One of the most interesting stories of the history of play in North America is its economic “democratization.” Broadly speaking, over the course of the late 19th century and throughout the 20th, a rising standard of living allowed more North Americans to devote extra time to playing.
Here’s a surprise: blogging can become a kind of high-order play. I rediscover this every time readers send me witty ripostes; I learn a lot from these comebacks too.
Invented in the 1950s to simulate surfing on land, the skateboard enjoyed a second wave of popularity 20 years later as a West Coast drought obliged residents to drain their backyard swimming pools. The drought resulted in a wealth of vacant, dry, sloping, and gently-curved concrete surfaces that tempted skateboarders to sneak in and show their stuff.
A friend sent me this striking image a collector had reproduced as a postcard in 1993, and titled “Angel of the Asphalt: A Miracle on Maplewood Drive.” The attribution on the back guessed its original date at 1954. Irony had accumulated over those four decades between the original and the reproduction. The collector, in a skeptical, post-modern spirit, meant the copy to evoke and poke fun at a hokey, bygone ideal.
This Christmas an online commerce company (you know which I’m talking about) failed to cancel an order in my wish-list and so delivered to our front door a foot-long, remote-controlled, battery-powered, blimp-shaped, gyro-stabilized toy drone. At the museum, I’m up to my ears in thinking and writing about play and toys, but playing is another thing entirely. I hovered over sending the package back, but decided to keep it, putting my money where my mouth is, with hilarious, chaotic results.
I count the chance to watch A Christmas Story, a film based on the recollections of the radio raconteur and writer Jean Shepherd, as one of the distinct joys of the season.
The historian’s craft always requires probing the past for significance. Making sense of bygone events obliges investigators to guard against irrelevance and superstition. We historians aren’t numerologists or astrologers, and so we sort out ironies and coincidences from meaningful events.
Sometimes, though, I confess, the quirks of history prove impossible to resist noticing.