Surrogate Animals

When I was little, during Ceausescu's time, I was lucky to have a godmother in Germany whose mother, Oca, not only was an ideal nanny but she also used to send me wonderful things, which went far beyond a socialist child's imagination. That is how, for my sixth birthday, I think, I received Pippi Longstocking herself, whom, of course, I did not know at that time, in (almost) real size. It was a doll like I had never seen before: flexible, with moving hands and legs (which caused the people from the customs to search her everywhere). Then, when I was 10 years old, I received the wonder of wonders, which I had only seen in pictures of the Neckermann catalogue: the speaking doll. Indeed, she spoke German and she could perform about four songs and say just as many lines. Apart from that, this beauty (so she seemed to me at that time) could actually walk. I would take her with me, like a real puppy, for a walk in the Tineretului Park.This year, while I was wondering aimlessly in the supermarket, I suddenly heard someone… bark. When I came closer, intrigued, I saw a dog with beige fur, pretty big… yet… artificial. A fake dog in natural size, who knows how to do many more things apart from barking. I am told that it's a "Fur Real Friend", namely Biscuit, My Lovin' Pup. It listens to three commands: Down! Stay! Talk! If you ask it to give you its paw, it's happy to do so. Should you ask it if it wants something to eat, it would shake its head affirmatively or negatively (at random). If you offer the bone (that comes with the magic kit) it will sit for the bone, smell it and only then take it. Apart from this, the imitation of man's best friend will move its eyeballs and ears and wag its tail. It can be adopted online for life and costs about eight hundred Lei.The dog is not alone. It is accompanied by S'mores Poney, which is about seven hundred Lei more expensive than the dog but also more receptive when it comes to affection. If you talk to it or touch it, it will shake its head; if you offer it the carrot that comes with the package, it will sniff your palm and take the orange object. If you have the proper age and the proper size and want to ride it, it won't run around in the room but it will make some noises as if…The pony is for the girls. For brave boys, open to more serious challenges, there is My Dinosaur Triceratops, that's worth about a thousand. Passing by it, I noticed it blink and make strange noises. Looking through online toy catalogues, I noticed that it was not alone. Its friends are being introduced either in a touching manner: "Pleo is a baby robot dinosaur who can move, express its feelings and even find its own food. Pleo is very sensitive to other people's reactions, feels the presence of people, wags its tail and body and likes to be caressed and makes noises that sound like grunting" or in a didactical-playful manner: "Kota, the interactive dinosaur from Playskool kindles the child's curiosity regarding prehistoric animals. It is designed extremely carefully and its sounds and moves are close to the real ones. A hidden handle helps the child hold its balance while riding it. You can talk to Kota and it will wag its tail, shake its head, move its eyes and open its mouth in an expressive way. You can tickle Kota on the belly or under the chin and it will start laughing. When you feel that Kota is hungry, you ca feed it with leaves (included in the package) and it will make specific sounds."The world of toys becomes more and more advanced. It replaces in a nice but scary way the real one. The pedagogical intention, that of preparing the children for the contact with real animals, of teaching them how to take on responsibilities, is praiseworthy. However, until they get there, they risk getting lost in a kitschy-sweet jungle, with artificial fruit, plants and animals, an imitation of an imitation… Dilema veche, 27/11-3/12 2008 Translated by Iunia Martin

by Iaromira Popovici