At a Fourth of July carnival last weekend, I was pushing our double stroller and sweating to the tinny sound of bad music while my children begged their grandparents for tickets to ride the Ferris Wheel. I was looking around and considering the impact that these events have on my children, since I remember being naively fond of them when I was young. It was almost as though things came into focus all of a sudden when I realized that about half of the games and vendors and rides had guns. There was the harmless water gun booth where you have to shoot the ducks for ten seconds to win the pocket sized, Styrofoam stuffed pelican. But that wasn’t really disturbing. The part that I found haunting was that several of the rides were aimed not only at promoting guns, but creating and marketing entertainment for children out of our country’s recent warfare.
This is not new to the entertainment industry. Even Pixar, who is seen as a champion for values in the modern onslaught of solicitation to children, promotes redemptive violence and the natural order of escalating conflict. I can see the eyes rolling now, even from this end of my computer screen, but bear with me. In “A Bug’s Life,” the conflict is with the grasshoppers, led by Hopper (the voice of Kevin Spacey), and the ants, led by Flick (the voice of Dave Foley). The grasshoppers are oppressing the ants and the resolution comes when the ants decide to fight the grasshoppers and win back their freedom. At one point in the movie, we are all welled with pride when the youngest ant, Dot, smacks the bad grasshopper and yells at him. Better yet, there is a silent yelp when (spoiler alert, and if you need a spoiler alert for this movie, then you don’t have children and are reading this for pleasure, so don’t worry about it) Kevin Spacey is eaten by a bird. No big deal, though, right? This is not World War III material here. Let’s get back to the carnival.
This is an actual picture of the Desert Storm ride at the carnival that I attended. I am sure everyone knows that little boys love big trucks and tanks. It is like a cat and a bell. They are compelled to play with big things. Also, they seem to know what sound a gun makes when they are just old enough to eat solid foods. This is a natural development (though it doesn’t help that we aim our fingers at them, pretend to shoot, and teach them to play dead like a puppy). The problem with our fondness of little boys and their methods of destruction is that we forget sometimes that it is our duty as adults to give our children a social conscience, to explain to them that not all guns are full of water and that the lives of other people are important.
We can handle A Bug’s Life and I even welcome the chance to have the conversation about violence with my children in the context of make believe insects, but I am disheartened at the way that we, as a culture, are talking to our kids about foreign policy and the impact of war on the lives of real people. Even the space ship ride, which doesn’t need guns to be fun or to get the message across that it is a space ship, has guns. At first, I asked my wife’ “why do those boats have guns?” That is when I looked around and realized that guns are as much a part of the carnival atmosphere as the five dollar hot dog.
You may think that I am over reacting, or that I am some liberal peace-nik nutjob, but I think that we are headed to a place in our culture where respect for guns is being replaced by ardent displays of power, where bigger and faster guns are more desirable than safe and reasonable recreation. We are breeding a generation of children who are desensitized to pain and death, and are accustomed to the news of war and destruction that is founded more in numbers and statistics than in the reality of the suffering that it creates. It was just a carnival, true, but it made me wince at the thought of my children associating that carnival music with the images of modern warfare.