WINNIE THE POOH AND THE UGLY AMERICAN
Toys and fantasies about toys are the mainstream of children’s literature. “Winnie the Pooh” who loves honey and “Paddington Bear” who loves marmalade sandwiches are the huggable creatures of our youth. “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” or “The Nutcracker,” on the other hand, takes us into worlds that astonish or mystify us. Disney wasn’t the first to commercialize on these iconic creatures but he was a master at building an empire on youthful dreams. Who in middle-class America doesn’t remember going to bed with Teddy bear or dressing him up in a soldier’s hat or even worse, forcing him to drink tea?
Unfortunately, it’s a sad truth that the majority of children in the world have neither seen nor heard of Winnie the Poor much less have had a toy of their own. My mother, brought up in the wilds of Central America, had a stick for a doll which she wrapped in an undershirt and dragged everywhere until it snapped in two and broke her heart.
Thoughts like these flooded my mind when a friend e-mailed me the other day, saying her grandson of 9 wanted a $200 electronic toy for his birthday. When she assured me he would not be disappointed, I admit my eyebrows flew to the top of my head. The United States represents 2% of the world’s population and consumes a major portion of the world’s resources. Despite our growing awareness of nature’s dwindling resources, I wonder if we’ve truly turned the corner in our profligacy if we believe it’s necessary to give a child a $200 toy to keep him happy. Perhaps there could be a compromise? Why not give him a $100 gift, which is generous enough, and allow him to share the other half with a youngster in a third world country? Surely that would bring more lasting happiness than an electronic toy that will become obsolete or broken.
What are we teaching future generations when as adults we cater to extravagant expectations of the young, I wonder. How long do we intend to go on being ugly Americans?
(Originally published 4/18/11