When my son turned three, it seemed as though some special switch turned on in his mind, making him obsessed with heroes and "bad guys." He loves wearing his superhero costume with cape, or, when that's in the laundry, he wears his knight costume, which has a nifty sword holder, perfect for his little plush Haba dagger. I try to give him a vote of confidence by letting him know that I'm counting on him to defend the house from dragons.
Recently, though, his focus has been all about Star Wars. Maybe it's genetic because his dad was really into Star Wars as a child, and indeed, we still have Dad's plush Paploo and Wicket ewoks... as well as Dad's lingering enthusiasm for Star Wars.
Just a few days ago, in fact, while Patrick was waiting upstairs for me to find a book that we'd left downstairs, he was attacked by Stormtroopers, but they were apparently driven away by my guardian angel, his guardian angel, St. Michael the Archangel and St. Patrick. At least, that was the account I received. Of course, I was glad that no one got hurt by the Stormtrooper attack.
It did, however, remind me of something that I find problematic today in terms of merchandising that targets young boys, such as my sons. There often seems to be a particular focus on the "bad guys" that makes them seem cool and hence role models to imitate. I'm sure there are debates as to whether Darth Vader is really bad or just kinda bad or perhaps even remorseful. But I think it's pretty clear that overall he's supposed to be a bad guy. And when I was growing up, I don't remember much rooting for the bad guy. In terms of playing with little figures, I suppose bad guys are needed to play an antagonistic sort of role in the made-up stories of children, but the heroes are the heroes, and they should be the ones that get the attention and the glory.
I get a little worried these days when bad guys like Darth Vader are overly popular. For instance, check out Pottery Barn Kids' extensive Darth Vader product line, from backpacks to quilts. And don't think that I'm simply targeting PBK. I spotted a 36" Darth Vader figure at both Costco and Target within the last year. My son even asked for one! Apparently Darth Vader's "coolness" outweighs his being on the dark side, at least for some.
And now that you know how I feel about Darth Vader, it will probably not be surprising that I'm not a big fan of pirates. My kids and I have had numerous discussions regarding my dislike of pirates. Piracy, by definition, involves taking things that don't belong to you, making a profession out of stealing things (usually violently) from others who are having goods transported. Reading some Robert Louis Stevenson novels only reinforced my negative view of piracy. Akin to my comments on Vader, I'm not saying that all pirates are completely evil, but I think it's fairly uncontroversial that pirates intentionally practice piracy. From my perspective, that's not good. That's why I'm always negative if my kids mention dressing up as pirates or playing pirates or whatever.
It seems to me problematic when the "bad guys," who play such a role in the imagination of young children, also become cool. Personally, I don't want my children aspiring to be as cool as Darth Vader or pirates. There are much better imaginative role models for them.
Am I the only one who objects?