glass-eyed youths–most overtly in the United States.
Maybe Generation Z has proven that the employment of catchy, easily barkable phrases like #NeverAgain is part and parcel of the benefits that come from jumping into the alternate realm called the internet and video game arena early on. But one doesn’t hold much optimism for Generation Z’s capabilities beyond social media mobilization. Tech savviness is a different and valuable form of intelligence, to be sure. Yet, the emotional and cognitive outlet provided by playing cannot be undervalued.
The lack of interest in old toys in the present era is disconcerting. It means parents have surrendered their children’s minds so easily for the sake of a robotic babysitter.
Technology and the internet aren’t the only entities to blame. For instance, one of the many cherries on top of a turd-flavored ice cream called George W. Bush’s presidency was the No Child Left Behind Act. Ironically titled, schools responded to the legislation by reducing time committed to recess, the creative artsand even physical education in an effort to focus on reading and mathematics. So no–the passion for disappearing into the maze of optic wires can’t solely be blamed on the shuttering of Toys ‘R’ Us. Though its certainly shuttering doesn’t help. And try as some billionaire toy moguls might, one can only see visions of teddy bears with the stuffing pulled out of them in a dark warehouse where they will never again meet the arms of a loving child.
It makes one think. Norman Rockwell was fortunate to live in the time he did. He would certainly have nothing to paint. The image of a child holding an iPad or some other such likenable screen in lieu of a handmade toy doesn’t exactly exude a picturesque rendering of childhood.
‘Ah I remember the days when I would sit by myself, in my room with my iPad’
Featured image by Tim Knifton–Chernobyl Kindergarten
Second image unknown keen to credit