McGinnis: Killers for kiddies?Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ladies and gentlemen, the moral minority and their publicity assistants in the media have once again spotlighted a horrific danger to the nation’s children. And, ironically enough, it lurks in the least likely of places: Toys “R” Us.
This week, controversy “erupted” throughout the nation as it was revealed that the country’s largest retailer of children’s playthings was stocking — gasp — an action figure depicting a killer! A serial killer! “America’s favorite serial killer,” to be exact!
The controversy began when Jim Shultz of Columbus, Ohio, noticed that an action figure depicting the star of Showtime’s hit drama “Dexter” was available in his local Toys “R” Us franchise.
“I thought, ‘Oh my god! You’ve got this in Toys “R” Us? Are you kiddin’ me?’” Shultz, described as a ‘toy collector,’ was quoted as saying.
His discovery led to a media firestorm. An article on AOL News quoted Texas crime victim advocate Andy Kahan as saying, “I have been monitoring items glamorizing serial killers for over a decade and this is, with the exception of Charles Manson’s music CDs, the only time I have actually seen an actual serial killer being marketed in major retail establishments.”
OK, time out. Time for a reality check.
First, “Dexter” is not an “actual serial killer.” He is the fictional lead character of a popular television series. Yes, the character is a killer, but the show’s structure is designed to blur the moral line by making its lead character psychotic and sympathetic. This is not an effort to glorify a real-life murderer. There aren’t any Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer figures available in the store. And that doesn’t even take into account the myriad violent and adult figures that have been available at Toys “R” Us and other toy retailers for years. Michael Crawford, of the popular toy review site Michael Crawford’s Review of the Week (www.mwctoys.com/) has seen far more questionable choices in Toys “R” Us aisles over the years.
“There are several figures in that very aisle that could be considered as bad or worse, depending on your personal tastes. There are figures of Rorschach, from the very violent R-rated movie ‘Watchmen.’ He’s clearly psychopathic and a killer. There’s also the usual suspects, like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, both with bloody weapons,” Crawford said in an interview. “None of these current figures has caused any controversy.”
Freddy and Jason aren’t alone in the “killers sold in a kiddies’ store” department. A glance at the Toys “R” Us on Reynolds Road revealed no sign of the controversial Dexter toy, but plenty of figures available for Terminator, Heath Ledger’s Joker, Godzilla, the Wolfman, the Lost Boys, Predator and characters from violent video games like “Assassin’s Creed” and “Bioshock.” There was even a “Nightmare on Elm Street” figure depicting a female character’s arms being blown off, complete with blood splatter.
On the official website of Bif Bang Pow, the makers of the Dexter figure, a statement was posted pointing out the double standard of criticizing the sale of this figure, while other figures depicting fictional mass murderers (they name Darth Vader and Edward Cullen, among others) are sold without controversy. “The only difference is that our
Dexter action figures are specifically labeled and clearly marketed towards adults only, while other fictional characters are marketed towards children,” the statement said.
Oh, and did I hear myself mention video games? Just a few aisles over in the gaming section, all sorts of bloody fun can be had — “Mafia II,” “Grand Theft Auto,” “Red Dead Redemption,” “God of War” and more. All carry the “M” tag, indicating that they are to be sold to adults only. Come to think of it, the much-maligned Dexter figure is listed as an adults-only toy, too. So why are they in a store geared to kids? Why? Why?
Maybe because Toys “R” Us doesn’t just sell to kids nowadays. As an audience of adult toy collectors grows, the retailer has expanded to include a selection of figures aimed at that market. The Dexter figure is part of that.
“Toys “R” Us is attempting to expand into the adult collector market, and that’s good for them and good for us,” Crawford said. “Gone are the days when we can easily pick up figures like this at the local Media Play or Electronics Boutique. Now, most collectors have to turn to online shops for figures like these, and that can have its own set of issues. Hopefully, foolishness like this won’t end up stalling those efforts.”
And frankly, the controversy is probably the best publicity that Bif Bang Pow, the creators of the Dexter figure, could have ever hoped for. In the AOL story, a store employee was quoted as saying the store had sold “a ton” of figures in the past week, and were now sold out.
Bif Bang Pow representative Jason Labowitz added in an e-mail to me that, “while we can’t comment on how this has impacted sales at Toys “R” Us, internally we have completely sold out of the Dexter action figure that was initially featured in the controversy. Our forecasted supply that was scheduled to last us through our entire Holiday 2010 season has just sold out. I’d love to say that we helped come up with this controversy, but if we did so, we would have had more supply on hand to sell!”
Had you heard about the figure before the controversy arose? Think the non-stop free advertising the controversy has given it might have something to do with its popularity? In the end, those rallying against the toy will perhaps learn an important civics lesson: Calling for censorship only makes people want to hear (or buy) what you’re rallying against all the more.
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.