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Child’s play

Matt Bramanti | Friday, February 13, 2004

Happy Valentine’s Day, kids. I’m sorry to say it, but Cupid is bringing bad news this year: Barbara Millicent Roberts is once again single. That’s right, Ken and Barbie are breaking up. The world’s favorite plastic couple are calling it quits, after a 43-year relationship. They seemed so happy. Unfortunately, the puppet masters at Mattel have conspired to ruin the all-American romance just before Valentine’s Day.What is the world coming to? I mean, it’s no big loss for me as a dude, but the Barbie-Ken affair represents a big chunk of American culture, and now it’s gone.I shudder to think what else the toy industry will bring us. They’ve been pretty busy dishing out crap for the last decade or so, and I don’t think it’s going to stop.For example, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Any ’80s kid will tell you those hacks are just cheap, blatant ripoffs of Voltron.Or how about TransFormers? When I was a little kid, the Robots in Disguise weren’t made of cheap plastic. They were forged from military-grade steel. I had a StarScreem that must have weighed six pounds.Toy guns have slipped quite a bit, too. I didn’t grow up with neon-colored squirt guns. I was strapped with the kind of toy gun you could easily use to rob liquor stores.And then there are the terrible fads. Like Tamagotchi? Remember those? They were these insufferable little electronic pets on keychains. Whenever they were hungry, or tired, or thirsty, or bored, they beeped. And beeped. And beeped.And the Furby was just downright creepy, even though it looked like Gizmo from “Gremlins.” Those things randomly wake up and speak to you. Not just programmed lines, either. They can manage the rudiments of human speech. The government even banned Furbys from the tour of CIA headquarters, for fear they could record sensitive information. Toys should never be a risk to national security.Maybe I’m getting on in years, but I miss the good old days. Kids actually used to play with cars. Hot Wheels, Matchbox cars and Micro Machines were the stuff race-car dreams were made of. The old-school metal Slinky was endless fun, and it still is. There’s just simple delight in watching a big spring walk down the stairs. And even though they inevitably got tangled, stretched or otherwise ruined, it was no big deal. They were like three bucks.But if you ask a kid today if he has a Lite Brite or some Play-Doh, odds are he’ll pistol whip you. Good thing those cheap plastic guns don’t even hurt.