LAST CHRISTMAS, the militant group calling itself the Voice of Women stirred up a national argument with an Appeal to Parents: “Have you noticed the increase in war toys each Christmas? It is time to call a halt — plastic hand grenades, land mines, booby traps, automatic guns, toy missiles, etc., the whole grisly collection must be repudiated. We, the buyers. make the ultimate decision."
Parents who thought toys were a grim problem last year will go right around the bend this year. For now that cash registers are beginning to ring Noël again, a violent new figure has come swinging onto the scene to complicate the argument as never before. James Bond, the Ian Fleming hero, has suddenly become Mr. Big with toymakers and retailers. Several manufacturers hold franchises entitling them to stamp the magic 007 insignia on products ranging from guns to sweat shirts. But even in the toy division of the spy business, anything goes, and firms without franchises are shamelessly jumping on the Bond wagon, using the great hero’s name in their promotional pitches and devising legal variations of what’s guarded by franchise. In their wildly creative moments, Reliable Toy has come up with Secret Agent 009, and the Mattel toy company’s man is Secret Agent Zero M. Meanwhile Ideal Toy has signed up TV’s answer to Bond — The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The Soviet press has lately been attacking the West for promoting the James Bond cult as part of an international plot. But in the toy business, at least, 007 is getting the big buildup for a purely capitalistic reason: each year, Canadians spend a fantastic $160 million for toys, most of it in the hectic eight weeks before Christmas.
Since it is adults who buy most of the toys, many new' items have builtin father appeal. The James Bond 007 Road Race, for instance, features an authentic model of Bond's famed customized Aston Martin DB5. fully equipped for action with a varied speed motor sound, bullet shield, tire “cutters" and machine guns.
The 007 Automatic Pistol shoots plastic bullets and has a James Bond identification card. Secret Sam is an international spy set. Its innocent looking attache case packs a pistol that shoots bullets while concealed within the case. And its secret camera actually takes photos.
Parents more concerned about the influence of toys will find plenty of cause for anxiety. This year, many weapons wear camouflage for guerilla fighting. For instance, a paratrooper set billed as “a one-man junior army” features a camouflaged burp gun with recoiling barrel, bullet-shooting, capfiring .45 automatic with holster and belt, camouflaged helmet with netting, a grenade and a Sooper-Snooper 4way scope. A kit called Attack supplies two field cannons, howitzers, machine guns and mortar units, cases of shells, sand bags, and one bombedout house.
What about the girls? Between the time I outgrew my last baby doll and today’s Barbie craze, Santa revolutionized little-girlhood. The most popular dolls — toy dolls, I mean — aren't babies anymore. They're swinging teenagers, and a lot of them are named Barbie. They wear nÿlons and brassieres and mink stoles. For their hair, they need curlers, driers, wig packs and hair-coloring kits.
A few baby dolls survive, but the most highly touted of these are battery-powered. Baby Wiggles has her own built-in, wind-up music box. Baby First Step walks alone. Baby Boo cries when she wants to sleep — turn out the light and she stops.
Surprisingly, the commercial adult hand in the kid glove is nowhere more evident than in one kind of item in the plush-toy corner. Esso did a tiger promotion to sell more gas to car drivers—and now there are tigerface purses for tots, tiger TV chairs, tiger pyjama bags, tigers on casters.
Which underlines my point: it is our own adult fault that guns make up an estimated ten percent of the toy market. Just as our gasoline buying created tiger pyjama bags, our giftbuying created the moppet Mafia. And it’s a bit late in the day to plead ignorance if the gimmicky secret - agent guns, the battlefield rifles, cowboy derringers and teen fashion dolls result in a mass of psychic kinks for our children.
So what s the answer? Psychologist Dee Appley, of York University, defined for me the three things children need tor play: space, time and suitable material. We have substituted TV for space and time, and we hand children Bond-based toys for materials. Instead, - she suggested, “Before deciding to buy any toy, we should ask. What does 'it tell the child about the world? What does it tell him about himself?"
According to the Institute of Child Study of the University of Toronto, espionage toys appeal to adults with jaded imaginations. Plainly, if we want our children to have better values, we have to raise our own. Psychologist Fred Hopley gave a quick measure of a good toy: “A toy that gives a child an opportunity to develop his skills and imagination, one requiring he use his hands and brain.” The experts I talked to approve hockey games, child-guidance toys, trains, hobby and sports equipment, models, storybooks and tea things.
On the other hand, people who deplore the Barbie doll as a sick fad aren’t looking at the way the world is today. Mrs. I. Hoff, president of the Nursery Education Association of Ontario, points out: “Barbie reflects the reality of family life today. Mummy isn’t maternal anymore; she doesn’t cuddle and feed her babies over a number of years. She’s very busy — a good person, but on a different level. The little girl can no longer absorb the mother image. But she does see and admire teenagers, so she longs for teen-type dolls.”
The experts agree: a toy in itself won’t harm a child, as long as you are combatting the immorality of Bond, the self-appointed executioner. Says Fred Hopley, “Aggressiveness is normal, part of learning to get along with others. The aggression suggested by these toys reflects, in part, our society’s new freedom."
“War toys won’t make war seem natural—we aren’t giving ourselves enough credit as adults. The important thing is the way parents see things: if you are against violence and war, your child will reflect this. It all comes down to how we relate to one another. In the long run, it will be the good qualities that parents stress that will win out.”
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