Among the many friendships I've developed at Fuller over the past decade, one is with one of the semi-retired professors on campus, who I took a Preaching course from many years ago. Yesterday, while he was on campus, he stopped by my office, and we began to talk a bit about Transformers. It seems that at least one of his grandchildren has developed an interest in Transformers, and "Grandpa" is valiantly trying to keep up with what his grandson clearly seems to know quite a lot about. Some of the barriers to communication are the usual generational gaps that always occur when it comes to toys and toylines: "You already have every possible Transformer on Earth!" (How many of us have heard this from our own parents? And, of course, it's never remotely true, it doesn't matter if we're talking about Transformers or whatever...) But some of the issues run considerably deeper.
My professor friend considers himself a pacifist, and so is understandably concerned about children's entertainment with a military theme. How does he teach his grandchild the importance of finding non-violent ways of combating the very real evils in the world around us, when that grandchild's favorite toys all come with weapons and are part of a story of two armies (one "good," one "evil") battling each other in explicitly military fashion?
Although I don't quite consider myself a pacifist, I'm more than a little sympathetic to such concerns. Yet I myself am a huge fan of one of these "military" toy franchises. How do I reconcile these interests? Do I? If I really bothered to spend the time to think about it, I'm not at all sure I'd consider Optimus Prime the kind of role model I'd want my hypothetical grandkids being influenced by. To be clear, my friend wasn't hostile to the Transformers concept. But he is bothered by some of the implications of what he sees when he watches his grandchild's interests, and I can hardly blame him.
But at the same time, with a couple of exceptions, I really don't support movements to have toylines "sanitized" to eliminate such militaristic influences. I mean, it's one thing to be perfectly happy never to have Hasbro release a toy that looks like a realistic gun again, but I see little reason to argue that the tiny "weapons" that come with most figures should be eliminated. I suppose I wouldn't actively oppose such a movement, but it just seems a bit excessive.
Yet, even though I can pull out the "I like them, and I didn't turn out like that" line (an argument I've never considered very viable), how can I not acknowledge that some people do learn their conflict-management skills (let alone the viability of war) from such children's entertainment? Just because I don't support a wholesale ban on anything "military-related" in toys doesn't mean that I don't think anything can or should be done. But is there a middle ground? Would such a middle ground even be an improvement?
My friend got me thinking, but I'm sure that I haven't figured out any meaningful answers yet.