Tuesday, April 29, 2008

fauxthenticity, retrothenticity

Pondering baby stuff, as one does when one is sitting in an enormous pile of baby stuff, it occurs to one that the current fashion for all-wood, no-plastic baby toys might be an inconvenient kind of fashion. We've gotten or purchased a number of the Melissa and Doug puzzles and toys for D. and I've noticed that just about all of them have chipped paint by now, just a few months into their use. There's no way they'll last into another child, if we were to have one, let alone stick around for years and years like their plastic brethren (or aunts and uncles, really, since most of the plastic toys we have are old old old, like from my childhood or before old.) Funny that plastic-based polyester t-shirts are retro and good because of that; plastic-based record albums are retro and good because of that, but not so much with the plastic baby toys, because those clearly don't hearken back quite far enough. Plus, plastic in a baby toy is viewed as dangerous, or somehow detrimental to the baby's emotional development. But just how detrimental to baby's development are the stupid Melissa and Doug painted-in-China-with-god-only-knows-what-kind-of-paint wooden puzzles and toys, hmm?
Their main benefit is that they provide an aura of fauxthenticity to the baby-raising enterprise. Not actually authentic, because the old wooden toys they're hearkening back to have degraded, chipped, or fallen apart by now (if they were in any use at all, that is, rather than having been kept like new in a closet somewhere due to someone's precognition of the future nostalgic value of a current object. Or because they were really boring-assed toys.) If it's old, or old-fashioned, it is more real and therefore more good than what is newfangled. This is particularly attractive to people who really don't know what other criteria to choose on. Like Leave it to Beaver is authentic TV, or authentic coffee is made from whole beans, or Walter Cronkite is an authentic newscaster, the wooden-not-plastic baby toy preference is one of those arbitrary things that makes the hideously inexperienced parent feel like they can at least get ONE thing right, for crissake.

Of course, there's also the possibility that the wooden toys are attractive because wood does degrade more quickly than plastic, and parents are concerned not only with whether their baby is sufficiently authentic but also whether they are reducing their baby's carbon footprint. To this, I say good luck. Here in the developed world, having babies is a massively anti-ecological activity. Every baby is going to produce so much garbage and so much carbon over their lifetimes that you can be assured of going to ecology hell for deciding to have one in the first place. But luckily, they are so awesome that you don't even care so much about that. Anyway, what I meant to express by this is that there are many dimensions to being ecologically minded, and one of the big dimensions to ecological responsibility is reuse. Plastic toys, properly recycled, get massive, massive reuse for the very reason that they are basically indestructible and won't break down. I'm using tons of toys from, again, my own distant childhood and look forward to passing them on when D is done with them. They are not as charming to me as the wooden toys. But D doesn't seem to mind, and his is really the more important opinion. Plus I don't have to buy as much, which works for me.

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