is something awfully weird about J.C. Penney's "Forward
Command Post," a toy for kids age five and up. It's not
apparent, at first sight, exactly where the weirdness is coming
from. Sure, it's a battle scene, and the house is shattered,
cratered with bullet holes and looking kind of charred. But
what else would you expect from a war toy built around this
concept right? Yes, but look closer
is overturned, and scattered about, but you'll notice it's
pretty expensive-looking furniture. Not the sort that would
be in some Third World hovel. And the house itself, which
has seen better days, looks like it was once a prime piece
of real estate: it has a deck, and a balcony. Not exactly
a slum, but not a palace either: just your typical middle
class home. And that is what gives this "toy" a
truly sinister edge: it looks too familiar to be a scene from
some foreign battlefield. It looks like Barbie's Dream House
after the apocalypse or your house after a bout of rather
fierce street fighting.
seems clear to me that this Forward Command Post is located,
not in some exotic foreign locale, but right here in America,
or, at least, a country very much like the U.S. If this were
Somalia, say, or even the most developed section of the Middle
East, we would see some indication of foreign-ness: a somewhat
minaret-ish structure, a Persian rug, a tell-tale decorative
pattern adorning the balcony. But no: nothing but the straight
lines and bourgeois coziness of a typically American home,
right down to the vaguely Victorian-style window frames, which
I can see replicas of if I just open the door and walk half
a block down the street.
implications of such a "toy" are downright eerie.
You remember being a child, don't you? You remember peopling
the landscape of your imagination with all sorts of creatures
and scenarios. What, exactly, is being suggested as a narrative
in this instance? Toy soldiers, one arrayed against the other,
are one thing: that, at least, is a fair fight; but this is
just one rather ominous-looking "action figure"
presiding over the ruins of somebody's home. He stands on
the balcony, ready to take on all comers, but what did he
do on the way up there and to whom?
got more letters about the
story our webmaster Eric Garris did on "Forward Command
Post" than on any single piece we've ever published.
Hundreds of emails, most of them horrified that such a toy
could exist, but a few saying "so what's the big deal."
One wise-guy even thanked us for the heads-up: we was going
to be sure to get one for his son for Christmas. (Hey, how
would you like having that guy for a father!)
of our critics, however, seemed to miss the point. Far from
being one of those whiny hippie guys who think children should
be shielded from everything unpleasant, especially so-called
"war toys," I take quite the opposite view. When
I was a kid we played Romans, wielding wooden swords. Garbage-can
tops made great shields. I still remember getting upbraided
by my parents: they had gotten an irate phone call from the
very conservative Irishman down the block wanting to know
why I was trying to get his kids involved in a battle on behalf
of the "Red Army." I had a fine time talking myself
out of that one.
games are a learning experience: we learned history, and named
our toy soldiers Achilles,
But "Forward Command Post" is nothing like that,
and the closer we look, the weirder it gets. Pinned to a pillar
in the center of this surrealistic scene is an official-looking
notice: I can't quite make it out, but one can easily imagine
an official notice of requisition. The house has been seized
by the government as an "emergency" measure, under
the sweeping powers granted to whom? And what government
are we talking about here?
we look at toys as framing and shaping the childish imagination,
as well as getting them used to the world as it is, then why
"Forward Command Post"? Why familiarize children
with a scene of urban fighting straight out of the Second
American Civil War? The overlay of the violent and the familiar,
the implication of unseen atrocities, the white plaster broken
in places, exposing the red brick innards of the house, like
open wounds. This toy is telling our kids a story, but the
plot-line seems a trifle twisted.
a concession to squeamishness remember this is a supposed
to be a suitable Christmas gift for a five-year-old we have
"action figures" but no corpses. One can always
make do, however, with Barbie
dolls, and, for added realism, maybe a few "Bimbo
Barbies" ($45.00, at FAO Schwartz) walking the streets
of the bombed-out city.
sure like to get a good look inside the mental landscape of
the person or persons responsible for this bizarre construct
masquerading as a plaything for children: or, on second thought,
maybe just a brief glimpse.
don't know if it's fair to draw any wider implications from
the mere existence of such a strange product, unless, of course,
it becomes wildly popular. From the reaction
to the story
in the media,
and from the many letters we got, it seems clear that we haven't
yet reached the final stage of imperial decadence, where sadistic
games are a common pastime and no one bats an eye.
general response to "Forward Command Post" seemed
to be shocked incredulity, and I don't imagine it is selling
all that well this year especially at 45 bucks a pop. Pretty
pricey for what is really just a cheap plastic trompe
d'oeil of an atrocity scene. We are not yet Rome:
or, if we are, it is in the last days of the republic, before
the rot set in.
one reason I don't buy the fashionable anti-Americanism of
the anti-populist, alienated Left, which sees America as thoroughly
corrupted by capitalism, "greed," and bourgeois
individualism. It is precisely because of the huge American
middle class, and its bourgeois values, that our culture has
so far remained immune to the more demented forms of decadence.
In a healthy culture, one not yet too distorted by endless
wars of conquest, a "toy" that is openly recruiting
kiddies to play the game of "War Criminal" is bound
and it has.
LIBERTARIAN STUDENT MOVEMENT TAKES OFF
want to thank John Thrasher, of the University of Colorado,
in beautiful Boulder, and the UC
Libertarians for sponsoring my recent visit to their campus,
where I spoke on "Iraq: First Stop on the Road to Empire."
As usual, the question-and-answer period was the most fun,
for me, and lasted longer than my spiel. I also had a great
time just hanging out and I even made my early morning flight
after only a few hours sleep!
things are happening on the student libertarian front: that
has been the one overwhelming impression I brought back with
me from the 2002 Antiwar.com campus tour. Everywhere I went,
libertarian youth groups were getting more active and experiencing
a wave of growth. And they are taking the lead, on many campuses,
in organizing against the prospect of war in the Middle East.
good news is that these disparate efforts, scattered across
the country, are reaching out to each other, and beginning
to think about how they might coordinate their activities
on a national scale. During the early 1980s, there was a national
libertarian youth group. Students for a Libertarian Society
(SLS) was founded by followers of Murray Rothbard as a consequence
of a strategy memo Rothbard wrote for Charles Koch, chief
funder of the Cato Institute and allied libertarian institutions.
Before its untimely demise, sometime in the mid-80s, SLS did
manage to establish a national network of libertarian campus
activists, and attracted considerable notice. Now, SLS has
been revived, along with the activist spirit that animated
the original group. They're planning a national conference,
and it is going to be a blast. If you're a student hanging
out at your parents' place for Christmas, surfing the internet
to distract yourself from god knows what, then check
out the new SLS here.
course, Antiwar.com is always "on duty,"
so to speak, and we'll be watching, as Christmas carolers
sing outside the window, for any signs in Iraq of the much-anticipated
war. Leave it to the War Party to catch everyone unawares.
Everyone, that is, but us. We'll be at our posts all
through the holiday season, updating the news as it comes,
but my next column will appear on Monday, December 29.
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