I hate Florida. It’s flat and humid and buggy. Maybe that’s why they can’t count votes down there. The latest idiocy from the Sunshine State (apart from the fight over Charlie Crist’s fan) is the campaign by a mom to get “Breaking Bad” action figures off store shelves. Susan Schrivjer of Fort Myers has taken on Toys R Us and the show’s licensing people over just such a toy. Maybe she’s been in the sun too long or has become dehydrated. Worse, Toys R Us caved in, and I fear she may think her crusade should do more.
“Toys R Us is well known around the world for their vast selection of toys for children of all ages,” reads her petition, in which she called herself “Susan Myers.” “However their decision to sell a Breaking Bad doll, complete with a detachable sack of cash and a bag of meth, alongside children’s toys is a dangerous deviation from their family friendly values.” In an interview on WFTX News, she went on to say, “Kids mimic their action figures, if you will.” She and her ilk fear that we are glorifying drug dealing.
Well, Susan, as a father of three and a grandfather of one, let me share something with you. You are so incredibly wrong about this that I wonder if your parents are first cousins. I think my granddaughter would benefit greatly from playing with this kind of toy, and so would your kids.
Playing is how children prepare for adulthood. They learn best by playing. You’ve heard the ads, “IT makes learning fun.” Well, when it comes to playing with dolls/action figures, children almost inevitably create stories.
There are only three kinds of stories in all of literature. They all involve conflict — no conflict, no story, just a meaningless series of events (we call that “real life”). There is man against nature (Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” or Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”), then there is man against himself (every Disney sports-related movie), and there is man against man (any story about politics, war, crime or business). Some say a fourth is man against God, but as an atheist, I bundle that in with man against nature. The point is, there must be a conflict.
And so it is with children’s stories. “The Three Little Pigs” have the Big Bad Wolf, as does “Little Red Riding Hood.” Charlie Brown has Lucy and the football. Superman has Lex Luthor. If you want to teach children about right and wrong, good and evil, then you have to have a bad guy as well as the good guy. So when you break out your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures, you need to have the Shredder figure as well.
When I was a little boy, shortly after the last dinosaur died, we used to play lots of different games involving good guys and bad guys. Cops and robbers was one; the robbers were the bad guys in case you were wondering. And cowboys and Indians (yeah, that was racist and imperialist). And we played army (Americans and Germans, despite the fact that the country I grew up in was fighting along the Mekong River and not the Rhine). There was someone who took on the role of the bad guy, and I don’t think any of us became a bank robber or a Nazi as a result.
Play, however, reinforced the idea that there were good people and bad people — and that you wanted to be the good guy because they always won (let’s ignore cowboys and Indians here).
Now, let’s bring this over to Walter White, aka Heisenberg, the meth cook from “Breaking Bad.” Is he really all that different from the Shredder of “TMNT” fame? Or the robber from my childhood game? Only in the sense that there are real-life meth cooks out there, genuine people in the drug trade.
Pretending that they aren’t real won’t make them go away; in fact, pretending is likely to ensure that they never go away. A sanitized childhood where no bad guys exist, where everyone gets a trophy, too, is one in which children will excel at nothing except unwarranted self-esteem. Protecting your kid’s innocence is simply mommy and daddy trying, in vain and foolishly, to stop time. They won’t always be that age, and bad things are going to happen, and the question is whether you have prepared them for those things.
One of these days, your kid might just be offered blue meth from a Walter White or a Jesse Pinkman. If my granddaughter spends a year with a Walter White action figure making sure that the DEA agent figure kicks his ass day in and day out because he’s a bad man, she’s not going to listen to a thing the real-life asshat will say. She’ll be inoculated against it. Of course, we’ve got parents in Florida who won’t inoculate their kids against measles, either.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.