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In his essay, “Toys”, Roland Barthes describes how toys are a reflection of the progression of modern society as a whole, as well as how contemporary toys affect the social atmosphere. He speaks of chemical syntheses used to manufacture these items as well as how this analogous to political and social movements.
Throughout the last century, toys have become increasingly socialistic in their nature. Creative toys such as simple wooden building blocks are now quite scarce, whereas toys with prescribed uses or functions have become the accepted norm. Toys such as dolls and plastic soldiers can hardly be used for any purpose except that for which they were designed – to be nurtured, and to fight, respectively.
When children are exposed to roles such as this at an early age, it has a profound effect upon their minds. The advent of the assembly line in the early twentieth century clearly demonstrates the decreased creative functionality in the average person’s work place which has rapidly declined since the Industrial Revolution.
Politics has not been spared from this shift in paradigm; modern politics are a tangled mess of deceit void of ethical principles. Barthes primarily uses wood, metal, and plastic to analyze the multiple aspects of modernized life. Wood – a natural substance which, with time, will mold to human touch – is what Barthes compares to creativity and love; whereas metal and plastic – both heavily altered materials devoid of natural warmth – are used to represent complicated modernism which lacks spiritual and emotional connection
The changes which Barthes observed in the realm of toys are in direct correlation with the changes that have taken place within society over the course of the last century. The lasting quality of life is fading into a trend of replacement and augmentation. The toys that we hand to our children are mirror images of what we perceive the world to be. We are setting our children up to make the same mistakes that we did, continually perpetuating a world of ugliness, war, and bureaucracy.