While Cora loves to play together with me and her same-age friends, she is primarily into parallel play. This morning, we spent a good hour sorting through a box of Playmobil she just inherited from her brother and sister. She got heavily invested in serving fruit to a gaggle of princesses out of a bicycle-powered ice cream truck. I started creating Odd Couples with the figurines, imagining narratives for them, and trying to capture the details on their tiny faces with my camera. A princess and a robber, a policewoman and a British officer, Santa Claus and a red-bearded badass who could fit just as easily onstage with ZZ Top or a band of medieval marauders. (You can see them all in my flickr photostream.)
I couldn’t help but consider these unlikely juxtapositions as a form of culture jamming, a disruption of expected socio-cultural boundaries. They were certainly variations on the playsets’ original design. If you haven’t explored the world of Playmobil, it’s amazing to see the variety of people, places, and things they offer. When my stepson was younger, he poured over their catalogues for hours. On those glossy pages, as on the company’s website, princesses stayed in their palaces, pirates on their ships. In the real world of play, however, boundaries are not so clear. In our basement, monkeys drive ambulances and people are kept in cages at the zoo, and I hope that never changes.