Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Where are the 'bad guys'?

Toy soldiers have been around for as long as we've had kids and war; given our propensities, they'll be around for a longer while still. These days they come as action figures, extremely detailed from the uniforms down to the weapons. Walk into any toy store and you'll see the kings of the line: Elite Force, Elite Operations, the high-end McFarlanes, and the undying GI Joes.

The lineup is impressive: you'll get Navy Seals, Desert Storm infantry, snipers, marines, rangers, and paratroopers. There's even a flight suit George Bush to commemorate his landing on an aircraft carrier. In a tribute to multiculturalism, you can also choose from African-American, Asian, and Hispanic ethnicities. One could say that there's an obsession for completism.

Except...where are the bad guys?

The death of al-Zarqawi last June 7 reminded me of a long-standing problem with the lineup of military toys being sold today. There are no 'bad guys,' so to speak. There are no adversaries to play against the uniformed, well-armed, and well-armed soldier figures. There's no darkness against the light, there's no evil against the good, and that's, well, a little boring.

Oh, sure, you have the Cobra troops to play against GI Joe, but Cobra is about as real as GI Joe. There's nothing and no one to match the gritty realism that's portrayed by a miniature squad of desert rangers. I mean, where are the action figures of Republican Guards? Where are the North Korean infantry? Where is the People' Liberation Army? Where are the Afghan mujahedeen? In the old days you could at least get German infantry or Viet Cong guerrillas, but not anymore. Why?

Worse still, there are no 'evil leader' action figures in the same way that we have Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine. There's no bin-Laden action figure, there's no al-Zarqawi, there's no Milosevic, there's not even a Kim Jong-Il. Even the doll from Team America would have been a welcome addition. Why?

At the root of it all, today's line of toy soldiers primarily carry American sensibilities. These speak volumes about the state of affairs today. So here are some theories:

1) Forget good and evil. There's no such thing. The ultimate sin according to today's American sensibilities is cultural intolerance. Everything is relative, so by the new American credo, we cannot put down any culture. Therefore, portraying soldiers of another culture to play against American soldiers is bad. Ergo, no bad guys, and especially no bad guys in turbans and robes.

2) Despite all the tough talk, bin-Laden, Kim Jong-Il, and even the late unlamented al-Zarqawi and Milosevic still scare the bejeezus out of American adults. They automatically extend these fears to their children. Ergo, no 'evil leader' action figures.

3) America's enemies today do not wear military uniforms. They wear ragged t-shirts, torn blue jeans, and ratty sneakers. They will be haggard and malnourished. From one perspective, these make for boring action figures; and for another, it simply goes to show the mismatch in firepower -- this, of course, will offend children's sensibilities, because how can you call with such ano obvious underdog fair?

On the other hand, this does provide the seed of an idea. Just get any old action figure in street clothes and put a rifle on him. Ta-da! Instant enemy.

4) American toy manufacturers are afraid that the 'bad guy' action figures might be more popular in countries outside of America, where these are actually considered 'good guys.' Worse, they are afraid that these would elicit sympathy among American kids (see number theory number 3).

Or maybe the military toys today really just reflective of the actual state of affairs. America against an invisible enemy forced into holes and shadows. That's why you have soldiers posed with their guns aiming at...nothing.

However you want to view it, the end result is the same: America refuses to dignify its enemies by giving them a face, credo of multiculturalism be damned. Ultimately, this approach is more damaging: unless you give form to your enemy -- a form that you can confront, punch, shoot, befriend, or forgive -- you will perpetually be afraid of him.

Or maybe there is no enemy, after all, and it's really just make-believe.


  1. Or maybe a case of "I have met the enemy, and he is us"-kind of thing. A paranoid America that is also at war with itself.

  2. Hi, Willy. Thanks for visiting. I don't think it's come to that point, or even if it ever will. The America that we've seen so far can do no wrong in its own eyes. Hence, their feeling of perpetual befuddlement as to why the world "hates" them.