I remember we used to have this babysitter lady. I don’t remember her name, but she was awesome. She would take care of my brother and me when my parents would go do whatever it was parents did in the early 1980s for fun. Play Pac-Man or something. This lady would read us stories to help us go to sleep, but they weren’t out of some dumb book or anything like that. She would grab the Sears or JC Penney Christmas catalog and flip to the toy section. The toy section was easy to find. It was usually a few pages after the ordering and fitting instructions. They were printed on a different kind of paper stock, so the huge catalog naturally wanted to open there. From the toy section she would weave incredible tales of adventure, with the toys from Star Wars teaming up with GI Joe to battle the duel threat of the Empire and Cobra. So epic.
Catalogs are largely an annoyance now, at least for me. I generally toss them immediately into the recycle bin and curse the mail service for delivering what is literally garbage. But as a kid in the days before ubiquitous internet and the world wide web, that magical Christmas catalog was the de facto way to ogle super fun toys that you would probably never get as a gift.
It’s so hard to write a nostalgia piece without devolving into the misguided narrative that things were somehow better then. So, so, hard. So I’m going to resist the temptation. I’ll do my best. In the catalogs, often times products, say GI Joe or Thundercats, would be laid out dynamically in a diorama. The toys would be meting out justice on a photo stage designed to look like a craggy mountain stronghold. On Amazon or any other online retailer, you type in a search term and you are presented with a photo of the product, perhaps at different angles, as it would appear when delivered to you. There’s a serious lack of fun in toy sales today, but I understand that’s because selling toys is fucking cut-throat. No one has time to set up a snowy battlefield littered with all kids’ favorite uh… Beyblades? I don’t really know what kids are into these days now that I think of it. I have two boys and I don’t even think they play action-figures. Just Lego and video games. So perhaps the reason entire toy lines aren’t presented in impossibly fun layouts is because kids don’t even care. I dunno.
The catalogs of yore had a fantastic way of building to a crescendo. The toy section would usually start out slow, with some stuffed animals or licensed sports plushies, then would ramp up the action with some r/c cars and then miles and miles of slot car racing tracks. Everything built up to those sweetest action figure lines (later, video games) and then you’d turn the page expecting the adventure never to end only to end up looking at some dumb Carrom boards, or coin collecting sets. The end of the toy section was abrupt and disconcerting. In many ways, it was a metaphor for the whole of childhood. You spend your youth wallowing ecstatically in the wonder of fun only to have it stopped abruptly by the hard truths of adulthood. In hindsight, fuck you Wishbook and your cousin the JC Penney Christmas catalog.
- cryptocartographer posted this