A new exhibition entitled War Games has opened at the Museum of Childhood in London, with a selection of fighty toys from across the period since 1800. The website has a splendid range of different resources: a perspectives page includes essays by some academics as well as links to the exhibition blog, an online debate page, and the photographer Brian McCarty’s excellent War Toys project. There are also many images of toys to look at, though I have to say—dating myself somewhat—that the most evocative ones for me weren’t of aggressively nationalistic tin soldiers but the fantasy figures of my own youth, including my man Skeletor (see below). If these toys seem a bit masculine, by the way, read PhD student Mary Guyatt’s short essay: ‘the very first point I wish to make is that girls as well as boys liked to play with toy soldiers.’
The BBC visited the exhibition over the weekend and were introduced to five toys that, they say, ‘will never be sold again‘: a smiling Hitler in a Dinky-style staff car; a tiny model German Landser of 1914–18 gripping a French poilu by the throat and preparing to plunge a dagger into his chest; two toys sold in America during and after the second world war, one encouraging kids to drop a bomb on Hiroshima (this is actually just one of those little ‘roll the silver ball into a hole’ games, which is one of the most weirdly inappropriate disproportions of comparison I’ve ever seen) and the other—more openly racist but on balance perhaps less offensive—a darts game entitled ‘Get those Japs!’; and another bit of Hitler memorabilia, this one a tile game for very young children learning their letters and shapes. Spell the Führer’s name, happy German child!
I’m not so sure that toys like these will never be sold again, though, and that’s not just because I’ve seen Nazi memorabilia on public display in a junk/’antique’ shop window recently (and am sure there’s a roaring trade in the stuff on the internet). Check out the model Predator and Reaper drones over on Agamben Toys—an excellent and alarming tumblr that isn’t updated often enough—to see how far we’ve come. It takes a lot to make a skull-faced and muscle-bound baddie extruded by late industrial capitalism look like a relic of more innocent days, but I think Playmobil riot police are scarier than Skeletor any day.
Click images for source.