Toys for Boys
By now, everyone has heard about the Romney campaign advisor who compared his candidate (and/or the Romney presidential-run-to-come) to an Etch a Sketch. No matter what his illustrative intentions were, the comparison has stuck like aluminum powder to a gray glass screen.
It’s such a perfect simile! Like much effective satire, it literalizes abstractions, ridicules flaws, and exposes hypocrisy. Moreover, an actual Etch a Sketch is the ideally sized prop for rallies and photo-ops, now by Republican opponents, soon by Democrats. No wonder stock in Ohio Arts, the maker of Etch a Sketch, has skyrocketed.
What’s weird is how easily former Governor Romney can be encapsulated through reference to a classic toy, in a way that his rivals cannot be.
While thinking about this blog entry, I’ve tried to match Romney’s primary opponents with other toys, and it’s been harder than you might think. Newt Gingrich was pretty easy at first: Weebles! They wobble but they don’t fall down, just as the former Speaker’s candidacy has teetered on the brink of irrelevancy for months. Also, Gingrich looks like a Weeble. But I can’t think of anything much beyond Weebles, except a Star Wars Light Sabre, which is so obvious that it’s not amusing at all.
As for Rick Santorum? He’s just not a toy boy. Can you imagine him actually playing Top Chef with his daughters around an Easy-Bake Oven? Or enjoying a family game of Operation? [Maybe the latter, as it could be a platform for home sermons on the evils of the flesh.] The best I could come up with, in regard to Santorum, was Baby Alive. Or Lincoln Logs, just because they were the most boring building toy that I can remember (and they were introduced in 1916, and they referenced the nineteenth century). Neither of these toys has the Eureka factor of the Romneyesque Etch a Sketch.
It’s not that Etch A Sketch is the only perfect toy analogy for Mitt Romney. What about Gumby? Silly Putty? The Magic Slate? Wooly Willie? Or, if we want to move into board games, the slam dunk of Monopoly? Clue (because he rarely has one)? Parcheesi (homage to ‘cheesy grits’)?
You see my point. There’s something about Mitt Romney that invites caricature and easy lampoons. Actually, it’s rather sad. As far as I know, Romney is a decent, intelligent man who’s done well in business and public service. But as a rock-em-sock-em political player, he just doesn’t get the game. Or he gets it, but can’t play it well. He doesn’t know how to tap into today’s noisy communication environment; he doesn’t know how to craft a motion capture of whatever he authentically believes, if indeed he has authentic beliefs.
Perhaps some of this has to do with age. The Republican field is pretty darned old (Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich are older that the baby-boomer Romney, and the somewhat younger Rick Santorum acts as if he’s older than all of them). So are their advisors and the professional explainers tasked with filling airtime and print inches. No one is comparing any Republican candidate to, say, video games – with which more U.S. citizens amuse themselves with than with 1960s-to-80s pastimes like Risk, Shrinky-Dinks, or Etch a Sketch.
President Obama belongs to the what-ever-you-call-it generation following the baby boom, a generation more or less immune to classic-toy/game identification (except, perhaps, for Pong or Pac-Man). Having fairly young children may give Obama a pass (because we actually can imagine him playing with his kids) as might his well-publicized love of basketball. We can also envision him playing video games: we know he loves his smart phones, and he comes across as a father who keeps track, as best he can, of how his daughters occupy their electronically focused leisure time.
But if the Obama family wants to reach into memory’s toy chest and pull out a game that actually exists in three dimensions, I have a suggestion for a classic toy they might get a kick out of – one that could remind them of this year’s Republican primary: