27 May, 2008

Toy story II

Surely one of the strangest cultural products of capitalism - and one of the strangest subcultures of design - is decorative vinyl toys and character design.

A generation of kids grew up playing with Star Wars figures and watching cartoons and learned to express themselves in these media.

(By the by, this generation - of which I am a member - exhibits something like a traumatic revisiting of childhood, neurotically replaying the popular culture of its childhood years over and over. Perhaps this is because it is the last moment of a truly mass culture.)

Marxist geographer David Harvey talks about capitalism's need to expand into new territory in order to keep keep monetary value from stagnating and deteriorating. Vinyl toys are a bit like that.

What better way to eat up value than to fix it in a toy? They are purely aesthetic items, to be looked at (and maybe collected); they're not really meant to be played with and can be 'adult' in theme.

A broken, aged or non-mint vinyl toy is worthless. Design, by nature is ephemeral and quickly recycled, so actually the value that is fixed in these toys is not just eaten up, not just embodied, it is destroyed.

There is something hateful about the vinyl toy fetish. It is juvenile, self-indulgent and wasteful and yet nothing symbolises our cultural moment like it. In a way it is the avant garde of popular culture: design for design's sake.