Crash Dummies let 8-year-olds smash things apart and put them together again

December 04, 1992|By Barbara T. Roessner | Barbara T. Roessner,The Hartford Courant

I confess: Crash Dummies are big in my house, which, considering the press they're getting, is roughly akin to publicly acknowledging that I am a pedophile, an ax murderer or some combination of the two.

But I offer no mea culpa for my dummy ownership, just this simple defense: Crash Dummies are toys. They aren't real. They're plastic. They're fake. They aren't flesh and blood.

They're dummies.

tTC Ever since Tyco introduced them to the toy market, Crash Dummies have been excoriated as sick and warped, and a scourge upon the psyches of the nation's young. A few years ago, it was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles whose moniker alone, drained of its obvious comedic irony by parental paranoia,took the award for most-likely-to-scar-your-child-for-life toy. This year, it's the Dummies that are sweeping the scapegoat category.

For the uninitiated, Crash Dummies are small, robotlike action figures that explode on contact with hard surfaces, such as walls. Well, they don't explode actually; their snap-on heads and arms and legs sort of fall off their torsos. Their accompanying vehicles -- cars, trucks, motorcycles, -- also come undone on impact, scattering little plastic tires, doors and engines to smithereens. These stray parts are then gathered and reattached.

It sounds a bit macabre, I know, but the thing you've got to understand about Crash Dummies is that they bear absolutely no resemblance to real human beings. They're astonishingly un-lifelike. Remember, they're dummies.

In fact, they're modeled directly on the dummies featured in the U.S. Department of Transportation's public service announcements promoting seat belts. And while the feds' willingness to commercialize "Vince" and "Larry" may well be warped, is that any reason to condemn the product of their public-private collusion with Tyco?

A Hartford, Conn., clergyman thinks so; the Rev. Christopher L. Rose, pastor of Grace Episcopal Church, is calling for a congressional investigation into what he calls "dummygate." Of more immediate interest, Mr. Rose has placed the Crash Dummies at the top of his annual list of "warped toys for Christmas," claiming they desensitize children to violence. In fact, he labels them "Dahmer-esque."

"Decapitation!" he proclaimed on the nightly news, detaching a dummy's head for the benefit of the TV cameras. "Amputation!" he declared, as he removed a leg, then an arm. In short, Mr. Rose claimed, the dummies promote "torture."

Well, I admit, I've become more or less inured to the phenomenon of exploding motor vehicles. For the past dozen years or so, my life has unfolded against a human-made soundtrack of revving engines, skidding tires and crunching metal. But I think I can still recognize sadism when I see it, and I don't.

The beauty of Crash Dummies, from a child's view, is that they break apart quite spectacularly. And then, voila, they snap together and are all ready for another disassembly. It's just one of those mystifying kid obsessions -- wreck it, then make it whole again.

The real downside of Crash Dummies, in my view, is that they last about 48 hours max, whereupon the arms disappear into the fireplace ash, the heads roll under the couch and the legs get lodged in the dust balls and mice leavings behind the refrigerator. In other words, they're a waste of money, not a psychological plague.

We parents -- and pastors -- tend to get a bit too hyper these days about the psychological vulnerability of our kids. The Crash Dummies phobia is just another symptom of the generalized dread that afflicts those of us charged with the daunting responsibility of raising children in an increasingly dangerous world -- a frequently unfocused, unchanneled dread that gnaws away at us and sometimes goes off half-cocked.

But parents would do well to remember what it's like to be a kid, to try to look at our kids' needs and desires through their eyes, not ours. I wouldn't choose to amuse myself with a Vince or Larry. But then, fortunately or not, I'm not 8 years old anymore.

It seems to me the most troubling question raised by Crash Dummies is this: Are our children having trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, or are we?

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