As Hamilton’s Raging Grannies adjust their overwrought hats and their political button–festooned aprons and shawls outside the front entrance, shoppers heading into Toys R Us look on, amused.
The gaggle of six grannies are shifting through reams of song sheets before settling on their first ditty and the day’s theme. It goes like this: “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, war toys have got to go, take them off the shelves like good little elves, Hi Ho, Hi Ho.” New lyrics to familiar Christmas tunes are all the rage with the granny set as they take aim at violent toys and games.
Rambo, He-Man, G.I. Joe, Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Skeletors, Mortal Kombat, Doom, guns and tanks get the Grannies’ goat while roller blades, puzzles, books, building blocks, Lego, dolls, and cooperative games, are offered as positive alternatives.
Four short songs into the Raging Grannies songbook, a couple of employees from the Upper Wentworth store appear and inform the grand-motherly minstrels that they are expected to pack-up their act and move on.
The grannies inform the youngsters that the grannies are going nowhere, and if the store wants them to move they will have to call the police.
Big smiles from the grans. Scowls from the employees, who disappear back into the voluminous blue box of a store to, presumably, call the police.
Hardly missing a beat, the Raging Grannies are into their next song.
A steady stream of shoppers appear happy to receive a leaflet while the Grans sing in a light rain.
A man in a car requests a leaflet then laughs out loud: he expected ordinary Christmas carols but thinks the grannies reworking of the classics is just peachy. “You made my day!” he shouts, still laughing as he drives off.
The Grannies’ goal for the day is to raise awareness about violent toys, toys which, according to their leaflet, “teach that war is an acceptable way of settling disputes, encourage play at hurting and killing others, require children to use violence in order to win, depict graphic violence, create the need for an enemy, glamourize military life, combat and war, reinforce sexist stereotypes of male dominance and female passivity and depict ethnic or racial groups in a negative way.”
A few more songs and Toys R Us staff make another foray, telling the Grannies to move their sing-fest to a remote island of green in the massive parking lot, well away from the customers. The Grannies are having none of it. The suggestion that they are blocking costumers from the store is simply not true, so they dig in their sensible heels and sing some more.
Grim-faced employees retreat to the shelter of the store once again.
Six-year-old Aaron emerges from the store with an Imaginext Knight action figure in a Toys R Us bag. He says his favourite toy this year is “KNEX” building sets.
Scotty, four years old, was out hunting for a bow and arrow. When asked, he lists off Rescue Heroes, Spiderman, Spiderman City, and a Space Shuttle as contenders for space under his tree.
Finally, not one but two Hamilton police cruisers are on the scene.
Officer Charlie Steeves banters with “the girls” as he calls them, and bargains them down to one last song, which fits with the Grannies’ schedule for the day, thus keeping the sextet on the street and out of the slammer. He tells them that Toys R Us own the parking lot and that if the songsters planned on continuing, they’d have to move off to the distant sidewalk.
The Grannies go out to the tune of “Frosty the Snowman”.
“We’re the Raging Grannies/And we’re asking you today/Please don’t buy destructive toys/For the kids on Christmas Day./We don’t like war toys/And tanks and army gear/We like peaceful and constructive games/For our grandkids we hold dear./The violence and hatred/It really must cease/And children can learn early on/That it’s better to think peace./Join the Raging Grannies/In working every day/For peace on Earth, goodwill to all/And a song for every day.”
Tom Reizoff enjoys the Grannies’ message. He and his wife didn’t find what they were looking for at Toys R Us, but appreciates the attempt to raise awareness.
“It makes a lot of sense. There’s too much violence in the world,” says Reizoff, a former soldier in the Canadian military.
“I don’t know if the toys play that big a part. I grew up with G.I. Joes, although we didn’t have the video games. There may be a connection but I think the values taught at home make the foundation.”
Out of her Raging Granny gear, Ruth Pickering is a child psychiatrist who sees the effects of violent toys everyday in her work. She worries about the impact of violent images and war toys which “replace children’s natural creative imagination with themes of killing and violence.”
“The message becomes ‘violence solves problems,’” she says. Pickering suggests unstructured toys as alternatives to push button, programmed toys. “Crayons, paper, and scissors are great and something all children enjoy; it allows room for imagination as well as an opportunity for the child to interact with the parent, unlike toys like video games which limit imagination and take them out of the social field.”
Calls to Toys R Us began at the Upper Wentworth store reception, who forwarded my questions to someone “on the floor”, who told me to call the company’s 1–800 number, where the call was fielded by someone in Montreal, who then gave a number for the Marketing Department in Concord, who wanted to know if View was “mainstream,” before saying that someone from Media Relations would call me back.
No response was received by press time.