Most toy-filled baskets contain items like sandbox goodies and cuddly dolls, and this isn't the first time the toy soldiers have made an appearance. This year, though, the action figures seem to have more prominent shelf positions at the two downtown Kmart and Walgreens stores. Hively says they were particularly strong sellers. Walgreens' supplier, Wondertreats, justifies its product as the result of careful market analysis. "We don't determine the mix [of toys]. It's determined by what the consumers want. We talk to kids and watch kids in stores," explains Greg Hall, owner of Wondertreats. "They're exposed to the violence and blood that sells newspapers. We don't create that, we're just responding to what customers want."
Such toys are, however, a frequent focus of children's advocacy groups like the Lion & Lamb Project, which during the Christmas season highlighted another toy, the Military Forward Command Post, made by Ever Sparkle Industrial, that seemed to cross culture lines in an unsettling way. The Web site for Kay-Bee Toy Stores describes it as "a lifelike replica of a real battlefield headquarter. . . . Two-tiered and loaded with realistic weapons, accessories, furniture and equipment, this set is ready for action." This "battle-worn playset," also carried for the holiday season by Kmart, Toys "R" Us and Amazon.com, looks like a dollhouse but has been gutted, torched, and bullet-pocked. A similar toy offered by Hobbylinc.com features a bombed-out farmhouse.
"Parents say, 'Oh, kids know it's fantasy,' and then they want to tell their kids to believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny," observes Lion & Lamb director Daphne White. "You can't have it both ways. To market war as something fun and to play around with is sending them a very dangerous message."