I recently visited a local toy shop – I had a legitimate reason. Downstairs there were toys (lego, soft toys, dumper trucks, etc.); upstairs there were railway sets and model kits (planes, cars, boats, tanks, etc.). Upstairs, there were also small figurines of World War II soldiers, generals etc. Now, clearly the items downstairs were toys; that is to say, they were intended for playing with. The items upstairs were, for the most part, not for playing with. Model planes, tanks and ships, once constructed and painted, are generally too fragile to play with (something I learnt in childhood). Train sets, however, can be used in a more playful way – though enthusiasts probably would object to that description. The small (and very expensive) figurines of Hitler and other Nazi high officials could be played with (e.g. on a mock battlefield), but that is clearly not their primary function; they are rather intended to be displayed. (They are akin to ornaments; the sort of things my grandma used to show off in a glass-fronted cabinet). One corner of the shop had hundreds of ‘classic cars’ in boxes. These were not models insofar as they were ready-built. Again these could be used for playing with. But (again) given their price, it seems likely that they were intended for display purposes.

What is a model? Well, models tend to be much smaller than the ‘real thing’, and tend also to not be functional. I take it that a ‘real’ boat one had on display in the front garden – a boat that was no longer sea-worthy – would not qualify as a model boat. Is this because it was once functional? What then about a life-size boat one built from assorted reclaimed wood and metal? This boat was never functional, but it seems odd to call it a ‘model’. Perhaps its scale is a determining factor here? But then imagine the same constructed, non-functional boat as one third or half the size of a ‘real’ boat. Would that be a ‘model’ boat?  Some ‘model’ planes can be flown (gliders or remote control), as can some model boats be sailed etc. So being functional – in some sense – does not seem to prohibit something being a ‘model’.

Here is the question: How does one distinguish between a model, a toy, a replica, and an ornament? What prompted this question was the following thought: If I was to say that I collect ‘model cups’, what might that mean? A very small cup is presumably still just a cup – albeit one that is hard to use – not a model of a cup. Even if this item had to be constructed (two halves glued together, or something more complicated) it is not clear it would be a model cup. Rendering this item unusable – e.g. by drilling a hole in the base – would not make it a model cup either. Perhaps then there are some things that are just not model-apt? What, if anything, makes something model-apt?

I have no idea what this shows.


3 responses to “Models

  1. This analysis needs to be taken further, because it canvasses only an artificially circumscribed set of exemplars.

    Already considered are toy-like models and their multifarious relationships.

    Now pass to theoretical models: here you find many correspondences with the first group (mimetic mapping of corresponding features), but many common features drop out (gross physical similarity), and others appear (mathematical rather than physical isomorphism).

    When we pass next to fashion models, much that is common is retained (an emphasis on certain mathematical characteristics), but much is lost (the idea of any mimetic representation).

    Think now of models like the Model T; here again is the element of mimesis, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared!

    I have no idea what this shows.

  2. oxymoronicphilosopher

    That’s an interesting thought, the difference between a model and an ornament. It seems that function and size as differentiators can be thrown out immediately, as you’ve shown. A model seems to be something like a representation of another object that is in someway less complex than the original. A model car looks like a real car, but the engine doesn’t run, or maybe it’s battery powered, and we can list examples like this all day. A model may in some way be functional, but it necessarily can’t do everything that the original does. This seems to hold with theoretical models as well. An economic model “functions” as a representation of a given part of an economy, but fails to embody the complexity of the whole.

    So, can there be a model cup? A smaller cup isn’t a model, it’s a shot glass (if you’re in college, anyways). It can still do exactly and everything that a larger cup can (except in smaller volumes). If you drill a hole in it?? It might be art work of some sort, but we wouldn’t want to call it a model? Why’s that? Well, now it seems that it doesn’t quite represent the original in the right fashion…maybe because it can’t perform anything like the function of the orignal? It can’t represent that function in any way? It hasn’t become less complex, it’s become broken.

    Ok, I’m done rambling, and I still have no idea what this shows.

  3. …Also what is the difference between an Action Figure and a Doll?

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