Mocking the State in the Digital Age

by Joel Poindexter

Recently by Joel Poindexter: State by State, a Nullification DominoEffect

In what is best described as a thinly veiled attempt to further indoctrinate children, the Playmobil and Maisto companies have introduced several toys over the past couple of years that promote drone warfare and police-statism. One toy is TSA-style airport checkpoint, designed for children age four and older, complete with a body scanner and an x-ray machine. The other toy is a drone aircraft. It seems you have to buy burning, torn apart and terrorized villagers separately, though. Seriously, check them out, Amazon sells both.

If nothing else, this is certainly one of the saddest indicators of just how far American culture has slipped into despotism, that implements of war and state control are being marketed to young children. Not that G.I. Joes, green army men, and toy police handcuffs – which have the same effect – haven’t been sold for decades. But given the totalitarian nature of drone warfare, and the callousness with which it is executed, the drone toys are certainly worse. It’s long been understood that sexual predators often use toys as a means of manipulating their victims, so the connection in this case is equally repulsive.

It’s not just kids who are barraged with media that conditions people to become more and more comfortable with, and accepting of, the state’s control. Adults are subject to advertising that in one way or another lends some legitimacy to the TSA and the state’s goons. For years advertising firms have been using airport security motifs in commercials selling everything from auto insurance and chewing gum, to shoes and casinos.

Searching through these commercials, most of which can be found on YouTube, several dominant themes emerge. General harassment of travelers abounds. In virtually every example, passengers display nervousness and unease in the face of intimidating and power-hungry bureaucrats. Some commercials use this discomfort to sell a product that is supposed to counter this ugly feeling, in one case it’s a quality power tools to give you peace of mind. It's clear that not all passengers must face the state's gauntlet however, as those deemed "more equal than others," to borrow from George Orwell, are given an easy pass through security. This FOX Sports ad demonstrates the concept, where the rich and powerful aren't subjected to the same despicable treatment as the lowly serfs.

Sexual harassment and molestation is, naturally, frequent in these ads. In some cases it appears less coercive than in real life, if not at least awkward for the victim. In other instances the crotch-grabbing and privacy invasions are not portrayed in such a light-hearted way. It’s quite obvious the victim-traveler is being assaulted and is in no way comfortable with the experience. See the spot for a men’s body spray, or power tools mentioned above for an example of each.

No portrayal of the nation’s “Thieves and Sexual Assailants” would be accurate without showing plenty of cases of the DHS’s thugs pilfering people’s stuff and confiscating their property. Food items seem to be the most common property taken by the TSA in these commercials, no doubt a tribute to the complete madness of prohibiting the possession of bottled water, snacks, and even shampoos and lotions by air travelers. Though not as frequent in the commercials, the thievery that takes place in American airports is staggering. Perhaps remarkably, ABC News aired an investigation that revealed the "Top 20 Airports for TSA Theft." It’s not just soda and chocolate candies that are taken; computers, iPads, camera equipment, and many other expensive and important pieces of property are lifted by TSA employees’ sticky fingers.

Such influential components of pop-culture as children’s toys and advertising, which are helping to normalize totalitarianism, is not going unchallenged, and there is reason to be optimistic about the future. The Internet has allowed for the great disbursement of information, but it also provides a vehicle for individuals to respond and provide feedback to existing media that is unprecedented. Browsing through the product reviews on Amazon for the above toys, it’s quite clear that consumers are not pleased with these items, and are more than happy to say so. Many are quite humorous, openly mocking not just the products and their manufacturers, but taking head on the state and its sociopathic functionaries.

Some reviews are short, but stinging nonetheless. See this comment from M. McKnight, who wrote that “This toy would be a lot more realistic with about 350 people standing in line for an average of an hour. It still makes a nice set with the interrogation room.” And one of my favorites, worth quoting at length, comes from someone using the name “loosenut.” He writes:

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5-year-old son pointed out that the passenger’s shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger’s scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said ‘that’s the worst security ever!’ But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital.

The best thing about this product is that it teaches kids about the realities of living in a high-surveillance society. My son said he wants the Playmobil Neighborhood Surveillance System set for Christmas. I’ve heard that the CC TV cameras on that thing are pretty worthless in terms of quality and motion detection, so I think I’ll get him the Playmobil Abu-Ghraib Interrogation Set instead (it comes with a cute little memo from George Bush).

Another clever attack on these products, and thus the government's authoritarian system, are the customer-submitted pictures.

The drone toy faired equally poorly, if its reviews are any indicator. Vanessa explained that her son spends “countless, blissful hours simulating massacres of weddings, funerals, and other family gatherings of brown skinned foreigners! He even realized that if he circled the drone back around on the first responders, his effective kill rate soared! Neat-o!” Being a responsible parent, Vanessa wanted an educational aspect to her child’s toy, and was equally pleased. She thought that “Educationally, this toy can’t be beat – inculcating a predilection for indiscriminate, imperialist violence against non-combatants from oppressed and marginalized communities is precisely in accordance with truly ‘American values!’ U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!”

The education theme seemed to run through many of the reviews. Alex “really wanted to show [his] toddler that it’s okay to murder people and still come out a ‘hero’ as long as you’re in an air conditioned trailer remotely operating a Predator Drone 10,000 miles away in Pakistan.” After all, he reasoned, “If the government sanctions murder, it must be ok, right?” Robert gave a brief review, but no less scathing in its indictment of the imperial state: “Whether [you’re] violating constitutional rights at home, or bombing children abroad, this toy’s perfect for all clandestine missions! Double tap strike to triple your pleasure and casualties!”

It’s difficult to know how popular these toys actually are; one can only hope they’re not flying off store shelves or being added to Amazon’s digital shopping carts in large numbers. It’s also hard to know how effective the TV commercials are, and again, there’s reason to hope they don’t catch on with other firms. In some cases it’s possible the ads serve as a form of social commentary, that they too are an indictment in some way of the police state. This seemed to be a popular interpretation among many of the YouTube comments. If this is true, it would be nice, but often these commercials appear only to condition viewers to the new reality of the increasingly Orwellian world in which we find ourselves.

At least for the time being, this is the new normal. But thanks to the Internet and the rise if the digital age, and because of organizations like the Ludwig von Mises Institute and, and the desire of freedom by so many, it will slip into obscurity. Historians will one day come across these toys, and digital archeologists will stumble upon these commercials, and be shocked at the depravity of the modern American state.

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