Thursday, 9 January 2014

Guns and Dolls-Should we promote a culture of violence through the sale of toys?

The recent controversy about the popular sale of a toy gun named after a particularly controversial figure in Pakistan was aired on the B.B.C. recently. The channel presented the views of a couple of parents who had opposing views on the matter. A few clips were also aired  on the channel showing children playing with the toy guns displaying violence and aggression. There is nothing new I guess, about role playing in children especially involving guns and battles between two different groups, children’s simulation of the adult world of conflict! The very tendency to be violent has always been ingrained in the human psyche since time immemorial. While playing with weapons has been popular amongst most boys, playing with dolls has been popular amongst girls. This difference of choice is not just the result of gender but also because of what has been imposed upon children by the society. While it is not unnatural for boys to play with dolls, it is the immediate family and the society at large that imposes this distinction between boys and girls!
But then to come back to the discussion that I saw on the B.B.C. channel, one of the speakers suggested that there was nothing wrong in giving her five year old son a gun to play with, and in any case he would get to play with his friend’s gun! The very idea is that depriving the child a toy gun would increase his desire to acquire one. It is like the curiosity a nicely wrapped object creates than when it is finally revealed in its true form. The other speaker, another mother, didn’t want to give her child a gun lest it would create a tendency to be violent. The important question is whether not giving a toy gun to your child would prevent him or her from being exposed to the vicarious thrill of violence and a desire for more. If the instinct for nurturing life is an ingrained attribute of humanity, then so is the instinct for violence and aggression. While it can’t be denied that both instincts form an important attribute of the human psyche, an imbalance could create disastrous results. Viewed from the perspective of  an anthropologist, both (promotion of nurture in the form of passivity  and violence in the form of offense for the purpose of safety and protection) are important  elements for the continued existence of a culture and a society.
History has shown how regimes have intentionally promoted violence in some form or the other as a safety vent for the welfare of the reigning regime. The popularity of Gladiators fighting in the Roman Arena was a safety valve for any resentment or grievance that people had for the regime. I very strongly believe however, that jousting, bull fighting, and  fighting amongst Gladiators (in spite of all the gore and violence)    had a  somehow less destructive impact on the human psyche  than the kind of violence we sell in the form of virtual games and popular toys. The popularity of virtual games that are based on violence  is the result of research done by marketing organisations that seek to exploit the vicarious thrill for violence in children. The same, however can be said about the excess promotion of games which promote a culture for passivity and lack of reaction for wrongs and evils in the society. One example would be the promotion of the stereotype Indian woman who patiently and rather passively endures the ills perpetrated on her by her marital family and the society. In many cases, the Ideal Indian woman is promoted as a person who has an infinite capacity for punishment! It is often sickening how much pain and suffering these women are ready to take! The harms of selling a product that promotes too much of a sense of security is however as harmful as selling a product that promotes violence.
This brings us to the issue of the popularity of the Osama Guns being sold in Pakistan. The very labelling of the toy guns as Osama Guns is the result of marketing firms who want to sell their product by linking it to a well known personality. It is a marketing strategy in effect, to associate a particular product with a Brand Ambassador so as to ensure that its popularity would leads to  a high volume of sale. It goes without saying that marketing firms should also take into consideration the moral responsibility of ensuring that their marketing strategy and promotion of their products does not have an adverse  psychological impact on the end user! Toy guns and toy dolls will continue to be sold down the years-children will continue to be children but what matters is how these products are marketed. To associate the product with a well known personality should depend on the moral standing that the personality has in the society! One should not popularise and romanticize toys by associating them with persons and personalities who have a questionable reputation in the society at large. The onus of ensuring the proper moral impact of a toy in the society lies with the marketing firms. The moot question is whether we should market a product that promotes violence in the society. It is true that violence sells like hot cakes but then are we ready to stand up to the repercussions of selling such a product? This  also goes for film producers and makers of virtual games who are ready to exploit a trusted formula to ensure that their product sells like hot cakes.The same can be said however of firms that promote an unnatural sense of security in a world that is faced with with uncertainties and the need for assertion of rights.
Unscrupulous marketing agencies will always try to exploit the vicarious desire for violence in children for ensuring the saleability of their products, but the then the moral responsibility should also be taken into consideration. We need to adopt a balanced approach towards the manufacturing and promotion of toys today. In a world that is being steadily torn apart by violence and regionalism and communalism, it is important for toy manufacturers to ensure that they produce toys that also promote the importance of peace and patience and togetherness. Today, more than ever, we need to promote an atmosphere of tolerance and co-existence, and this moral duty is being negated by marketing firms  that seek to popularize their products through cheap marketing strategies that milk and exploit the vicarious thrill for violence in children. If marketing agencies are not ready to shoulder their responsibility towards the society, then the onus of protecting their children lies on the shoulders of the parents. The ultimate peril and choice of buying a toy for their children lies with the parents.
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