Thomas Wictor

Toys as role models

Toys as role models

I heard today that two consumer advocacy groups want the Girls Scouts to end their commercial tie-in with Mattel, creators of Barbie.

“Holding Barbie, the quintessential fashion doll, up as a role model for Girl Scouts simultaneously sexualizes young girls, idealizes an impossible body type and undermines the Girl Scouts’ vital mission,” says Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Another consumer group, Center for a New American Dream, is joining in the protest.

Where to begin?

First of all the names of the two advocacy groups are chillingly Orwellian. “Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood” and “Center for a New American Dream.” Names like that tell you that this isn’t about dolls. This is about transforming society. Everybody’s free to try and make the changes they think are necessary, but good luck keeping your kids from from commercials. You’d have to lock them in steamer trunks until they were eighteen.

And when someone talks about a “new American dream”—especially if it’s a Center—I picture this.

An overreaction, I admit. But I was born in Venezuela and lived in three other nations in which the government and citizens tried to control all aspects of everybody’s life. I’m allergic to totalitarianism, whether it’s from the right or the left.

If you don’t want your kids to get the wrong idea about Barbie, be a good parent. The notion of toys as role models is ridiculous. I’ve known several women since they were babies. All went through a princess phase and a Barbie phase, and now they’re adults. One is a professional photographer, one is Goth writer, one is a buyer for a chemical company, one is a homemaker… Not a single one has body dysmorphic issues.

I have body dysmorphic issues, but they didn’t come from playing with Barbies. Here’s a confession: I loved playing with Barbies. It had no effect on me whatsoever.

Though I never asked my parents for a Barbie, I did ask them for a G.I. Joe. Those dolls action figures weren’t available in Venezuela, and there was some kind of problem with ordering one. So I drew my own on a piece of plywood, and Dad cut it out with a scroll saw. Then I painted it. I still have my plywood G.I. Joe.

At Mom’s insistence, I signed it on the back.

In 1967—when I was five—we came to California, and Mom bought me a real G.I. Joe, the Action Soldier. He was blond, like me.

Though he had a rifle and hand grenades, he didn’t influence me to become violent. Believe me, there were factors in my childhood that should’ve made me a murderer. But my G.I. Joe had no bearing on my behavior.

I bought my first firearm in 2006, when I was forty-four years old. Despite having played with “war toys,” I never wanted to own a gun. The reason I bought one was that my father decided he needed a gigantic gasoline-powered generator, which he’d hook up to all three of our houses in case of an earthquake or other disaster that cut off the electricity.

“Now we’ll have lights, and our food won’t spoil,” he said.

We live in gang country. Puente 13 is one of the oldest, most vicious criminal organizations in Southern California.

“What do you think is going to happen,” I asked Dad, “if all the power goes out, and then every gangster in the city hears your generator going and sees three houses with their lights on?”

“Then I’ll stand guard,” Dad said with his chin up. “I’ve got a ball bat.”

Though Dad was indeed a master with the baseball bat, even he couldn’t knock bullets out of the air. No amount of pleading would change his mind, so I bought a semiautomatic .40 caliber carbine. I wanted a weapon that was visually intimidating. To go with the carbine, I also bought ten magazines, which I filled with rounds. If anybody tried anything, I had one hundred bullets at my disposal.

I didn’t want to buy a gun. The only reason I did was because I was responsible for the safety of two elderly people who lived dangerously. Two years before they died, they were the victims of a home invasion. As I sat here typing, I suddenly felt that something was terribly wrong. I went outside and saw a strange car parked in Mom and Dad’s driveway, all the way at the end, by Dad’s workshop.

For some reason I knew this was trouble, so I got Tim. While he went into Mom and Dad’s house, I opened the front passenger door of the car to look in the glove compartment. The floor was covered with pill bottles. All were prescriptions for pain medication, each in a different name.

Tim then came out of the house with an ugly young porker who said that she’d come over because she’d met Mom, and Mom offered to sell her some plants. That was a lie. Mom never sold anything. She gave it away. Dad emerged from his shop and asked what was going on, and as the four of us talked, a leathery meth-head woman exited the front door onto the porch. She’d been hiding in the house while Tim was bringing the fat bitch out.

I’ve never been more angry in my life. My plan was to get my car, park behind the two home invaders, and hold them at gunpoint until the cops arrived. As I started to walk away, Tim told me to come back.

“Just get out of here,” he said to the women. He later explained that he didn’t know if the women were armed, and he didn’t want a gun battle in the driveway. He was right, of course.

The two travelers mounted up and backed down the driveway, and when they got to the street, they stopped.

“Honestly, mister!” the leathery meth-head shouted at me. “We weren’t doing anything! We just wanted to buy some plants!”

I didn’t reply. After they drove away, we debated how to find Mom, who always refused to carry a cell phone. She showed up a few minutes later, unharmed. We called the cops, and a deputy came and took a report. Strangely enough, he was an Uzbek immigrant, the first I’ve ever met.

He said the women had obviously cased Mom and Dad’s house, seen that two old people lived there, and waited until Mom left before going in the back door. Who knows what would’ve happened if Dad had come in and found them?

“Want my advice?” the cop said as he left. “Buy a handgun.”

So I did. A .357 magnum revolver, which I load with special ammunition designed to blow holes the diameter of tea saucers in people. I didn’t enjoy doing this, but I’d also never experienced a home invasion. My parents were utterly helpless. I’ve kept the guns because I get death threats from mental patients. If anyone shows up here to make good on their threats, I’m going to take them with me. We can hold hands as we explain ourselves to Saint Peter.

The threat-makers don’t know what they’re getting into. I’m an expert on World War I flamethrowers, an interest that was sparked by a toy that Dad bought me in 1969.

Under federal law, operational flamethrowers are perfectly legal to own. They’re completely unregulated. In California only flamethrowers that spray burning liquids are regulated. A propane flamethrower is fine.

As a historian I could easily get a permit to own a liquid-spraying flamethrower.

Want to bet the farm on whether or not I’ve already done so?

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