When did everything get so cute?

Marketplace Staff Sep 5, 2006

When did everything get so cute?

Marketplace Staff Sep 5, 2006


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: We’re living longer. One of the consequences is the way that impacts our development cycles, so the things that we liked doing as adolescents may still interest us well into our 20’s. Author and commentator Christopher Noxon says the makers of consumer products are paying attention.

CHRISTOPHER NOXON: Quick question: When did everything get so cute? Cars, for one. Our roadways now buzz with swarms of grown-up go-carts: Beetles and Minis and Scions and all the other subcompacts that look like Lego blocks or Jedi spacecraft.

Then there are cell phones, which now come with built-in video games and cameras and pop song ring tones.

Still too serious? You can always accessorize with a faux rhinestone faceplate or a flashing keypad or a “Fone Petz.” Slip on one of these fuzzy covers and your phone becomes a plush pal called Munchie the Manatee.

It’s all part of what might be called toyification, the transformation of everyday adult stuff from purely utilitarian to positively toy-like.

Vacuums come in candy apple red and baby blue. Toasters look like fluffy cartoon clouds. A brush for washing vegetables is molded into the shape of a purple duck, its bristles sticking out in a cheerful tuft.

It’s easy to get cynical at the sight of all this silliness. We’re not fooling anyone. We’re not piloting the Millennium Falcon; we’re stuck in traffic. Our cell phones may look playful, but our desperate dependence on them is anything but. And vacuuming will never be fun, period.

The apparently playful appearance of all these new gadgets and contraptions could just be little more than a perverse intermingling of the worlds of work and play, a sly marketing gambit designed to keep us sweating on the consumer treadmill.

But I’m a big fan of toyification.

What looks like triviality can also be seen as a response to our healthy and too-often ignored appetite for play.

Despite all our conspicuous consumption, the truth is we Americans work more than citizens of any nation in the world. So why not try to bring a little fun into the morning commute, or a 10-hour workday or scrubbing the carrots?

Not that a gadgets will transform us into playful free spirits, but they just may remind us to find the fun in the everyday.

THOMAS: Christopher Noxon is the author of “Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes and the Reinvention of the American Grown-Up.” Speaking of toys and gadgets, we’re podcasting. For more information check out our website at Marketplace.org. And in Los Angeles, I’m Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us. Have a great day.

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