One of the best Christmas movies that you can watch right now is Jingle All The Way starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Full stop.
It’s a movie about a father who has spent a little too much time and a little too much energy focusing on his work instead of his wife and son, and on Christmas Eve, he, in an effort to win over his son’s affection, sets out to purchase the must-have toy of the season: Turbo Man. What plays out are scenes slathered with 90s cheese, beating us along to the not-so hidden message, that family is more important than any old toy, which is the truest meaning of Christmas.
Jingle All the Way isn’t good because it’s good, it’s good because it’s bad, but it’s a movie that more so than any Christmas movie I can think of, points out what is so wrong with our holiday sensibilities—even if it does so in a not so subtle way.
Christmas is so often a holiday of failed expectations, a time when kids and adults aim so much focus at what they are giving, what they are receiving, and are then disappointed when the list they provided isn’t entirely checked. It’s difficult though to blame children for this. When you get older, life begins to take perspective. You experience loss, you experience success and what you want most often times isn’t available for wrapping. Kids don’t have this. Their life is framed around what we, adults, are able to provide for them. Life has no stakes, friendships are fickle, and all that is true is a desire for new, and fun, and next.
Jingle All The Way reinforces this idea, but not with kids snottily screaming in the streets for 36 toys from all of the shop windows. Rather, it does it by way of their parents. It isn’t wrong for a parent to wait in line for their child, to want what their child wants so that their Christmas will be magical, but the line we cross during fist fights and pepper sprayings negates that purpose for want of another: greed and instant gratification.
This isn’t a post to rail off against the capitalist state of our holidays or how video games on the phone are turning our brains to mush, but rather it’s an observation from myself on why toy crazes happen and why they never last into the start of the next year.
Being that I do not have children and am not currently working with children as I have been for the last 5 Christmas seasons, I completely missed the boat on this Hatchimals thing. Hatchimals are a robotic toy a la Furbies whose big hook is the fact that they hatch from an egg. After they hatch, they grow, they learn, they can dance, repeat phrases, play games, etc.—they’re magic little plushbots.
Like Zhu Zhu Pets before them, Hatchimals have become the “must-have” gift of the season and every store shelf once stocked with the eggs are bare in the wake of an impossible demand. But I didn’t know any of this before I started writing this post. I didn’t know any of this before I woke up this morning. I had to read articles, I had to read reviews, and as I started reading more about what Hatchimals were, I came across things like this: examples of parents so disgusted at how worthless these toys actually were after their kids had played with them for all of an hour. And there’s something to be said for that level of anger. When some parents are paying upwards of a few hundred dollars to order one of the toys from eBay, it’s easy to feel that when the craze is over, that toy may not have been worth it at all.
But the problem with Hatchimals is less to do with the toy itself and more to do with where we are. To me, a Hatchimal seems no different really than the Tamagotchis of the mid to late 90s: toys meant for more than just simple play, for an idea of care to be instilled. But the perception of both seems widely different. The idea of hatching an egg and raising a robotic or virtual creature through its stages of life remains a fascinating idea, but one whose practice has altered somewhat over the last twenty years. By that I mean, Hatchimals’ biggest failure was Tamagotchi’s largest success. Maybe it’s the name or the marketing of the product, but much of what seems to be at the root of the perceived worthlessness of Hatchimals is how quickly they actually hatch. Less than an hour after they are removed from the box, a Hatchimal has probably already broken its shell and the novelty of the hatch—which so many are wanted for—is lost for an animal that wants to be raised.
The Hatchimal is boring. The Hatchimal is pointless. The money is wasted and the kid moves on. This is how the actual plushbot is perceived for no other reason than what it is. And the anger is lobbed at the product for aiming to be something more than an egg.
Hatchimals, I think, are a super neat product that is totally worth the price paid for it and I think if we weren’t so concerned with gratifying ourselves, the world would probably agree. But over the last ten years, we’ve moved into a place of demanding things now: our entertainment sources, our satisfactions, our goods–which we’ve transferred to our children. Kids have always wanted what they’ve wanted. They’ve been snot-nosed, germy, whine machines with no off-switch for the entirety of their existence, but crazes don’t happen because of a child’s want of something—they begin for want of their smile.
As I get to the end of this unnecessarily long rumination on toys and adults and kids and crazes, I could understand if you struggled to find the point. I did and I wrote it, which is often the case—I really need to get better at that. But the reason for why I wrote all of this is to say that there’s truth in Jingle All The Way. There’s truth in the idea that at the end of the day, a toy doesn’t matter. And that’s a difficult thing for me to posit seeing as how I don’t have a child this Christmas, but, I don’t know—I imagine that if parents were less craze-prone then perhaps their children wouldn’t necessitate crazes. If life were made out to be less about the thing, less about the now, less about the what’s hot, what’s not, whose “in” game of life show, then kids maybe wouldn’t be so disappointed if one of the things they maybe wanted wasn’t given to them on Christmas—and parents maybe wouldn’t be so quick to poo-poo on people and things simply because their child wasn’t pleased with a flash in the pan a few days after they get it.