I was trying to think of a way to impress Erika Price (see Erika’s comment here), when it dawned on me.
I was shopping at a big box toy store in St. Louis County tonight, accompanied by my wife and children. I was waiting for my family to make a purchase when I realized that I had a camera available in the car. I ran out to get the camera to snap a few photos to help raise a simple question: Are boys getting an overdose of the idea that violence is the best first approach to solving human conflict? Asked another way, how often is it that a toy marketed to boys suggests that there are ways of solving problems other than smacking someone on the head, stabbing them, shooting them, vaporizing them or slamming them into a wall? Based on the toys that one Toys R Us store displayed most prominently, the answer is not often. On what do I base this conclusion? Read on and enjoy the slide show.
Before you go thinking that I am a radical pacifist. Consider these things. I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Also consider that I loved superhero comic books growing up. Further, I supported military action against the Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. Violence sometimes has a place in solving some situation, in my opinion.
But back to the store. There’s no hint of violence in the baby toys. There’s not much even in the 4-6 year old range.
For boys over 6, though, it gets overwhelming. There are other toys, of course. There are board games and bicycles, toy cars and water toys (though even some of these have aggressive characteristics). If you look really carefully, you might even find the small section of educational toys, all segregated away. It’s the violent toys that are promoted prominently, however. They are at the front of the store, impossible to miss. Let’s start with the standard fare: Batman, Star Wars and G.I. Joe.
Here’s a highly realistic set of soldiers.
I have nothing against soldiers. I am in awe of the dedication of the members of the U.S. military (I am getting a good inside view by reading Paul Rieckhoff’s recent book, Chasing Ghosts— I highly recommend this for anyone trying understand what we’re putting our ground troops through in Iraq).
Back to Batman, et al. There are a lot more superheroes I haven’t shown here. Because of the recent movie, Superman is heavily featured, for instance. I know that some of you are thinking that I’m sexist, because I’m failing to note that girls too might buy these “boys” toys. I dare you—stand around these “boys” toys for an hour and look for the girls. There will only be a few, most of them looking for their brothers. Oh, yeah. Check out the current version of the Power Rangers:
The traditional superheroes and soldiers are just the start. There is an entire aisle of swords daggers and, guns and other weapons, something to fit every size of small hand.
Some of us don’t need weapons to make a point, of course. There are lots of these wrestling dolls and paraphernalia.
I should note that I am only showing about 20% of the violent toys displayed in the store I visited. Here, I need to wrap this up. Therefore, take a look at the wide variety of “Bionicles,” mechanized rocket-shooting robots.
Consider, also, the Nika Bionicles, for those who wouldn’t dare be seen in public with a regular Bionicle.
Bionicles are really hot, it seems (a friend’s son has several dozen of these things). Therefore, there is competition. Check out the Lego brand Exo Force robots:
As I suggested at the beginning of this post, my point is simple: to what extent are boys being encouraged, by the most heavily promoted toys, to consider alternates to violence, as the first choice of conflict resolution? The answer is not much.
These sorts of violent toys have been marketed for decades. Thus, the obvious follow-up question: to the extent that many men have been taught (while boys) that violence is the most obvious first solution to human conflicts, have their adult attitudes toward wars and their attitudes toward a certain war-mongering president been affected by their favorite toys?