The Joy of Things

Tonight I’ve been scouring the net for pictures of Things. What I’m illustrating is a group of boys and girls going to the shops with their parents – more of a department store, really, with everything under one roof. Among the things the kids choose from the glittering array in consumer heaven, are a fan, a ham, some jam, grapes, a banana, a toy dog, a toy elephant and.. you get the picture.

In my surfing here there and everywhere to find pictures of all these things, together with suitable backgrounds of store displays (No, Gentle Reader, I do not suck these amazing scenes out of my head and I can’t imagine many, if any, illustrators do – the better your reference, the better your picture…) – and I feel a bit wobble-brained by now.

In looking for pictures of plush puppy displays for the imminent toy dog owner, I found the blog of a doll collector. And of course became completely distracted and seduced by these gorgeous creations. She’s collected Barbies all her life, and ‘re-homed’ them when she discovered a new make that appealed more. When there was no more room, she re-homed them as well and is now onto a fourth bunch which is terribly appealing (I felt quite a pull myself) with huge big eyes and amazing costumes… and she’s running out of space again. Oh dear.

What’s that? Recession? What recession? Shouldn’t I be happy that there are people like this in the world? Buying as entertainment? Somebody, somewhere is creating these dolls, and making a very decent living, (let’s exclude Chinese sweat-shops). Oh, man, I look forward to the day when I stop being so earnest. I look forward to the day I make dolls. Many illustrators are doing exactly that, their products are off-the-wall quirky and desperately beautiful. There’s more than a drop of jealousy in this of course because their little characters are also butt-clenchingly expensive. Hell, if I can’t beat them, maybe I’ll join them.

Back to the Girl with no Life – ummm – no not me, the girl on the net who collects dolls and dresses them and herself up and gives herself and her dolls make-overs, and photographs herself and her dolls and I couldn’t read beyond a certain point because my jaw was clenching. Damn right, this pushed big fat buttons for me and my ‘Thou shalt not own too much or waste money or the Angel of Abject Poverty and Bad Karma will send muggers and such to Sort you Out’ drama.

There were already a few stirrings of disquiet when I first looked through this brief (for a schoolbook)  of kids pointing at things, Wanting Things.  Presumably the parents then buy these things and everyone’s happy. Actually, the story doesn’t say. It’s really just a bit of fun with kids choosing things that begin with the same letter as their names. It concerns me, because the kids that get to read these books are all too often attending classes under a tree because there are no classrooms – or if there are, they’re three to a desk in classrooms with no ceiling. This is not the exception – the majority of schools in this country are struggling desperately. Do these images and words take them to a wonderful world where for a few minutes they can vicariously enjoy all these things with the kids in the story? Maybe they do. ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ soapie enjoys a huge following in the townships. It’s about escapism, and why not?

The only logical conclusion to my puritanical tyrannical attitude (‘don’t torture the kids with pictures of what is so unattainable’) would be to produce only pictures of kids making clay oxen, and dolls out of sticks and rags.

And yet, and yet – I have to smile grimly at the system that grows consumers from the age of seven, like this, and points them in the direction of ‘choose and you shall have’. Am I being a Grimdilla? The other side of the coin is the joy of receiving something wonderful that you have looked forward to, of simply being spoiled for whatever reason, and being able to go and choose something you want because it’s a special treat.

While searching for the plush puppy picture, I recalled a little white fluffy toy dog I was allowed to choose as my special souvenir from our Durban family holiday. The excitement as my siblings and I went from shop to shop clutching what felt like a huge amount of money to splurge on this final treat – it was unforgettable.

Nearly every child can relate to a moment like this, sooner or later. Whether it’s Christmas or some unexpected treat or indulgence, that happy memory is there, and I hope the little readers have positive feelings about the images that finally emerge, instead of the lasting discontent ignited by having their faces rubbed in our society’s idea of a Truly Good Time.

Yes, I am being a Grimdilla and it’s time I had a holiday and lightened up. I shall plan it at once.

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