Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Halt! Or you will be merchandised!

I was looking at toys on the Sainsbury's website today and was rather surprised to see a range called HM Armed Forces. If you don't believe me, their own website is here, they have a not very good blog here and of course, a (pretty tacky) youtube video:

Thanks to having little kids, I've started paying attention to toys again in recent years. It has struck me that when I was little there were far more realistic 'war' toys around than there are now. My Action Men of the late 70s/early 80s were dressed in the UK uniforms of the time and armed with contemporary weaponry. One was in olive drab and DPM and armed with his SLR so presumably was going to play his part in stopping the Russians getting to the Fulda Gap; another was in all white, had skis and a white SLR so seemed destined to clash with the Spetznaz in a defence of Narvik along side his fellow RM Arctic Warfare Cadre. The last one, most obviously of all, with his all black uniform, H&K MP5 and gas mask was going to go through windows to neatly double tap Libyan terrorists. This was clearly all good educational stuff for a young lad. The Action Men of now are like comic book heroes who seem to fight wars in day glo colours on jet skis of no obvious military utility.

So it's interesting that there seems to be a gap in the market now for "realistic" action figures, but with British troops dying almost daily in Afghanistan it does seem very slightly in bad taste. Is the market gap a new engagement with global reality amongst the male, 5 to 10 year old demographic? Or perhaps more like the nostalgia of thirtysomething dads remembering the SLR wielding Action Men of their childhood. The HM Forces do have an enemy character: "the Mercenary", a suitably PC solution for who it is OK to blow away (although look carefully, that's a German rifle isn't it? Hmmm....). I wonder if next up will be a Taliban insurgent figure? If so, we fortunately already have a Harrier available should your infantryman need some close air support. You can also get an HM Forces radio set, although of course to a be like a real HM Forces radio set, it would have to have taken 20 years to procure, weigh a tonne, work considerably worse than the commercially available alternatives and have costed the tax payer hundreds of millions of quid.

But leaving politics aside - what the hell are HM Forces doing franchising their name? Does Her Maj herself get any say? Or perhaps even a cut of the profits? Will the income stream generated from HM Armed Forces Toys be enough to the plug the helicopter deficit in Helmand? I was just thinking recently how smart HM Forces have been lending their assets (from a Eurofighter to a tank regiment) to the BBC in recent years for various episodes of "Top Gear"* but, in effect, merchandising the Afghan war to toy manufacturers does seem like a rather postmodern step.

*and you have to admit, this is one of the funniest and cleverest pieces of TV entertainment in recent years no matter how much I want to loath Clarkson for everything he stands for.

1 comment:

Instant Kaamos said...

Fantastic. Maybe if the Taliban bring out their own range we could just agree to fight it out, toy to toy. Imagine the saving in defence spending! Not a patch on Action Man though -- remember "realistic hair" and "gripping hands"? And why did they all have the same scar on their cheek? Was it some sort of initiation ritual?

(The Youtube Video is beyond belief by the way.)