Category Archive 'Toy Control'

21 Dec 2011

Nerf Guns Terrify Stale’s Technology Columnist

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Nerf N-Strike Barricade RV-10

Farhad Manjoo, Cornell ’00, is Slate’s Technology Columnist, so his take on toy guns, one would expect, ought to be well-informed, sophisticated, appreciative, and realistic.

A technology columnist really ought to be the sort of person who knows all about real guns. Firearms are an extremely important and interesting, downright fundamental, form of technology, after all.

But Farhad Manjoo’s holiday article in Stale this year is rather different from what one might have expected.

Nerf guns (which propel sponge rubber tipped plastic darts) frighten Manjoo and send him into a tizzy of anxiety. He describes the Nerf Barricade as “one of the most powerful toy weapons ever built, capable of sending a 3-inch foam dart hurtling 30 feet through the air, and then doing it again and again every half second.”

How does that compare, Mr. Technology Columnist, to the old Daisy Model 25 pump action BB-gun, my generation’s idea of a toy gun, which fired a copper-plated .177″ diameter BB at a velocity ranging from 375-450 fps (fast enough to break glass) from a tubular magazine as rapidly as you could pump the slide?

Shooting one’s friends in the face was regarded as verboten (you might put out an eye), but BB gun wars did regularly occur. The impact of a BB on human flesh stung smartly, even through clothing, and characteristically left a mark. It was a common form of deterrence to shoot oneself in the hand without flinching and then display the bruise. One’s interlocutor was thereby given to understand that you were not afraid of being shot with a BB gun, and was significantly less inclined to initiate hostilities.

Older generations of American boys additionally commonly played with home-made slingshots, a leather pad attached to two lengths of rubber strips cut from a discarded inner tube then affixed to a Y-forked branch. A good slingshot could propel much larger projectiles like marbles, ball bearings, or suitable rocks with good accuracy at very effectively damaging velocities.

We were bloodthirsty hunters in my boyhood, and we used to, I regret to say, kill the occasional incautious songbird with those BB guns. More becomingly, we also sometimes successfully nailed a rat found skulking in the open around the dump with our slingshots. (BBs just bounced off rats.) Try taking any variety of game with a Nerf gun.

But, it isn’t really the ballistic capabilities of the Nerf gun arsenal that sent Mr. Manjoo into a tailspin. It is, of course, the ethical considerations.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been playing with some of the new Nerf guns, and I’ve tied myself in knots thinking about whether ultrarealistic weapons are just harmless fun or whether they reveal something terribly wrong with modern American boyhood.

One feels bound to question the expertise and judgment of the technology expert who would describe the above Nerf Barricade as “ultrarealistic.” So few real firearms are made of yellow plastic, and when Mr. Manjoo expresses awed respect for a toy gun’s ability to propel a harmless foam rubber dart 30′, he seems to have lost completely any sense of proportion and relative capability between the real weapon and the toy.

Someone who finds a harmless toy “scary” is, by my standards, an incredible wimp. And the kind of people who have all these hyper-sensitivities and moral issues over boys playing at war are prigs and decadents. Our blue state pseudo-intelligentsia resides in a haute bourgeois dreamworld, perfectly safe and far removed from the ugly realities of human conflict and criminal predation, protected by rough men they neither know nor respect, in homogeneous enclaves in which they have created their own Eloi-style culture in which gross moral self-indulgence parallels their conspicuous material well being.

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