YouTube Hall of Fame: The Worst Toys of the ’80s

The holiday gift-giving season is nearly upon us, so kids, take our advice: Be careful what you wish for. Below, a few cautionary tales from the staff of Grantland.


Bill Simmons: You’d think this Simon commercial was made in 2011 by the Lonely Island guys as some sort of “1980s commercial that tried to mimic Karate Kid and careened into total absurdity” digital short that Lorne Michaels would bury at the 12:40 mark of SNL, but no, it actually happened. Even worse, I’m pretty sure it convinced me to convince my parents to buy me the game. Like everyone else, I played it for about two weeks before either breaking it or shoving it in a closet and hoping it would break. Can you imagine a creepy memory game being marketed today, in the era of cable TV, iPads, video games, Angry Birds and the Internet? I don’t think my kids would play Simon for more than 90 seconds. And if they played it for more than 90 seconds, I’d become concerned. Either way, I want to report with complete confidence that nobody played Simon in my era in front of (a) a throng of cheering kids, and (b) a doting, jacket-holding blonde who seemed ready to put out in the woods right after the game. You played it alone. And eventually stopped, before you lost the will to live.

Etch A Sketch Animator

Andy Greenwald: Perhaps no toy in history has humbled us more than the Etch A Sketch. It’s the ultimate leveler, a simple device that promises the effortless joy of creative expression and delivers only the bitter tang of failure. Almost since its invention in France 51 years ago, every American child has dutifully received his or her own little red tablet, and not a single one of them — outside of D.A.R.Y.L. and this poor Cleveland Cavaliers fan, who has already suffered enough — ever managed to produce anything more than unspeakable frustration and a quickly erased squiggle.

So perhaps it wasn’t totally preposterous that I — along with thousands of other easily swayed 9-year-olds — was completely suckered by the introduction of the Etch A Sketch Animator just in time for the holiday season of 1986. Clearly the problem didn’t lie with my own creativity and draftsmanship — it was the technology! Just look how much fun that budding blond Tex Avery was having in the comfort of the De Stijl Q-Bert board he called home! Ten minutes alone with this thing and I figured I’d be the coolest kid at school, a pixel-powered satirist with his fingers fully on the pulse of the later Reagan years. I’d be twisting those knobs like a pro in no time! (In retrospect, the biggest lie this commercial told was the idea that a preteen who spends his time alone in his room making low-resolution cartoons is “going places.” What places are those? Definitely not ones with girls in them.)

So, yes, I actually received an Etch A Sketch Animator that year thanks to the extreme generosity of my parents (it retailed for something insane like $50) and my tactical lack of siblings. It took me about an hour to realize it was even more pointless than an actual Etch A Sketch. The hard part: to animate something you first had to draw it. The harder part: After saving your initial drawing, you then had to draw it again — only this time with a slight difference in order to create movement. Oh, I created movement all right: by throwing the goddamn thing across the living room. Children’s toys are supposed to inspire, not depress. Etch A Sketches of all kinds are dream-crushers of the first order, cruel and vicious machines that have taught countless generations of young people that greatness is impossible and cruel fate — in the form of an errant shake or a dying AA battery — can undo the best laid plans in a heartbeat.

Come to think of it, no wonder these things are popular in Cleveland.


Rafe Bartholomew: Could anything seem cooler to a 10-year-old? You get lowered into a post-apocalyptic underworld fighting ring on your hovering, purple triangle or star, and then commence spraying oversized BBs all over the place. Did I mention you also get to wear a leather jacket and have your hair gelled back? And that after you vanquish your opponent you get to pump your fist and yell, “Yeah! Yeah!” Say no more. I’m sold.

Rembert Browne: Four notes on the greatest game neither you nor I ever owned, Crossfire:

1. My belief is that there was a Crossfire set on every street in America, but no two neighboring homes had the game. Why was this? Not sure, but I think the game was priced at $4,000. I couldn’t have less data to prove this, but I think I’m right.

2. Whoever is slapping the bass in this Crossfire commercial can’t possibly have fingers anymore. I’ve never heard anything more intense.

3. I think Crossfire was my introduction to rock and roll. And you thought being raised on Zeppelin was awesome.

4. I would bet my life savings that when this commercial states, “It’s sometime in the future …”, they were thinking about 2012. I think this might be what post-rapture America looks like. Just listen to the lyrics: “Crossfire, you’ll get caught up in the Crossfire. Crossfire. CROSSFIRE.” Wow. Have we planned for this yet? Someone forward this video to Herman Cain immediately.

Pogo Bal

Lane Brown: The marketing fantasy: happy kids bouncing safely around an awesome castle. The miserable reality: bloody, fractured victims lying dead in their driveways. The Pogo Bal was a pretty crappy toy, but as a means of population control it beats everything but condoms and lawn darts. Like a pogo stick without the balancing apparatus, these things were responsible for the deaths of at least 200 of my first-grade classmates. The only reason I lived to see 1990 was because my parents bought me a Nintendo instead. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Teddy Ruxpin

Katie Baker: I wanted a Teddy Ruxpin SO BADLY as a kid that I very vividly remember having a dream one night about it. (The fact that I remember a dream I had as a 5-year-old makes me terrified to ever have kids.) Anyway, my mean parents never let me have one, and I’m guessing it’s because they had seen the creepy, glazed-over faces of the children in this commercial.

Previously: YouTube Hall of Fame: The Worst Music Videos of All Time
The Deleted Scenes Hall of Fame
YouTube Hall of Fame: When Sitcoms Got Dark
YouTube Hall of Fame: Tom Hanks on Late Night, Pandas on a Slide, and Helen Hunt on Crank

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