DEEDEE NOON wants to know — what’s your favourite toy?
To kick off her PhD research the Edith Cowan University researcher is inviting people to be photographed with their favourite toy to explore the emotions behind “person-to-toy transactions”.
In doing some early preparatory work she’s already come across interesting emotional connections Perth people have with their toys. “There’s one young man in his early 20s, and he has a giant toy called Substitute, which is a character from the Pokemon game.”
In the game “the character takes the hits and hurts for the player”.
“Substitute in its physical form, as a 3D object, is for this person a confidant, a friend in life who he can talk with and he knows nothing he says can be said to anyone else.”
Another she’s been chatting to had a giant teddy bear she’d always kept stuffed away in a closet. A boyfriend had won the bear at a carnie game, but she thought it was a bit naff compared to her usual vintage collections so he’d been hidden away.
But even since pulling him out as part of Ms Noon’s project, she’s found renewed appreciation for the toy: “Ted is no longer shamed away,” Ms Noon chuckles, “he’s out and proud in the lounge room”.
Physical markers left on old toys also provide a wealth of interest for Ms Noon: Old stitches, repairs and stains are like archaeologies marking forgotten events. And the way people modify their toys is telling: Someone who draws an eyepatch on their Luke Skywalker doll or breaks his hand off to make him Episode V compliant has a hugely different connection to their toy from a collector who keeps “shelf queens” safely in their packaging. Likewise “toys that little sisters have defaced or damaged” are commonly seen.
While for some their favourite toy might be a childhood Barbie or an old GI Joe, many these days are still buying toys and connecting with them well into adulthood.
“That old Corinthians thing about leaving childish things behind, that isn’t the world we live in these days,” Ms Noon says.
There’s a lot of factors as to why toys are extending into adulthood. The difficulties young people face in getting into the traditionally “adult world” may contribute: More are still living at home, struggling to find work and unable to afford housing.
With all these troubles hanging over the heads of 20-somethings, “It’s not a surprise [that toys] would be used as escapsim”.
Aside from Lego and an abundance of desk widgets to make workspaces feel more personalised, one of the toys most attractive to adults has been My Little Pony.
“My Little Pony is a fascinating area,” Ms Noon says. “That was one of the first toys in the ‘80s to be based on psychological research. They asked little girls what they thought about when they were going to sleep at night, and they said: ‘Ponies!’.”
The fourth incarnation of the franchise saw the characters based on virtues, and the positive messages along with smart writing attracted adult males in their 20s in droves, forging the “Brony” movement.
“It’s come for Hasbro as a great surprise that they have an audience of passionate consumers that are men,” Ms Noon says.
Following on from her honours project Pinkification, which looked at the relationship of Perth women to the colour pink, photographing people with their favourite toy is just the first step in this new research. After meeting people Ms Noon plans on further in-depth study into their connections with their toys and the emotions behind their interactions.
If you’re keen to get on board, send an email to email@example.com with a quick selfie of you and your toy. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, just a preview so Ms Noon can figure out the logistics come photo shoot day, and then the Toygetherness photobooth runs February 29 to March 24 at the Shopfront space at Central Institute, 149 Beaufort Street.
by DAVID BELL