The cultural toy
I.e. the cultural toy’s character role and effects.
Sutton-Smith uses four theses to explain why toys can be described as cultural because toys have functions which promote socialisation, learning, development, character development and commercial aspects. The four theses outline the character roles of toys:
- The external character role
(where the toy as an object forms its own effect/result on the child)
- The functional character role
(where the effects or results are useful in human adaptation to new life conditions)
The speculations and consideration above are some of the explanations which control everyday logic in the Western world.
The explanations express positive thinking and a belief that the character of any - haphazardly chosen - toy in play becomes inscribed on the blackboard which is a child’s mind and can contribute to the child’s behaviour (and attitudes) in accordance with that toy’s stimulating characteristics.
This belief or line of thought has been documented during the last couple of years. We will mention just some of the most interesting examples:
In a study of war toys (as opposed to weapons generally) where it has most often been assumed that the character of these toys would necessarily provoke violent action, Sutton-Smith (1986,b) points out that this is the case with children from extremely exposed social environments.
For many years, pedagogical staff and parents using the methods and principles of Waldorf pedagogical teaching in child raising pointed out (as did Barthes (1972)) that modern plastic toys as replacements for natural materials will suppress the child’s recognition of natural materials. It turns out that this is in fact the case but only if the child is given the opportunity to play only with plastic toys.
Kline & Pentecost (1990) proved the effect or impact of stereotype toy advertising on the behaviour and attitudes of socially weak children and deserves therefore to be mentioned again here.
Eisen (1988) explains how small children in concentration camps who had limited play behaviour and angst for experience suffered deep psychological damage from the traumatic experiences there. Eisen (1992) proves also, by means of neurological examinations, that the child’s endocrine system (inner secretions and even hormone balance) is affected by certain types of play behaviour.
These examples contribute to creating myths, dark thoughts and gloomy predictions about the future of childhood but can also open up for totally new positive perspectives in toy and play research and in the development and production of new and better toys.