Totemic Artefacts: Galoob Star Trek: The Next Generation

What’s the value of merchandise? You ask collectors or Internet scalpers, apparently “more then the down payment on your house”. Other people, however, probably the sorts of people who share a fervently anti-hegemonic leftist perspective, will tell you “less than nothing”, and will likely go on to you at length about the injustices of sweatshop labour or the damaging effects the overuse of petroleum products has on the environment, or how capitalism appropriates play and obfuscates our sacred link to the natural world through selling kids worthless plastic tchotchkes.

There’s an important discussion to be had here, and one I’m entirely uninterested in having myself. My sole contribution to the debate would be twofold: One, stressing the power of generative homebrew maker and enthusiast culture to undermine this industry just as it has the potential to do to all industries, and two, simply offering a humble reminder that toys are important to kids, and thus, are important to everyone. Play is how we all conceptualize and make sense of situations throughout life: It’s another form of metaphor and storytelling, and a very old one.

Every culture throughout human history has had some form of sacred totem or figure upon which people project symbols and meaning, and these, just like any object with personal significance, are important to them. Maybe toys are our version of this phenomenon. I know for me the appeal of dolls and action figures is this: It’s deeply meaningful for me to have a physical representation of a character I admire, and it’s almost as if the toy’s presence reminds me of what the work they hail from means to me. When I was a child, action figures helped spark my creativity and inspired me to come up with stories featuring the characters they represented. In fact, even today, whenever I find myself writing about a story from pop culture, I tend to surround my workspace with whatever bits of merchandise pertaining to the series I have, and I find it both inspires me and helps me write better.

Shinto tradition even holds a belief in spirits called Tsukumogami; inanimate objects that obtain sentience after reaching a hundred years of age or depending on how they’re treated. There’s even a ceremony called Ningyo Kuto, where children essentially hold a wake for dolls they no longer wish to keep, paying respects to the toy so that it’s soul is laid to rest. And who can honestly say they don’t have a beloved personal possession that holds such sentimental meaning to them because they’ve had it forever or because it reminds them of a special moment, or person, in their lives? That capitalism has co-opted toys and play is the fault of capitalism and its relentless engines of dehumanizing assimilation, not that of toys or the toymakers themselves, who really only exist to bring joy and meaning to people. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation is a strange show to base a toy line around if you stop and think about it.…

Continue Reading