Friday, July 6, 2012

Child's Play


At last count, we’ve found 116 plastic hair clips at Kehoe Beach—fanciful adornments with poodles, teddy bears, pudgy baby elephants and one kitty-cat playing a fiddle. Girly themes. Butterflies and bows. Some have spots of crude oil. Some are broken and scarred, but they are all brightly colored and cute for little girls.



It’s obvious that a vibrant hot-pink soccer-playing girl with not much abrasion is a recent arrival in the ocean. She’s new in the body politic and so new to us she actually didn’t make it into the print. She’s no cute cuddle thing; she’s an animated being in the act of smacking a header into the net. She’s Miss Title IX. The 1972 Act of Congress gave equal rights to millions of girls, mandating the funds that allowed them to play sports in public school. By the early Nineties the many court cases arising out of Title IX had been decided and all across the country girl’s soccer teams seemed to spring up over night.

Cute still rules with some girls—but on the beach we find another avenue of identity has sprung into our cultural life.



When we’re on the hunt, the detail on these tiny plastic toys is so precise relative to the other flotsam at the surf line, they come into focus easily. Cowboys & Indians, Civil War soldiers, space-men, and pirates washing up onto the beach chronicle the history of our conflicts. The miniature hand grenades and rifles make it clear that war is our subtext and whether it is the internal conflict of life’s decision-making or real war, these little figures are a way for the psyche to prepare.

In 1913 H.G. Wells published Little Wars, a set of rules for playing with “army men.” As a pacifist it was his hope that the ravages of war would teach a different way. There have, of course, been dolls since the beginning of human history and soldier figures have been found in Egyptian tombs. The imagination is ignited by toys and like a kitten batting a ball in preparation for mouse hunting; toy soldiers can prepare one for life’s battles.

The motto of Classic Toy Soldiers, Inc. has it right:
“No batteries required...powered by imagination.”



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