Chris Dewey’s Curious Childhood
The Debates Of Our Time
Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Coke vs. Pepsi. Boxers vs. briefs. The Beatles vs. any other band. Life often presents us with tough decisions when we must choose one product over another. These various distinctions shape who we are and the kind of people with whom we align ourselves. We integrate these discriminations to form a sort of pop culture identity. For most of us, this process began 20 or so years ago, when we first decided to consume certain products and brands at the expense of others.
Being the dork that I am, the first cultural arena that springs to mind is video gaming. Before the dawn of the Sony PlayStation, video gamers were more or less forced to choose among a small number of available consoles. Unless you were fortunate (spoiled) enough to live in a household with more than one system, you typically owned a Sega Genesis or a Nintendo / Super Nintendo. For much of the late '80s and early '90s, the two companies battled for supremacy, with Mario carrying the Nintendo banner and Sonic the Hedgehog representing the Sega camp. When the dust had cleared, Nintendo emerged as the winner of the nerdy, technological war. Nintendo has even managed to acquire many of the brand names associated with Sega. Keep your eyes peeled for "Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games" on the Wii.
Another dichotomy that divided children of our generation was the Legos / K'Nex debate. While some of you might wish to place Lincoln Logs in the same league, the other two were clearly the dominating building block toys of the '90s. Legos were traditionally stacked in various arrangements to create buildings, vehicles, and other random structures that stood alongside small, yellow figurine characters. K'Nex were fairly different in design. Mainly colorful plastic tubes that snapped together in a variety of patterns, K'Nex sets tended to be larger, more abstract, and considerably less fun to play with. Today, the Lego brand would seem to be the clear winner. Between featuring products in video games and signing licensing agreements with the people behind the Star Wars, Batman, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter franchises, Lego has cemented itself as a timeless brand in our society.
A final dominion of childhood consumer discrimination lay in cartoon programming. Though there was a wide breadth of cartoons available to us, an unspoken competition always lay between the Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny characters. More violent, cynical, and self-referential, Bugs, Daffy, Wile E. Coyote, and the crew at Warner Brothers always provided a more irreverent edge compared to the animated folks over at Disney. Still, there is no denying the endearing appeal of such classic figures as Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto. Both of these franchises remain intact, with neither one edging out the other. It is tough to claim one was more relevant, but I will say this: Space Jam is an awesome movie.
Our lifestyle and consumer preferences still shape our identity today. PC vs. Mac. iPhone vs. Blackberry. Newton vs. Upper. The list goes on. Admittedly, nearly all distinctions are entirely trivial. In comparison to religious or political debates, it is hard to make a case that the rivalries described above actually produced any serious tension. More often than not, people don't let their pop culture preferences inhibit them from forming friendships. If Boston Red Sox fans and New York Yankees admirers can live together peacefully and become best friends, anything is possible.