The Fresh Prince said it best when he declared…
“So to you all the kids all across the land
Take it from me, parents just don’t understand “
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love pouring over old issues of various “mom” magazines from the 70s and 80s. Not only are they chock full of insanely outdated recipes and fun advertisements for products that no longer exist, but they’re also a goldmine for goofy old articles about the latest childhood fads at the time. Whether it was the lead up to Christmas and the staff editors were putting together articles about the latest toys or hard hitting (LOL) exposes on the popular trends in cartoons comics. I love getting a chance to look back and see what was on parent’s minds when I was growing up. What was concerning them about the toys and cartoons I loved playing with and watching on weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings.
I just recently stumbled on this short piece in the September 1987 issue of Working Woman (aka Working Mother) magazine that centers on kid’s fascination with gross and scary toys and collectibles called “Why Kids Love Yucky Stuff” by Dave Jaffe. Jaffe was a writer and news editor for WGN in Chicago at the time, but he also had a tenure as a sketch comedy writer for the beloved Chicago area Bozo Show, as well as a stint as an editor at the National Lampoon. The piece has some fun, though albeit harmless theories as to why kids in the 80s loved playing with stuff like Hordak’s Slime Pit from the Princess of Power/Masters of the Universe Mattel toy line or AmToy’s My Pet Monster. Aside from the concept that kids loved slime because it literally feels good (and I’m not even diving into why that slick, gooshy, tactile sensation might be pleasing), or that they like monsters because they work as an outlet to get out their anger and frustrations, the article doesn’t really say all that much that hasn’t been stated a million times in a million clichés. Boys like to scare girls with plastic bugs because they like, like them, or what is gross to an adult is titillating to kids…
But what I feel this piece was really lacking was that simple idea that kid’s love things that are forbidden or taboo. Plop 10 kids down on a are of shag carpeting and give each a He-Man and Skeletor action figure and I can guarantee that most of them will drop He-Man in a heart beat to play with Skeletor because he has gnarly, clawed fingers, webbed feet, and a skull for a head. Skeletor represents to many things to a kid on a subconscious level, fear and aggression (just as the article points out), but his design is also just so much more fun because it’s different and weird. There’s an air of mystery about Skeletor baked into his design. Why does he have webbed claw feet, what happened to his face, and why is he blue?! He-Man on the other hand is pretty much all there on the surface. He likes to work out, appreciates furry underwear, and could probably use a haircut. If I hard to hazard a guess I’d say that this applies to almost all toylines. What was more popular in the Real Ghostbusters toy line, Egon, Ray, Winston, & Peter or the transforming ghosts? Yeah, the ghosts. Boba Fett, Darth Vader, & the Stormtroopers or Tatooine Luke & Hoth Leia? Yeah, the former in a heartbeat.
Again, this article is pretty harmless, but it is a pretty amazing time capsule for all of the icky, gooey, gross stuff that was available at the time including Madballs, My Pet Monster, the Real Ghostbusters, the Masters of the Universe Slime, Slime Time Watches, Nickelodeon Green Slime shampoo, Garbage Pail Kids, the Inhumanoids monsters, those weird Hasbro Belly Buttons, and Mad Scientist Monster Lab playsets.