… vs. Toy Museum

Last week I went to Totoman, the museum of Korean retro toys. It was to provide a useful contrast to the War Memorial, so I’m reversing the order in which I visited them. I found the latter experience so depressing that I’d rather focus on the first one.

But first something funny about the War Memorial: they played classical music throughout the outdoor display. It tended towards the martial; I can’t remember specifics but it sounded like Tchaikovsky.


However, one piece stuck out: Ride of the Valkyries. Yes, they actually played the signature tune of Apocalypse Now, the most anti-war movie Hollywood ever made, from the most anti-war scene of that movie, the Bonapartiste hubris of the American army as it strafes a Vietnamese village. I wanted to ask the curators if they found anything ironic in that choice of music, but the fact of their clusters of weapons answered for them: ‘Irony? We have guns!’


Onto happier fare. The Totoman Museum is in Insadong, a pedestrian street full of traditional Korean art. With the exception of Marx & Engels, pre-20th century anything isn’t my cup of tea, so I was pleased to find a museum dedicated to my favourite design decade, the 1970s.


It wasn’t just toys but also items from everyday life. How come so little is painted in bright orange these days?


There were a few examples of the ‘angry baby’ toy, a genre I’d never encountered before. What a surprisingly accurate way of educating children about the realities of childcare.


I would have found this terrifying growing up. That poor man, trapped inside a robot.


A racist caricature, but of whom exactly? An Afro-Korean child? Is it a critique of American foreign policy? At least he’s happy.


Here’s where my lack of local knowledge is a hindrance. Who was this man and what was his job? Presumably he was in the League of Gentlemen of his day.ImageImage

So many things wrong with Superman. His constipated expression, his frog-neck, his  giant hands, one of which is more giant than the other. But great late 70s hair.


The lovely creepiness of this strikes me as late-Victorian, children acting and looking like adults.


Another blog said this was a kid with a machine gun, but after my visit to the War Memorial I don’t think that’s uncommon. The importance seems to be more where he’s pointed it. No wonder she looks nervous.


No pity. No pain. No fear: this is the essence of the perfect neoliberal worker. Still, as a child wanting to get some distance from those feelings, I loved The Terminator.


I don’t know, but it’s beautiful. I like the combination of mythical and hi-tech.


His name wasn’t Michael Rider!Image

Sooner or later she’s going to realise there’s more to life:ImageThis looks more 90s than 70s. Still, that’s a pretty sexy syringe holder.Image


Finally, something that could make Christianity halfway cool:


You can’t tell me video games didn’t vastly improve racing simulators:


I was struck by how Westernized many of the toys and media were. I was expecting unfamiliar cartoon characters, and there were those, but I also saw Smurfs, Simpsons and toys I remember from my own youth. As an anti-Communist bastion in the Cold War, it makes sense Korea would get the detritus of western culture:


And imitate it themselves, though if I’m judging my scripts correctly, this is Japanese? Or, if not, well beyond my reading capabilities after two Korean as a Second Language classes.


Anyhow, although Korean culture may have absorbed many western influences, Totoman shows that it was taken up in particular Korean ways. For example, the poster below shows they allowed 2 x 4s in Korean wrestling. Those kinds of details make the museum well worth a visit.Image


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