Monday, April 18, 2011

Nerf Gas

Nerf Dart Tag kidsDon’t mistake me. I hate those Nerf gun adverts on TV.

You know the ones. A group of all American teens (the wrong side of 16) who aren’t quite emotionally mature enough to dispense with the fantasy of being Bruce Willis in Die Hard, who rampage over an unbelievably clean urban landscape playing Nerf tag with their pump-action, fast loading Nerf guns and speaking like movie trailer voice-overs.

“You’re going down!”

“I’m locked and loaded!”

“Take that with my Nerf telescopic sniper rifle!”

“Eat foam Velcro-tipped dart, towel-head!”

Yeah. That kind of thing. I hate those adverts. Really hate them. And the kids in them. Nerdy jocks with too much testosterone but not enough to put away their toy guns and get themselves a proper girlfriend. They really get on my Nerfs.

So it was with much trepidation that we bought a couple of Nerf dart guns for the boys. The eldest was going to a Nerf dart tag party and hence had to be appropriately tooled up. So my wife, Karen, who’s knowledge of toy weaponry is worryingly superior to my own did the deed via Amazon and within a couple of days we were the proud owners of two gleaming green and orange pump action Nerf assault rifles.

The boys – including the youngest – have barely stopped playing with them.

It is disconcerting to see a 3 year old wearing eye goggles and operating the pump action on his Nerf gun like a ‘Nam vet. More worrying to discover that he got his eye in very quickly and, though is content to fire at everything and nothing most of the time, can still shoot the balls off a gnat when he wants to. Even the eldest boy – usually capable at missing a barn door whilst inside the barn – has discovered hitherto untapped reserves of accuracy.

The guns feel and look... er, good. They make the holder feel instantly macho and empowered. And I hate to say that. Because I like to think of myself as a pacific kind of guy. Not particularly marshal. But even I took great delight in bouncing a Nerf dart off the back of my wife’s head at 8 metres. It was a fine shot and took account of gravity and wind speed and the erratic movement of my target.

Technically it was friendly fire but, hey, with those credentials maybe I could get a job with the UN?

Joking aside though, I can’t help but see this affinity that we have with weaponry as deeply sad. And troubling. I’d like to put it down to the sportsman’s simple joy of launching an object through the air and hitting an aimed for target – a test of skill, accuracy and judgement.

But it isn’t, is it?

It’s about power and prowess and machismo. And even 3 year olds get it. Even when half an hour later they’re snuggled up in front of the TV watching Waybuloo.

It makes me feel like Sarah Connor’s son in Terminator 2 when he sees kids playing with guns in the desert and says, “We’re not going to make it, are we?”

‘Cos even if you don’t buy toy guns and toy swords for your kids they’ll go out and find an appropriately shaped stick and pretend one into being. What do you do? Place a limit on their imagination?

Denying our affinity for violence and aggressive is dangerous. The way I see it, it needs to be confronted. Marshalled, controlled, given a safe and constructive outlet.

And I guess this is where products like the Nerf guns come in. And believe me this is not an endorsement or a review – just my observations.

The darts are foam and relatively harmless. The guns come with protective goggles and vests. The vests have target areas on them. The competitive element has been ramped up rather than the murderous (though you can never expunge it completely).It’s just a game with a capital G.

So maybe those all American teens will grow up to be balanced individuals who channel their aggression into paint balling weekends or clay pigeon shooting precisely because they embraced their aggression in controlled play?

It’s certainly better that than them going on the rampage at a school or a town centre somewhere near you with an Uzi and a shotgun.

But ultimately, who knows?

I just feel like I have hypothetical blood on my hands this morning and it doesn’t feel too nice.



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32 comments:

the fly in the web said...

I grew up in a household with shotguns...and they weren't for playing with!
I was shown how to use a gun, told how to be careful...and that was it.
The rhyme used to instill gun discipline was
'Never, never let your gun
Pointed be at anyone.'
A gun wasn't glamorous, it was just something you used.
Properly.

Rol said...

I have no idea what you're talking about... but it's not the first time. I suppose I should watch more television. Or not fast-forward through the adverts.

Didn't Princess Leia accuse Han Solo of being a Nerf-herder? Is it anything to do with that?

Heather said...

it's interesting isn't it, the way a gun, even a pretend one firing bits of foam, can make us feel empowered and a force to be reckoned with. I played with them a bit during my military days.

Out here in Finland guns are normal - they sell them in supermarkets and most rural households have one. They are for hunting. Most kids will learn to shoot around age 13 and get their own rifle at 15/16. different cultures and thinking around the whole topic i guess. Have to say it makes me feel a bit uneasy, the thought of my two shooting real guns in 10 years time.

Steve said...

The fly in the web: I guess my problem with guns is how they are to be used "properly" - fired at grouse or some enemy in a different coloured uniform to the gun's owner...?

Rol: I like how, when all else fails, we can fall back onto Star Wars for a communal point of reference. I am the Simon Pegg to your Nick Frost. Or the other way around if you prefer.

the fly in the web said...

Properly...not pointed at people unless you mean to kill them.
The justification for which is down to societal pressures.

Steve said...

Heather: bet it makes the reindeer feel very uneasy too. I guess in countries like Finland the gun culture there is very different to that in the States, say, or even here in the UK. Possibly the respect shown to firearms in Finland is a darn sight healthier than in "English speaking" countries?

Steve said...

Rol: Just for you - NERF!. And not a Nerf-herder in sight.

Steve said...

The fly in the web: I still think It's A Knockout was a much better way to settle our differences - particularly between European nations.

Wanderlust said...

My 6 year old son has been salivating over those guns and I've thus far avoided buying one. But he loves anything that shoots or can somehow be construed to be a weapon. I hate it. I so much more comfortable with the fairies my daughter plays with.

Oh, and no matter how many times I tell him not to aim things at another person, that's what he does!

Steve said...

Wanderlust: it's no fun aiming at targets that don't move... and that's the scary thing. It's like boys - and girls, I guess - have this cat thing where, when they see "prey", they want to attack; even if it is only in play. I know the rule isn't true for everybody but it seems to be there more often than not.

Marginalia said...

“Eat foam Velcro-tipped dart, towel-head!”

Is this an illustration of how hard are the natives of your lovely Spa town?

Steve said...

Marginalia: no but it is an ironic pisstake of US gun culture.

Kelloggsville said...

nope you've completely lost me. Guess I'm tuned into Barbie and those shoes..lelly kelly or something equally bloody irritating.

Steve said...

Kelloggsville: now the people who make those Lelly Kelly adverts I could quite happily shoot.

Gorilla Bananas said...

How do you think your prehistoric ancestors felt when they brought down an animal with a bow-and-arrow? They felt elated because it meant they were going to eat. If you want to ease your conscience, pretend to be a pig when they're shooting you. Then let them put an apple in your mouth and roast you on a spit.

Owen said...

The good ole US of A remains the world leader in idiotic affection for guns. And despite the horrendous numbers of murders, we continue to hear the tired old moronic argument that guns don't kill people, people kill people.

I fear you may well be right Steve, such passions start building young, very young, and are probably hard to let go of.

You may be raising a pair of future Somalian pirates... watch out...

Being Me said...

I have to agree with you - I think there is a need for safe and marshalled boundary-aware playing like this. Mind you, I really really detest it. But as you say, they can imagine one into being by way of a stick or some other inanimate object anyway.

I don't know the answer. I'm only relieved I don't have to decide/draw the line because my girl is not remotely interested (and doesn't actually know what a gun is, I don't think - yet). Mind you, while I've been sitting here, she has replayed Spice Girls' "Stop" for the eleventieth time today AND turned up the volume (loud, really really zigga-zig-ah loud) so the neighbours can enjoy it as well... got any advice about that? Dear god help us all.

libby said...

For a very very brief period back in the seventies I joined a gun club (don't ask...I was young there was a chap..I am ashamed..) and I can still remember how it felt to hold different guns, and to aim and shoot..and I must admit, there was something very satisfying about being 'behind' a weapon...I can imagine that it gives a feeling of power to the wrong people....todays gun culture society is terrifying.

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: not sure that teaching my kids cannibalism is going to sort the issue for me.

Owen: at least I won't have to be worried about being dumped in a nursing home. They'll probably just abandon me on a desert island Captain Jack style.

Being Me: The Spice Girls? The only cure is to ger her into punk and goth and turn her into an Emo. Er. On second thoughts, The Spice Girls weren't all that bad...

Libby: I think on some level we all find our own destructive power very exhilerating - loud bangs and explosions excite us. The positive is that we are also very creative as a species. I guess life is a pendulum swinging between these two poles.

Nota Bene said...

Have you got a licence for those things?

Imagine the fun of waking your wife up on Sunday morning with one....

Steve said...

Nota Bene: I can imagine waking up in hospital the day after...

Anonymous said...

Appreaciate for the work you have done into the article, it helps clear away a few questions I had.

Mark said...

As is sometimes the case with Bloggertropolis I had absolutely no idea what you were talking about - but I got the general drift. Nerf guns - never heard of them. But I kind of want one now.

Steve said...

Anonymous: not least how to spell appreciate.

Mark: it's a guy thing. Secretly we all want one.

Very Bored in Catalunya said...

I've never seen these before, maybe I should watch TV every now and again.

I'm never quite sure how I feel about toy guns, the pacifist side of me hates them and doesn't want my son to ever play with them. Then the normal sensible side slaps me round the head and tells me not to be so sensitive and that it's part of normal growing up boyish behaviour that most grow out of.

Steve said...

Very Bored in Catalunya: I find myself in the same dilemma and have gone with the hope that my boys grow out of it.

MaidInAustralia said...

Oh, I'm against guns, but my son has always picked up a stick and pretended it was a gun, so what's the use of fighting it? He has a few Nerf guns now and loves them. And thinking back, I was a tomboy as a child, and had a broom I rode like a horse, chaps, cowboy hat and pop gun. I was the Milky Bar Girl. I think it goes with childhood and as long as they're educated that in the real world guns kill and maim and cause great despair, it's okay. Am I wrong?

Steve said...

MaidInAustralia: no, I think you're right. It's certainly the approach I am taking. I think good education is essential.

Phil said...

Ooooh – looks like everyone’s long gone. Just me and the cobwebs then.

In one way it’s an apt reminder of how close we still remain to our natural defaults and origins as a species isn’t it. Modern mankind has spent at least the last 50,000 years or so trying to practice the art of being civilised and living together peaceably and productively in a vast and varied selection of communities. Trouble is, long periods of dining out on nothing but peace and love just becomes such a bore, it’s just not exciting or uncivilised enough to sustain our more basic feral instincts. It’s still a tad too tame and permissible.

So for relief and recreation, we follow our lord and master over the hill now and again, to watch him kick down the fence of another community, plunder his goats and haul off his prettiest damsels, and afterwards back at the campfire, we cheer and chant and act out the whole encounter once again with sticks, dustbin lids and brooms for horses, while getting totally bladdered on warm beer. Doesn’t make us a society of psychopaths though, thank goodness.

It’s easy for a parent to teach the differences between black and white. They’re 180 degrees apart for starters. The tricky stuff is in the grey tones each side of the balance point in the middle - the boundary wall line between acceptable civilised behaviour and ‘the dark side’. Kids love to play up on the ramparts of the wall, lobbing sticks and stones at all the bogeymen on the other side. When mine were younger I would often let them get to the point where all I could see was their ankles and all I could hear were a few muted snivels as they dangled too far over the edge of the parapet, then I’d haul them back in again dust them off and say “there see, what did I tell you, hurts doesn’t it?”.

In the resultant balance of things in later life, the kids that suffered the most were either the ones who were never allowed to play up on that wall and the kids who regularly dropped off to play on the other-side altogether because their parents never had a clue where they played in the first place. Not that any of this is exactly groundbreaking news to you or anyone else by the way, it’s just that…well there’s nobody else inside this post tonight except me – so I thought I’d just have a bit of a rant in here all by myself and listen to the echo’s bouncing off the walls…walls…walls…walls. Seeing as I need the commenting practice after all this time…time…time…time…

Steve said...

Phil: good to now I'm not alone and I dig and agree with all you are saying. Can I book you in to take my kids to Kenilworth Castle next weekend? They could do with the exercise not to mention being scared out of their wits by being dangled over the parapets. Nobody does that anymore since their uncle Michael Jackson died last year.

Jake Roberts said...

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Military toy guns

Steve said...

Nice idea, Jake, but I'll give it a miss if you don't mind. Shame all guns can't do the same, eh?