Bang Bang

When I made the cowboy outfit for MLCD (My little crochet doll) I pondered whether it was right. Should I be making dolls that typically carry guns?
I live in the UK, where Cowboys/Cowgirls are in short supply, but I’m pretty sure there is more to being a cow-person than shooting things.

Feeding cows, herding cows, counting cows… Yeah, we sure do have a shortage of cow-personnel around here.
The question I really had, and still have is, Should I make an outfit with a weapon?

 For years the question has been asked about violence in play, more recently in video gaming. Both sides have good arguments but as a long time gamer (although a bit of a chicken with violent games) I fall slightly to the gamers defence.

Can we blame a murderers behaviour on video games? People have been killing people long before TV, computers and video games were even thought of. Besides, if computer games influenced people into becoming what they play then I suppose many Facebook gamers would have left their office blocks to become farmers. Perhaps there is more to turning violent than playing violent games.

As with all hobbies and interests, there are those who enjoy the fun and those who have a problem distinguishing between fantasy and reality.

No truer example of this is found at Kings Cross station and the 9 3/4 platform where believe it or not, people have physically hurt themselves by running into the wall. While most of us realise it won’t take us the Hogwarts because we’re muggles, evidence shows that people actually believe they might just make it through.

I remember many years ago, one of my nephews was playing a notorious computer game, Grand Theft Auto. He was well below the recommended age for the game but had somehow persuaded a grown up to buy him a copy.

I asked him to show me how to play the game and he certainly did.

The purpose of the game is to commit crime, avoid the police and complete some missions, but the graphics and play of the game meant that you were free to roam around a virtual city and do anything you like.

My nephews computer character walked into the middle of the road and an oncoming car slowed to a stop. My nephew (as the character) pulled the driver from his car and got in, then drove off, hitting pedestrians on the way. All fun and games till someone gets hurt.

Driving round the city he found a dark alley with a woman walking along the curb and slowly drove alongside her. 

“If you drive real slow she gets in the car” he says, and yep the woman in the tight, short skirt poked her head through the window, then climbed into the passenger seat.

“Now you’ve got to drive somewhere quiet” and they drove to the beach and parked on the sand.

“Watch this” he says, as the car starts jumping up and down (yep, they really are doing what you think)

After a moment the woman gets out and his characters money shown on the screen goes down a little.

“Now, you’ve got to be really quick and kill her because she’s taken some of your money”.

Out he jumps and shoots the woman dead.

My innocent little nephew had no idea he had just mastered the ability to pick up a virtual prostitute and had learnt the ability to kill a woman to get his money back. To him and his tender age it was all a funny part of the game. He was far too young to understand what he had just shown his Aunty.

My nephew, thankfully, never grew up to be a gangster, nor did he begin driving down dark streets at night. He became a healthy, intelligent youth worker for the church, and now works as a carer for disabled adults, in his spare time he wrestles, but he’s as violent as a snail.

Though he didn’t quite grasp what he was doing, he was showing me something far beyond his years and I didn’t like it.

When I look at the news today I see it full of despair caused by hatred and violence, perhaps more than I have previously seen. In one sense, children can’t avoid gun violence and giving them a toy gun to play with is giving them something they see on TV and real life. 

Do I want to pretend violence doesn’t exist?

In 2014 a photograph of 4-year old Syrian refugee, Hudea, went viral. The photographer, Osman Sağırlı was using a long camera lens that the girl mistook for a weapon, a terrified look came on her face and she raised her hands in surrender.

Kids today know what a weapon looks like, they see them on the news, TV, toy shops, video games, but it’s all fake or virtual. It’s not real, it’s on a screen or it comes in plastic with a bright red cap to prove it’s fake.

Suddenly we are faced with a child as young as four. Not in a game or TV show, but a child who knows only too well how to react to the reality of a weapon.
There is another concern, where the weapon were once bow and arrow, now it’s guns, what will be the next weapon of choice for future kids? A machete? toy bombs? I google my fear, knowing already someone has been there… Someone has already made a suicide vest Barbie.

Then I read about the “Lion and Lamb” project who run toy exchanges, allowing kids to bring in their violent weapons in exchange for non-violent toys, or the “Guns aren’t fun” project set up by 16 year old Cody Hill, who exchange toy guns for sports equipment.

One such exchange programme happened at the Salvation Army in Marquette, Michigan. They explained that they hoped they could get toys to kids that weren’t associated with death and destruction.

Suddenly I see another argument that makes sense. With the Salvation Army, known for working in poorer areas of the world I can imagine many of the children they come across have seen the result of guns and violence. If a child has suffered the nightmare of seeing a friend or family member lose their lives to gun violence, do we want to be giving them a weapon as a play item? 

I took a trip to one of my local toy stores, The Entertainer. I don’t always manage to look around this shop because it doesn’t open on Sunday’s. The owner, as a Christian, believes in the keeping Sunday Special idea. I know many Christian families who appreciate the ethics of not selling on Sunday and choose this shop over the other alternatives in town.

I’m a regular at all of the local shops (If you make dolls, you need to keep an eye on what’s happening in toy land). As I walked around the shop, taking notice of the boy toys and weapon toys. This shop seems to sell more nerf guns and warfare toys than the other shops, which stock more playmobil, Lego and outdoor toys. I walk around the ‘boy’ section, mostly stocking Nerf guns (they now have purple nerf guns for girls) and war styled action figures, words on the boxes stand out to me, doomlands, vagabond, dual-strike, retaliator, Battle ’em, Solder in action, stealth forces, beywarriors, Battle set, Super hero mashers, Star Wars, Avengers, Furious rampage, Civil war. I wonder how the Christian ethics of the shop feel about being the biggest seller of toy weapons in my town.  

I think about that little girl with her hands up, if I could make her any doll, what would it be? Certainly not a doll with a weapon.

Another little known fact about the Salvation Army. In the UK they help rescue 100s of people caught up in slavery in the UK. People brought to the UK in the guise of a better life, yet brought into slavery, and often with their family.

A friend of mine is part of a team that drives to locations across the country to collect rescued victims from the police and drive them to opposite ends of the county to safe houses. She asked me once about knitting teddy bears, because often she has children in the car. They don’t understand what is happening and often don’t know our language. They have a long (several hours) car journey and the thought of being able to give each child a teddy bear to hug during the journey just might help.

There can be something magical and healing in a doll or bear for a child. It’s one of the best things about making dolls, imagining the child who will receive it and the possible life-long friendship between child and doll. 

There has to be an alternative to the never ending supply of violence in boy-targeted toys, and perhaps me making dolls without weapons is a small step, but it at least is a step in the right direction

Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

4 thoughts on “Bang Bang

  1. The image of the little girl is heartbreaking; she knows more of violence and death in her four short years than anyone ever should. There are children here in the US that have been shot, and some killed, because they removed the red cap from the end of the gun and were mistaken as having a real handgun. And why not, since there are plenty of ‘children’ in the US that commit crimes with guns. Guns are ubiquitous in this country, and no atrocity seems too great to get any conversation going about what to do.

    There are plenty of positive memes out there for children to embrace, that don’t require a gun, or violence, to have fun. Exploration, athletics, scientific discovery, creating…and cowboys :-) As the poster above says, there are a lot of accessories for a cowboy that don’t include a gun.


  2. You can still make a cowboy outfit, and not give him guns. Give him a lariat. A canteen. A bedroll. A saddle. Plenty of other accessories that go with cowboys, without having to give him (or her!) a pair of six-shooters.


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