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Consumer Reports


Icons of the '80s are hot toys again today

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) Josh Maynard loved his Transformers, but what happened to his childhood collection of action figures is a bit of a mystery.

He knows his brother flushed Ultra Magnus down the toilet. He suspects his cousins ransacked his room and kidnapped the others, including his beloved Optimus Prime.

Over the past seven or so years, Maynard, 25, has slowly been rebuilding his Transformer supply. He has spent hundreds of dollars on this project, scouring eBay, hobby shops and Wal-Mart for figures, tapes, posters and other paraphernalia.

"Now the toy companies are taking our money instead of our parents' money," Maynard says.

Icons such as Transformers, My Little Pony and He-Man are everywhere these days. Today's twenty somethings, who have barely come of age, already are waxing nostalgic for their idyllic '80s childhoods.

And toy companies and licensees are banking on their sentimentality.

It's as much about money as it is about memories.

Claire's Accessories, a mall staple, sells oodles of '80s paraphernalia, such as Strawberry Shortcake slippers and Care Bears cards packaged in a "deluxe collector's tin."

Hot Topic, another mall store, offers adult-size Rainbow Brite sweatshirts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures and Pac Man wristbands, among its other memorabilia.

Nostalgia comes in 20-year cycles, says Paul Levinson, a professor at Fordham University in the Bronx. For example, '50s nostalgia was rampant in the 1970s, as evidenced by TV shows such as Happy Days and movies such as Grease.

Baby boomers started remembering their childhoods with replica coonskin caps.

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"There is this rosy quality that we always have for things as long as they are sufficiently in the past," Levinson says.

The burst of all things '80s is largely an American phenomenon, he says, "because we have the most powerful engine that produces popular culture."

Timothy Burke, a history professor at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, calls the '80s "strange in retrospect."

"They're a weird mix of pinstripe suit fashionability and leisure-suit flabbiness," Burke says. "There's a strange divide between the cheesy and the sophisticated."

And then there's the just plain weird.

"Every decade leaves its pop-culture mysteries behind. Some of these things dredged up look so frightfully weird."

Like Alf. Remember him? What made the furry "Alien Life Form" so popular?

Who knows? But Alf came back last year, with 10-10-220 phone company commercials.

Generation X isn't the only target audience for '80s nostalgia. Toy companies are also marketing retooled '80s icons to children.

Garbage Pail Kids cards are out again, and as disgusting as ever. This time, they've been updated with more timely satires such as "Harry Potty."

Pound Puppies stuffed animals are set to make a comeback in 2004.

American Greetings reissued Strawberry Shortcake with a more modern image. Instead of a bonnet and poufy skirt, now Strawberry wears jeans and a T-shirt.

"Her essence is still there," says Jedd Gold, director of marketing for DIC entertainment, which is working with American Greetings for the reissue. "She's still sweet and spunky and fun, she just has a different style."

Some purists, however, don't care for the new version.

"I have mixed feelings about it," says Cori Parrillo, who owns the Toys Galore store in Ormond Beach, Fla., which has a section devoted to '80s toys. She also runs www.Strawberrycentral.com, a Web site that sells '80s toys exclusively. "Of course I like the original version."

About six years ago, Parrillo came across a Strawberry Shortcake video in a Best Buy clearance section. As she watched it with her then-4-year-old daughter, Alexandra, a flood of childhood memories came back.

Parrillo started the Strawberrycentral Web site after she realized there was an eager market for Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony and Care Bear items as well. Most of the products are brand new, though Parrillo handles some vintage items as well. For instance, both the site and the store sell the classic and the "new" Strawberry Shortcake. Between the new and classic dolls, Parrillo, 29, found one thing to be the same: the sweet, powdery, plastic smell - a scent that brought back fond memories of childhood.

And now, '80s toys are something she can share with her kids: 5-month-old son Nicholas wears Care Bears Bedtime Bear pajamas.

Like Parrillo, Josephine Lowe, 22, likes the cute stuff. Lowe was Christmas shopping three years ago when she spotted Care Bear and Strawberry Shortcake paraphernalia at Claire's Boutique.

"It made me feel like a little kid again," Lowe says.

Lowe recently moved to Titusville, Fla., from Denver. She has four "good-sized" boxes filled with Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Cabbage Patch Kids and Rainbow Brite toys, but she had to leave them with her parents.

While Transformer guru Maynard preferred the masculine toys, he admits he owned a Grumpy Bear at some point in his childhood.

Maynard, who manages a market research firm in Melbourne, Fla., calls his interest an obsession, but there are far more devoted Transformer fanatics. He has yet to attend Bot-Con, the annual convention for Transformers aficionados.

He tries to live by a Transformer ideal, however: the motto "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings."

"I think it's really important for kids and people who are young at heart to have heroes to identify with and ideals worth aspiring to," he says.

He acknowledges that as an adult, he can't spend all his money on toys. But he still has his eye on a $50, foot-high Optimus Prime.

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