Column

POST-ELMO STRESS DISORDER

Get the hot toy now, and avoid the pre-Christmas rush to disappointment

SCOTT FESCHUK November 7 2005
Column

POST-ELMO STRESS DISORDER

Get the hot toy now, and avoid the pre-Christmas rush to disappointment

SCOTT FESCHUK November 7 2005

POST-ELMO STRESS DISORDER

Column

Get the hot toy now, and avoid the pre-Christmas rush to disappointment

SCOTT FESCHUK

WE HAVE ARRIVED at that awkward time of year at which retail enterprises, desperate to ignite the annual spectacle of frenzied commerce for which Jesus was born, gingerly test the waters to see if it’s too early to evoke the joy of Christmas in such a way as to warm our hearts with the timeless spirit of cheerfully paying the full manufacturer’s suggested retail price.

Soon, representatives of toy stores and consumer groups will come forth to confidendy tell us what the “must-have” products of the season will be. They do this because it beats standing before the assembled media and declaring, “Honestly, we have no idea what kids will actually want or like. If we did, do you think we’d flail about making crap like Cut-the-Cheese Grover or whatever the hell we’re pushing this year? Seriously, children baffle and confuse us.”

As a father, my instinct is to ignore such brazen hucksterism. Yet I also fear missing out on a genuine trend and spending Christmas Eve driving from store to store, joining countless others on the Bataan Death March of parenthood—the fruitless search for that One Obligatory Toy. For I have looked upon the blank stares of those who suffer from Post Elmo Stress Disorder, the lingering psychological scar left by the futile pursuit of that elusive TickleMe tease. And I remember the Cabbage Patch Wars—lo, my family lost a lot of good men in that cabbage patch. Long story short, I went out last week and bought the toy that’s currently getting the most buzz, and I gave it to my kids—a decisive preemptive strike against the Christmas Day meltdown. What I came home with was Roboraptor, a remote-controlled dinosaur that cost me $129.99, plus tax, plus the cost of approximately enough batteries to power the sun.

According to its television ad, Roboraptor is “from the prehistoric past and the limitless future,” a description that must have tested better with children than the more accurate but less lyrical “from some factory

in China.” The creature—almost a metre in length—is described by its manufacturer as “a fusion of technology and personality.” And that’s just one of the ways it’s like Cher! It is also prone to randomly emitting loud and abrasive noises and attempting to destroy things with its powerful robotic tail.

Opening the box, I laughed upon discovering a sheet of instructions on how to unpack Roboraptor. “Ha!” I said to my two young sons, aged 6 and 4. “What kind of loser needs instructions on how to get a toy out of a box?”

Turns out it’s the Me kind of loser. I actually had to fetch a screwdriver to extract the thing from its packaging. Then I had to grow sideburns and buy a new sports car to regain even a fraction of my lost masculinity. You win this round, Mr. Chinese Factory Worker.

Given how Roboraptor is aggressively marketed as astonishingly lifelike, I was expecting a creature that was only a circulatory system shy of a real dinosaur. Advanced artificial intelligence personality! Whipping tail actions! Realistic biomorphic motions! Is that so? Wow, that’s interesting, because I had no idea that 65 million years ago there roamed upon the Earth creatures who walleed exactly

like Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch.

One of the big selling points of Roboraptor is that it has different “moods.” In Hunting Mood, for instance, the creature will move toward sharp sounds; if touched on the mouth, it will bite. In another mood, Roboraptor will respond to gestures of affection by briefly nuzzling your hand and attempting to convince you that it’s not a highly predatory and ruthless creature. I call this the Paris Hilton Mood.

Roboraptor was a huge hit with my two young boys—right up until it wasn’t, a process that took exactly 20 minutes and ended with my eldest son, James, handing me Roboraptor’s control pad and saying, “Here Daddy, you play with it.” A week after I’d bought it, Roboraptor sat ignored in the corner of their bedroom, underwear (not mine) hanging from one ear.

The boys loved the idea of Roboraptor. And they certainly loved the look of Roboraptor. What they were less keen on was the crushing and relentless boredom of Roboraptor. Besides, if they ever want to play with something that waddles aimlessly around the house, howling when subjected to sudden loud noises and prone to falling over for no reason, there’s always me. M