In 1976, there was a new toy that was cool and different — a musclebound guy that you could bend and pull and even tie into knots. Good ol’ Stretch was a new kind of action figure — more like a contortionist than anything else. He didn’t need a helmet or a gun like a soldier — and he sure wasn’t as handsome as Ken. Barbie wouldn’t even want a date with this guy. He was actually a bit scary and looked like he was mad. I guess anyone would be mad if they were continually pulled until their arms and legs were four times their original size.
Stretch was just a latex rubber skin filled with corn syrup, of all things. But he was a hit with young boys who evidently got a kick out of making his arms long enough to wrap around his body twice. There were other toys of that time that became icons of the 1970s. Spirograph, Lite Brite, Baby Alive, and Battleship were favorites and who could forget Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots? Hungry Hungry Hippos and Rubik’s Cubes were sold by the millions, and Pet Rocks were the coolest things. It seems that a new toy came out every few weeks, especially in the months before Christmas. I’m not sure, but it seems that there were more new innovations back then than there are today. There are plenty of action figures coming out, but they just appear to be the same doll with a different head to me. Maybe I’m biased, but there doesn’t appear to be as much imagination put into toymaking today.
There are still new toys being produced but how are they really different? Perhaps I’m being a little ego-centric, but I still think that the decades that I grew up in were somehow different. I never figured out exactly when “The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius” is, but I’d like to think that we witnessed a kind of golden age of music and innovative products back in the latter middle of the twentieth century. Of course today there are new applications of computers and technology with big changes in how we do things, but still when it comes to everyday human fun and enjoyment something is lacking. I don’t remember anything in the last twenty years that compares to the Beatles being mobbed by fans or entire communities holding hula hoop contests. I haven’t seen stores selling out of items like Easy-Bake Ovens or ThingMakers. The new fads are I-Phones and video game systems, but somehow they just aren’t as exciting. After all, they are just technology that separates people more than uniting them. In my opinion virtual reality can’t compare with the reality of playing with toys out in a dirt pile, imagining toy trucks building roads through the jungle or playing house with dolls and arranging tiny furniture in a tiny make believe two-story with a tiny picket fence. I’m sure that some of those road builders ended up driving real bulldozers and the furniture arrangers became designers. Call me old fashioned, but a whole room of people staring into a phone individually just isn’t the same as kids piling into their Slip ‘n Slide, even if they do get an occasional bump on the head or skinned knee. Even Stretch with that angry grimace on his face seems more fun than playing with some angry birds on a tiny screen. At least kids got some exercise trying to tie Stretch to their handlebars. And no matter how you look at it, corn syrup has to be more natural than whatever they put in the batteries of that I-phone or tablet. At least it doesn’t have to be disposed of in a hazardous waste facility.