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Big Guns in Playroom War Zones Set Off Christmas Battle

December 9, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ Many of the nation’s editorial cartoonists are using their newspaper and magazine spots between now and Christmas o protest the sale of war toys, focusing on the issue of whether such items are healthy.

But while the debate goes on, sales of war toys continue to soar.

G.I. Joe, with his $130 aircraft carrier and other accoutrements, is the nation’s biggest selling toy. Rambo, Ninja Warrior and other war toys also are especially popular during this holiday gift-giving season.

″I get 100 calls a day for Lazer Tag,″ said Sharon Cullity, a buyer for the Pennywhistle toy stores in New York City, referring to the futuristic light guns. ″All this Rambo. It’s crazy. It’s guns, guns, guns.″

A growing number of stores like Pennywhistle ignore war toys and concentrate on educational toys and cuddly animals. The Enchanted Village chain, for example, grew from five stores last year to 15 scattered across the nation today.

But most stores report they do a booming business in such bellicose- sounding toys as Thundercats, Transformers and Blasterhawks.

″They see it on TV, they hear about it. It’s life,″ said Donna Apostol of St. Johns, Mich., who was shopping recently in the toy gun aisle at Toys ″R″ Us in Lansing. ″If you’re going to let them watch it on TV, you have to let them play with it.″

Some find that disturbing. Between Dec. 10 and Dec. 24, more than 40 editorial cartoonists, including eight Pulitzer Prize winners, will use their cartoons to urge parents to avoid toys with violent themes.

″At a time when we are supposed to be celebrating peace, it seems insane to turn war into a Christmas present,″ said Bob Staake, a St. Louis free- lance cartoonist who organized the effort.

Toy companies bristle at the term, ″war toys.″

″It is a name we don’t recognize,″ said Douglas Thomson, president of the Toy Manufacturers of America. The industry group prefers the terms guns and action figures.

G.I. Joe, Lazer Tag, Transformers and M.A.S.K. action figures are among the top 10 toys in terms of dollar volume, based on a survey of 3,000 retailers by Toy and Hobby World magazine. Sales of action figures grew from $622 million in 1984 to $840 million in 1985 and Thomson said they make up about 10 percent of toy sales.

The manufacturers say their toys do not cause aggression, glorify war or hurt children in any way. Besides, they say, it is natural for little boys to play war, and these are the toys that people want.

″The public is going to buy what they like and they’re going to discard what they don’t like, and nothing works faster in this country than consumer taste,″ Thomson said at a symposium on war toys last week.

Some psychologists also say that war toys are not harmful.

″Kids can differentiate between violence that is funny and violence that is sickening,″ said Brian Sutton-Smith, a professor of education and folklore at the University of Pennsylvania. ″They can clearly tell the difference between Road Runner and the evening news, violence that hurts and violence that doesn’t hurt.″

″Culture is full of murder, Shakespeare is full of murder,″ he said. ″Do you want to get rid of that?″

But others don’t buy it.

″I think they’re adult nightmares and I don’t think they belong on children’s TV and they don’t belong in the toy boxes,″ said Elin McCoy, a children’s book author and journalist.

The toys often involve detailed scenarios where there are no gradations of good and evil, where redemption is impossible, and where conflict is inevitable, said Ms. McCoy, who has studied the scripts that accompany such toys.

The toys also provide detailed information about warfare and weapons, she said, far more than what children of the past needed to play war.

″I find it disturbing when my son, who is 7, can recite to me exactly what the MAC-2 is,″ she said, ″I think my son has enough imagination to think of things to do to play war that would not involve throwing people into spiked pits.″

Others agree. At the Jordan Marsh department store in Boston, shopper Margaret Silva motioned toward the array of monstrous, muscular hero toys and said, ″to be honest, I’m glad I don’t have a boy to shop for.″

At Toys by Roy in Dallas, there was an array of G.I. Joes, but no Rambos. Manager Tanya Adelstein said a seminar for toy buyers made her decide not to stock that figure.

″The presentation in New York was frightening,″ she said. ″The message was kill, kill, kill.″

But Thomson of the Toy Manufacturers Association said the furor is overblown.

″When you get to the question of what toys to get, then I think you’re getting down pretty low in priority...,″ he said. ″We draw lines on much more serious things day in and day out in bringing up children.″

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