By some quirk, I am on the mailing list for the Nuremberg International Toy Fair. By virtue of this, I receive an annual invitation to the fair, along with related toy-industry propaganda.
In the 2007 issue of play it, the Toy Fair’s magazine, there’s a section on “Product Trends” in the global toy market. Gathered together under product groupings like “wooden toys / arts & crafts” and “outdoor leisure” are pithy comments on the toy marketplace, like:
The inline skating and Nordic walking sectors are stagnating, but football and garden trampolines are booming.
The doll and soft toy market has been lagging behind for years… a new and popular development comes in the form of a new, extra soft plush material known in the trade as “Softissimo.”
In the case of toys that are specially designed to appeal to girls, the theme of “princesses” is important.
While I don’t doubt the veracity of comments like these, reading them makes me realize that there’s a huge gap in my understanding of how the world works that exists in the space between understanding immediate personal and family needs — “Dad, I need to pee” or “I feel like an iced tea!” — and understanding “mass culture” — like the notion that “the theme of ‘princesses’ is important” on a global scale.
As soon as you start to deal in the marketplace of aggregate opinion I find myself without the vocabulary to understand the terrain.
Is mass culture really about aggregate opinion, for example? Presumably the “popularity of theme of princesses” is something that, even if it can be empirically measured, can’t be understood in anything approaching a rational, cause-and-effect way. Or maybe it can.
Because at its root understanding this world would seem to be a basic requirement for understanding modern society, I welcome high-level pointers to where I should turn for wisdom in this domain.